Avoiding Student Loan Debt, Educational Consulting, Majors and Areas of Study, Understanding the Market

Going to Major in Education?

If you’re thinking about majoring in Education (to teach K-12), here’s what you need to know:

  1. You may be used to hearing much worse numbers, but about 17% of teachers are no longer teaching after five years. About 10% quit after the first year.
  2. Teaching is a more than full time profession, and many, if not most, teachers don’t really have the summer off. The typical work day is around 12-16 hours for many teachers, although that varies within semesters. Don’t go into teaching if you want easy work. You don’t get overtime pay.
  3. The highest paying states in 2016-17 were New York ($81,902), California ($79,128), and Massachusetts ($78,100), with Mississippi ($42,925), Oklahoma ($45,292) and West Virginia ($45,555) paying the least. You might note how these numbers will inflate average teacher salaries nationally, as two of the highest paying states are also the most populated states. Follow the link above to get information about your state.
  4. Teachers across the country generally feel disrespected. If you’re thinking about teaching, you’re in it for your students, and those who manage to keep teaching do so because they keep their eye on that prize. Speaking as someone who chaired a Master’s degree program with a lot of teachers, I can vouch for this myself.
  5. K-6 teaching is more manageable in terms of disciplinary action than middle school or high school, depending upon area, so keep that in mind.
  6. If you’re thinking about High School teaching, in many schools that’s almost a double major, as you need both education and subject matter training. Check out the Bureau of Labor Statistics for more information about high school teaching as a profession.

My advice for people thinking about teaching?

  • First, get a sense of being in a classroom as a teacher through internships no later than your junior year if at all possible. That’s when you’ll want to change majors if you change your mind. Some students do.
  • Next, no matter where you teach, income will be relatively low compared to cost of living. That means avoid getting your education degrees at expensive, private colleges. Attend much lower tuition public colleges and avoid debt as much as possible.
  • Finally, if you’re really called to teach, nothing else will quite satisfy. Don’t let the information above discourage you. But go into it with your eyes open, and research the best districts in your state wherever you may work. Definitely attend college in the state in which you want to work.

Bright Futures Educational Consulting can help you think through your degree choices and options even after your degree. Give us a call.

Cost of Degree, Educational Consulting, Majors and Areas of Study, Return on Investment

Thinking Through Degree Choices

Quite a bit of educational consulting is focused on getting students admitted to college, but not enough is focused on what students do when they get there. In my years of experience in higher education, I’ve learned that you’re getting the cart before the horse by thinking that way. Choose a major first, and then choose the best college for it. But how do you choose a major? I’d like to encourage you to think about your degree choices in terms of three central questions:

  1. What are the emotional facets of your decision to choose a specific college or major?
  2. What are the professional facets of that decision?
  3. What are the economic facets of that decision?

Let’s explore these one at a time.

  1. The emotional content of your decision to pursue a major or college matters. While not every major will set you on a predetermined career path, your study still defines you and the doors that are either opened or closed for you in the future. Your choice of a college or major does not mean everything, but it still means a lot, so you want to spend some time thinking about who you are and what you really love before choosing a college or major. Engineers tend to be the highest paid graduates right out of college: are you that good at math? Do you love it? Are you really able to pursue a vocation that you don’t love just for the money it might make you?  Some people make this decision, find their happiness outside of work, and live fulfilling lives. Other people make expensive and time consuming mid-career shifts from jobs that they hate to courses of study that will lead them to jobs they love. What do you think you can live with? If it’s at all possible, pursue a course of study that you love. You will do better in it, and your skill sets and enthusiasm can open doors in skills-appropriate fields. If that course of study doesn’t lead to a clear career path, minor in something that does, like being an English major who minors in business or web development. It will make you easier to place in entry-level positions.
  2. The professional content of your decision to pursue a course of study should be considered as well. Some degree programs are essentially vocational schools: programs such as law, education, and engineering focus your education on one specific industry. You may be able to switch career paths down the road, but your skill sets will be fairly narrow and limiting. Liberal arts majors such as English, history, art, and philosophy, on the other hand, tend to be trainable across a wide range of fields and find success in many different industries, but they sometimes have a harder time getting initially placed because their degrees aren’t clearly associated with a job function. They have much better soft skills than the hordes of B.B.A. and M.B.A. graduates produced every year, though, so they can distinguish themselves once employed. It’s usually smart to pair liberal arts degrees with something like programming or business minors to help employability right out of college. Remember that a degree does not get you a job. It only makes you eligible to apply for certain jobs, and different degrees make you eligible to apply for different kinds of jobs.
  3. The economic content of your decision to pursue a degree is related to the following factors:
    1. Cost of the degree.
    2. Income potential for the degree.
    3. Age to retirement (related to no. 2) — your income earning potential is limited to your age at graduation. So, obviously, the best financial decision in the degree seeking process, or the best return on your investment for the cost of your degree, is to pick a degree that is pursued cheaply and yields high pay as soon as possible. In the current market, that would be a degree in petroleum or chemical engineering with no debt at graduation. But probably less than 5% of all high school graduates have the math skills to be engineers of any kind, so what do the rest of us do? We try to avoid going into high debt for low paying careers, especially late in life when our income potential is limited. You can save a lot of money by starting in community college and then transferring to a state university, or at least starting at a state university. Keep in mind that the economic value of a course of study is not a measure of its inherent value: that is only a reflection of market conditions at the time, and they can vary. The highest paying fields right now would hit bottom if saturated with more graduates than available jobs. People aren’t paid what they are worth. They’re paid on a supply and demand basis. Pay is only driven up when employers have to compete with each other for employees. Pay bottoms out when graduates are a dime a dozen, and especially when there’s not a lot of money in the industry.

What I’ve just described are the three factors that you should consider when selecting a degree program at any level. While I can’t tell you which of these are more important to you personally, Bright Futures Educational Consulting does have an extensive proprietary college choice survey that can guide you through your decision making process. If you’re independently wealthy and don’t have to worry about lost income or student loan debt in your pursuit of a degree, pursue what you love and forget about everything else. If you have to worry about debt, think about the other two. But no one can tell you how much each of these factors will weigh in your own decision making process. Be careful about using an emotional logic for financial decisions. That doesn’t usually turn out well. Be careful about being purely financially motivated as well, unless that’s who you are.

In other words, if you’re like most people, seek a balance between the three. Your ideal degree program at any level would be where your passions intersect with your best professional identity and your most viable financial position. Most of us have to make compromises, so be careful about compromising any one of these too much.

College Writing

Writing for College and Beyond Now Available for Purchase

I’m proud to announce that the first-year writing textbook Writing for College and Beyond is now available for order at the publisher’s website. The result of 18 years of teaching first year writing, I realized something many students need — and that most first year writing textbooks lack — are explanations of how the tasks students perform in their first year writing classes are common in business and professional contexts. If you’re tired of hearing freshman students complain about having to take “irrelevant” general education courses, this textbook is for you.

This text provides simple, step by step instructions in summary, synthesis, analysis, and argument with the needs of first generation and at-risk students in mind, and is one of the least expensive textbooks on the market, coming in at under $30.00. Check out the publisher’s page linked above, and email me at jamesrovira (at) gmail (dot) com if you’d like a review copy.

This text can be fully customized for departmental orders of eight sections or more, and you can talk to me about developing a fully online version of a first year writing course based on this textbook.

Educational Consulting, Majors and Areas of Study, Return on Investment, Understanding the Market

What You Need To Know Before Applying to Law School

You need to know that the US Bureau of Labor Statistics has been warning about law school overproduction since 1996: there are too many law schools producing too many graduates for the number of jobs out there. It’s just gotten worse since then, to the point where just in this decade class action lawsuits have been filed against quite a number of law schools for fraudulent admissions practices such as lying about job placement.

Why have law schools become such a point of contention? Colleges and universities love them because they produce revenue and lend prestige to an institution. If an institution has had the money to invest in a law school, it’s been difficult for many of them to resist. The problem is that available jobs for lawyers are unable to keep up with an increasingly large pool of law school graduates, forcing more and more people who earn law degrees to work in jobs that don’t require the degree. While legal study and the soft skills developed by that study are assets to many employers, there are less expensive ways to develop those skills.

So what should you do if law school is your dream? Here’s my advice:

  1. Think first about where you want to practice law.
  2. Think next about what kind of law you want to practice.
  3. Ignore law school rankings, or think about them only secondarily.
  4. Pay attention to law school job placement rate instead. The top schools for job placement are not necessarily the top ranked schools.
  5. Don’t get this information from the law schools themselves.
  6. Keep in mind that it’s becoming conventional wisdom that pre-law degrees are not the best path into law school.

That last point may be surprising, but the link above cites data indicating that philosophy, history, and journalism majors are admitted to law school at higher rates than pre-law or criminal justice majors. English has been, traditionally, a solid degree leading to law school as it requires a lot of reading, writing, and argument-building, even better than a degree in political science.

If you’d like professional help thinking through your law school choices, get in touch with Bright Futures Educational Consulting through our Contact Page. Your first hour of consultation is always free.

Cost of Degree, Educational Consulting, Graduation Rates, Understanding the Market

Avoiding the College Closure Trap

If you’ve been following reporting on colleges and universities, you’ve probably noticed increasingly frequent reporting on small colleges closing down and sometimes on a few big ones. About a week ago, Michael Vasquez and Dan Bauman reported on data gathered by The Chronicle of Higher Education on college closings in “How America’s College-Closure Crisis Leaves Families Devastated.” The situation is so dire that “in the last five years, about half a million students have been displaced by college closures, which together shuttered more than 1,200 campuses.” That’s over 1200 campus closings displacing 500,000 students in the last five years alone. We have a crisis indeed. I’m going to explain here how you can spare yourself from the pains of a college shutdown by seeking out a little bit of information that isn’t that hard to find.

First, this data follows a pattern: for-profit colleges are largely the culprit. 88% of these shutdowns were of for-profit colleges, who account for 85% of all displaced students. So the first and most obvious thing to do is to avoid for-profit colleges. Their initial, large growth coincided with the rise of online education, which met a legitimate need: more students than you think have accessibility issues when it comes to attending college, either because of their own mobility or because of location, as not everyone has even a community college nearby. Furthermore, online education is attractive to working adults because of their busy schedules. Even if a college is nearby, sometimes it’s very difficult to make it to a scheduled class meeting. But the landscape of online education is changing now, and more and more state or otherwise non-profit institutions are getting into online education.

But why are for-profit colleges particularly at risk? To start, because they’re being run for profit. That means the owners of these institutions aren’t investing in endowment funds, which can protect the school from drops in enrollment and temporary budget shortfalls. And being run on a profit motive causes a host of other problems too. First, if the budget shortfall is bad enough, investors are far more willing to quickly cut and run to minimize losses. In some cases, the decision to close a for-profit university was made within a week, with no advance warning for students, and at times in the middle of a semester. These practices reveal that there’s little sense of obligation to students at many for-profit institutions, just an obligation to investors’ bottom line. Prospective college students, working adults, and military personnel should be wary of for-profit colleges because they’re vulnerable, and because they have some of the worst numbers for employability, retention, and graduation. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, “The 6-year graduation rate was 59 percent at public institutions, 66 percent at private nonprofit institutions, and 26 percent at private for-profit institutions.” For-profit colleges see students through to graduation at less than half the rate of their non-profit peers.

Furthermore, because the purpose of the institution is to generate profit for investors, faculty tend to be demoralized, underpaid, overworked, and lack any real say in how the institution is run: there’s very little in terms of shared governance. And it’s just going to get worse. By all indications, the Trump administration is loosening up oversight on the for-profit sector, so they will be able to engage in predatory admissions practices more easily than they did under the Obama administration.

So I’d like you to consider the following as major red flags when you’re considering a college of your choice:

  1. Low endowment
  2. Low faculty governance; mostly or completely untenured faculty (getting common everywhere, though)
  3. Low six-year graduation rate
  4. High acceptance rate (make an exception for community colleges, which are typically open enrollment by law)

And I’d like you to take one more step. While you can be sure that any for-profit college will fit all four of the above criteria, you should also know that many small, private non-profit colleges and universities do as well, especially small private colleges in rural areas. So wherever you apply, ask admissions officers the following questions:

  1. What percentage of your classes are taught by full time faculty? Don’t just ask what percentage of their faculty are full time. Those numbers can be fudged.
  2. What percentage of your full time faculty are tenured or tenure track?
  3. What percentage of your faculty have terminal degrees?
  4. What’s your six year graduation rate?
  5. What’s your endowment?

Of course you’ll want to know about sports, dorms, extracurriculars, and everything else, but college admissions officers who can’t answer the questions above probably don’t want to, and those are the questions that matter most to the quality of education at any given institution and to its long term stability. Most of this information is available online at a variety of sources, and services like Bright Futures Educational Consulting can provide unbiased, researched information about the best colleges and universities to attend for your major and your budget. Contact us if you’re unsure of your own research on these colleges and you’d like help navigating this minefield.