Cost of Degree, Educational Consulting, Majors and Areas of Study, Pedagogy, Understanding the Market

Podcast: James Rovira and the Anazoa Educational Project on Punkonomics

I’ve blogged quite a bit about a number of higher education topics, but what’s my own vision for higher education? I spent some time with Dr. Beni Balak, Professor of Economics at Rollins College, on the phone for his Punkonomics podcast to discuss the Anazoa Educational Project and my vision for higher education. Follow the link to listen to the podcast.

Avoiding Student Loan Debt, Cost of Degree, Understanding the Market

How We Used to Fund College

A number of presidential candidates are floating the idea of “tuition-free college.” I’d like to put that into historical context.

My father, who is in his 80s, only had to pay $9.00 a term to attend college at CCNY back in his day. He could easily pay that out of pocket with his part time job. In today’s dollars, that would be equivalent to paying about $90 for a full semester of coursework, or four or five classes. Not $90 per class, but $90 per semester, or about $18-$22 per class.

Do you really think that $9.00/term tuition covered the cost of running the college? Of course not. It was that cheap because the City of New York was funding it.

So when Bernie Sanders says he wants “tuition free” college, he’s just trying to set up the same system his generation had when it went to college. The same system that existed through the 40s, 50s, 60s, and the 70s most places. It’s not about getting free stuff, or not pulling your weight, but about setting up a system that actually works, like the system we had back in the 50s.

Why did the City of New York end tuition free college? Not because it couldn’t afford it. It was a political move. According to The University Against Itself (Temple UP, 2008), New York University, an expensive private institution in New York City, lobbied with city government to end state tuition so that it could be more competitive for students. The issue wasn’t financial, or that the system wasn’t working, or that New York City residents didn’t like it. It was purely political, and the politicians working now to reverse this situation are sensibly trying to work a political fix for a problem that was political to begin with.

If you graduated before college in 2008, you had a lower debt to income ratio than any college student afterwards did. If you graduated college before 1990, it was much, much lower. It’s not just about “individual responsibility” when a predatory system has been set up to trap people doing something they need to live.

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

Podcast: Are College Students Being Prepared for the Workforce?

Have you enjoyed my blogging about workforce preparation and college education? If you like listening to podcasts, I was interviewed by Tim Muma about that topic on LJN Radio.

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

Understanding College Advising

If you’re a student, you probably have a number of people advising you: teachers, guidance counselors, college admissions people, your parents… the list could go on. I’d like to help students understand what advising — and educational consulting — can and can’t do for you.

All advisors should listen to the student’s own long and short term goals, and they should ask leading questions to help the student clarify them. They should recommend a variety of paths to the student to reach those goals, but be honest, informed, and realistic about these different paths. Advisors should also provide materials to the student to help the student make better informed decisions, and they should engage in advising with the student’s best interests in mind.

But a good advisor won’t feel obligated to validate all of the student’s goals or ideas. If a student is really committed to humanities Ph.D. study or law school, for example, the advisor should still inform the student of the realities of these programs of study, not tell the student what he or she wants to hear. Being honest about the realities of a path may be discouraging to the student, but the student still needs that information to make an informed decision.

A good advisor will also be honest about the student’s demonstrated abilities so far in their educational careers. If a student’s grades are weak in math, science, or English, a good advisor will be honest with the student about the barriers those grades might present. However, a good advisor will also know that a student’s grades do not define the student as a person or necessarily summarize their potential. In other words, good advisors know that not all barriers are insurmountable.

A good advisor won’t do anything other than advising: good advisors give students facts about the field, the market, and educational options, but they don’t try to make students’ decisions for them. They also don’t give students advice intended to benefit the student’s educational institution above the student. Every B.A. program would love to say 90% of their graduates were accepted for Ph.D. study, but that doesn’t mean that 90% of their graduates should be pursuing Ph.D. study. Good advising, in other words, is never anything other than a supplement to the student’s own decision-making process. It is not supposed to or be able to take the place of the student’s own decision making.

If you’re a student, you should know that your decisions are ultimately your own. You make them and then you live with the consequences. Because these are ultimately your decisions, you should be aggressive in pursuing information that will help you make the most informed decisions possible. Get everything that you can from your advisor and then seek out other information as well. Listen to your advisors, even if you disagree with them, rather than demand to be told certain things. And, listen to a number of advisors. Don’t get your information only from one source.

You should also think generally about what you most want. Do you mainly want to make a living? Or do you mainly want to perform fulfilling work? Are you willing to make a bit less money to be more fulfilled in the kind of work that you do?

There are no right answers to these questions. Some people pursue work in high-paying fields and then burn out and make expensive mid-career shifts to more fulfilling fields. Some people pursue fulfillment but have a hard time making a decent living. Ideally, of course, we would all work in fulfilling jobs that pay well, whether we work as employees, own our own businesses, or do creative, freelance work.

We all also need to understand that the ability to do work that is both fulfilling and very profitable is dependent upon many arbitrary factors. At the least, it is dependent upon the random intersections of what this society chooses to reward financially, your own abilities, and your own interests. Just don’t mistake profitability for inherent value: scientific or engineering work generates patents and/or high end products (like bridges, tanks, and computers), so produces a lot of money, and there aren’t enough people around with math skills at that high a level, so the employee pool is small.

Someone who produces something that can be packaged and sold at high volume can also make a lot of money: one hit single can pay a lot. But while small employee pools, high end products, and mass produced products drive up the profitability of a line of work, an engineer or singer is not inherently more valuable, socially, than a middle school math or music teacher. You can’t have engineers and singers without math and music teachers. If we lost every pro basketball player in the world, the world wouldn’t be that bad off–maybe it’d even be better off in some ways. But if we lost all of our music and math teachers, that would be a long term disaster for the human race.

What might that ideal spot of wage earning and job fulfillment look like for you? No advisor can answer that question. No one can tell you what you want. Advising can only point you in a direction that leads you to your goals, so no advising will be better than your own knowledge of your own goals. Bright Futures Educational Consulting is here to help you define your goals first, and once you’ve done that, it will show you the best paths to help you meet them. Contact us for more information.

College Writing, Educational Consulting, Learning, Majors and Areas of Study, Understanding the Market

Employers Want Writing Skills

In 2011 the Wall Street Journal published an article asking, “Why Can’t MBA Students Write?” which was later revised to “Students Struggle for Words.” The truth is that employers have been complaining about MBA writing skills for well over ten years now, and not just MBAs but college graduates in general. A survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers stated that 73.4% of employers want graduates with strong written communication skills, while a survey by the American Association of University Professors found that 93% of employers think a “demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is important.”

The numbers are high because too many college grads leave college with poor writing skills. In some cases the problem is simply etiquette: graduates haven’t learned formal business communication. Others think that writing skills are difficult to teach, as if good writing was more an innate talent than a learned activity. I think these impressions come from a panacea view of writing instruction: students take a writing class, and then they learn how to write, so if those one or two writing classes are good enough, they don’t need any more.

Writing instruction doesn’t usually work that way, however. Developing writing ability is a matter of cognitive development, not just a matter of taking in information, so it takes time to develop. If a college program wants to develop students’ writing skills, students need to be made to read and write and to receive writing instruction in most of their classes, not just their English classes. The problem is that business and many other professional programs don’t invest in practices that develop writing skills, such as placing high reading and writing requirements on their students and then holding their writing to high standards.

Solution? If you’re in college, regardless of your major, take additional, even unrequired writing classes. Take all the discipline-specific writing classes that you can. And take some writing classes outside of your discipline, maybe even creative writing classes. In addition to those strategies, work on your own to develop your skills and get outside help. For example, I have a first year writing textbook titled Writing for College and Beyond, one that ties the basic elements of college writing to typical tasks in business writing. I wrote this textbook out of eighteen years’ experience teaching college writing in addition to my own experience with business and professional writing. Additionally, I’m the author of four other books and a number of book chapters and reviews as well as short stories, poetry, and creative non-fiction. I would love to help you with your college application essays, requests for letters of recommendation, and with your editing needs. Just contact me for more information.