Wednesday, June 19, 2013

True or False, Pt. 1: International Student College Admissions

Welcome to the first installment of a new series on the blog!  In "True or False" I will look at the assumptions, beliefs, opinions and myths surrounding a specific aspect of college admissions.  I will use  relevant data to evaluate whether or not these ideas are "True" or "False"--or somewhere on a continuum between the two.

As I've mentioned before,I am a college counselor at an independent boarding school in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Our school has students from more than a dozen states and over 20 countries, so my colleagues and I spend a lot of time working with and thinking about college opportunities for international students.  In my seven years as a college counselor I have worked directly with students from South Korea, China, Taiwan, Thailand, Japan, Canada, Saudi Arabia, the Czech Republic and Slovakia; my colleagues in the college guidance office have worked with scores of students from these and other nations.  Recently at a department meeting we discussed the need to answer some frequently asked questions that these students and their parents raise; this post will aim to do so, while also discussing some topics that are simply assumed, and thus never asked.  

Without further ado, here are some of the most popular beliefs we have encountered.  If you can think of more, or if you have a response, please leave comments at the end of the post.

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Students should apply to universities, not to colleges: 

On numerous occasions my colleagues and I have spoken to parents who were aghast that the lists we provided their children had so many colleges and so few universities.  A reason for this, is that in America, the words "college" and "university" are basically interchangeable. A college bestows Bachelor degrees, while a university can bestow Bachelor's, Master's and Doctorate degrees, but otherwise they are functionally identical.

This is not the case in other countries, and most confusingly, it is not the case in other English-speaking countries!  In England, for example, "College" could refer to what we think of as college prep high school, or "Further Education", which has no analog in America, or "Higher Education" which can result in a diploma (though maybe not a degree; for one of those, one needs to go to a university). In Canada, some colleges can bestow bachelor's degrees, but most are what we would consider "pre-professional". In Canada, Ireland, and other current or former parts of the British Commonwealth, "colleges" can even be secondary schools.  This can be extremely misleading! According to the National Association For College Admissions Counseling (NACAC), Great Britain has 165 institutions of higher learning, of which 115 are universities.  Australia, on the other hand, has 180 higher learning institutions, but only 39 universities. In those nations, one would be wise to make a distinction, but in America it is not necessary.  

So international students seeking a Bachelor's degree in America are perfectly safe attending either a college or a university.  Naturally any future employers in their home countries may eventually need an explanation, but the educational experience will be the same at either type of school.  

VERDICT: FALSE


Students should avoid liberal arts programs, and should instead focus on a career-oriented major

This is another issue that is hard to generalize about.  Obviously every student is different, and their goals and aspirations vary wildly. Americans are increasingly recognizing that liberal arts educations provide the kind of independent, agile thinkers able to succeed in the constantly changing 21st century economy, and one often hears of the number of Fortune 500 executives with liberal arts backgrounds. Studies have shown that immediately following graduation, people with degrees in field with high occupational specificity earn more, but that the gap closes over time. On the other hand, students looking to return to their home countries after college may need the specific credential of a career-specific major to gain entry into the workforce.

Evidence of the latter point is present if one looks at the majors that international students pursue in American schools. According to the Institute of International Education (IIE), nearly 50% of international students major in one of three main areas: Business & Management, Engineering and Math & Computer Science.

International students seem to be "voting with their feet" and choosing the majors that they believe will most likely help their career interests in both the short and long terms.  This is probably especially true if one attends a college with less of a world-renowned reputation.  I am always ready to recommend liberal arts majors to the right students, but I also trust that once they arrive at college, they will have ample support and advice from knowledgeable people steering them in the right direction.

VERDICT: MAYBE


Students should apply to institutions of higher learning that have the best rankings

Again, it is important to recognize that name recognition can be very important, which is why surveys like the Times Higher Education World University Rankings are so interesting.  On the other hand, colleges can be well-recognized "brands" for the wrong reasons altogether, as Franklin and Marshall College, established in 1787, has recently discovered.

College ranking lists (most popularly the US News and World Reports list, but there are many others) are problematic for numerous reasons.  Yale University Director of Admissions Jeffrey Brenzel very cogently explains why:
This country happens to have hundreds of outstanding undergraduate programs, each offering more opportunities than any student could possibly pursue over four years. It will be up to the student to make something out of those opportunities, and it will not be the school that makes something out of the student. 
Meanwhile, the formulas used to rank schools are based on factors that in themselves are often irrelevant to individual students. Their composite scores reflect alumni giving rates, student-to-teacher ratios, median SAT scores, persistence to graduation, admissions selectivity and other data that provide little information about specific program strengths, honors programs or the general way in which the school lifts and supports student aspirations. The simplicity and clarity that ranking systems seem to offer are not only misleading, but can also be harmful. Rankings tend to ignore the very criteria that may be most important to an applicant, such as specific academic offerings, intellectual and social climate, ease of access to faculty, international opportunities and placement rates for careers or for graduate and professional school. 
Rankings have also turned out to be bad for colleges. They encourage schools to expend resources on things that move their ranking positions rather than things that serve their students. They diminish the appeal of colleges that serve many students extremely well but do not fit the performance parameters that the rankings measure. At one lower-ranked college, for example, students without strong prior academic records may tend to make tremendous gains, while at a higher-ranked school, even better-prepared students may tend to underperform their potential. The ranking systems provide no way to find out which is which.
The Institute for Higher Education Policy studied college ranking systems all over the world in 2007.  They noted that following the success of the US News lists, news sources in other countries such as England, Canada, China, Taiwan, Spain, Poland and Germany began publishing rankings.  We have heard anecdotally that the US News list holds special cachet in other countries, due to a mistaken belief that it is published by the American government. This may be apocryphal, but it is not surprising that consumers considering the purchase of an incredibly expensive product (in this case, a college education) would want to be as informed as possible.

I am in favor of potential customers learning all they can.  And with over 3000 colleges in the United States, a neutral ranking system would be hugely helpful.  Unfortunately, it is impossible to reduce all the complex factors that make a particular college "fit" a particular student to a set of numerical values.  Rankings lists can be helpful ways to begin one's college search, but attendance at the highest ranked school should not be a goal in and of itself.

VERDICT: FALSE


Location is not important; all American schools are basically the same


The number of international students in the US has increased dramatically in the past few decades, with the total (including secondary undergraduate, and graduate schools) increasing from around 25,000 in 1948 to nearly 800,000 people. The rate has increased by an annual average of 5% for the past six years.  





Students come from virtually every nation around the globe, though in recent years China has become the leading source of international  students in American schools.  In fact, Chinese students make up a quarter of all foreign nationals in American schools, followed by India (13.1 %), South Korea (9.5%), Saudi Arabia (4.5%) and Canada (3.5%).

As a college counselor, I place a great emphasis on finding colleges that "fit" my students.  To that end, I ask them to reflect seriously on the reality that in choosing a college they are choosing a new home for four (or more) years.  I encourage them to take into consideration weather, urban/rural preferences, and many other factors when formulating their college lists.

Despite this emphasis, my colleagues and I have found that international students often ignore this advice. For families from other countries, it is quite natural to assume that there is no real difference between schools, states or regions of the US. While the average number of college applications per student is around 4, and while students at our school typically apply to around 7 colleges apiece, we regularly have international students who apply to 12, 18, 27 or even 32 colleges!  It is often hard to find common factors among these schools, and the geographic variety of the schools, combined with the difficulty that international families face in visiting colleges during the application process can lead students to have to decide among multiple unknown quantities when sorting through their acceptance letters.  I remember one advisee from South Korea who went to Syracuse, but transferred after a year because he couldn't take the cold!  He had applied (and matriculated) based on the school's (well-deserved) reputation, but he had not visited in the winter, which was a crucial piece of information! He wound up transferring to a college in Italy, and now lives in England with his Italian wife, so things worked out fine in the end, but he could have saved a lot of trouble if he told me that his main interests were to study the business of international soccer in a warm-weather climate.

It is obvious to Americans that there is a great difference between, say, a large university in New York City and a small college in Alabama, but that is not always clear to people who have limited experience in this country.  This should not surprise us--after all, how many Americans would be able to describe the difference between, say Beijing University and Nanjing University?

Location is quite important.  A student will not prosper if she is stuck in a place where she has no friends, or where the weather, the lack of public transportation and/or the school culture keep her in the library all day and night.  The list at left shows the American schools with the largest number of international students.  Chances are that these schools have offices devoted to helping international students adjust to life in the states.  And as you can see, the list is a mix of schools in the East, Midwest, Southeast, Southwest and West, along with urban and rural schools.  One good use of the data collected by US News, in fact, is the ability to search by the percentage of international students. I suggest that international students should begin their search with some of these schools, and then working from there to find similar schools in the geographic location that they prefer. 

VERDICT: FALSE


Financial Aid is available

Due to the economic difficulties experienced worldwide in the past few years and the concurrent rise in American higher education costs, everyone is justifiably concerned with how to afford an education.  My school is very generous in terms of financial aid, and is one of few schools to award aid to international students.  This can lead students to expect that colleges will be equally beneficent; unfortunately that conclusion is false. Very few American colleges provide any kind of substantial financial assistance to international students, and non-citizens are ineligible for any kind of federal financial aid including grants and loans.

Education USA, a website produced in collaboration with the United States Department of State, has very helpful resources for international students and their families, including a list of schools that offer scholarships to students from other countries. Their website is full of useful information, and is well worth some careful examination.

The reason why so few American colleges give aid to international students is because the schools' budgetary plans depend on having an increasing number of "full pay" students; as the number of Americans willing and able to pay the full costs decreases, enrollment managers are looking to the international market.  Virtually every school requires international students to provide proof that their families have a bank account with an entire year's costs set aside.  Obviously, with costs exceeding $60,000 at some elite colleges and universities this is a substantial hurdle on a planet where the average yearly income is $9000.   The most popular "proof of finances" form comes from the College Board, and as you can see, it actually encourages students to demonstrate that they have four years of costs in the bank at the time they apply.  Needless to say, very few people can do this.

After the first year, international students may be eligible to get a part-time job on campus, or serve as a Resident Assistant, or a research aide to a professor to earn some money, but it is not very likely that international students will be able to receive substantial amounts of need-based financial aid. 

VERDICT: TRUE, BUT IT IS VERY LIMITED

Friday, June 14, 2013

In The News: Demographic Trends In The United States & What They Mean For College Education, Pt. 2

Yesterday, I wrote a response to an article in the New York Times having to do with increasing numbers of Americans attending college. The article included a graph (reproduced at right) that demonstrated that virtually every ethnic group is attending college at a higher rate than in previous decades. Today I want to expound on the message communicated in this graph in light of another article from the Times. As I've mentioned before, when I am not blogging, my "secret identity" is a college counselor and American history teacher at Wyoming Seminary College Preparatory School in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Despite our school being extraordinarily diverse, featuring students from over a dozen states and a score of countries, the American born students are quite homogeneous racially and economically. As a result, I feel compelled (especially in my history classes) to point out aspects of American society that are indicative of our country's complex racial history. Obviously "race" is a social construct, but it is still real, and makes a difference in all of our lives. Consequently, I was drawn to an article written by Sam Roberts headlined "Census Benchmark For White Americans: More Deaths Than Births". 

The lede of Roberts' article is as follows:
Deaths exceeded births among non-Hispanic white Americans for the first time in at least a century, according to new census date, a benchmark that heralds profound demographic change.   
The disparity was tiny--only about 12,000--and was more than made up by a gain of 188,000 as a result of immigration from abroad.  But the decrease for the year ending July 1, 2012, coupled with the fact that a majority of births in the United States are now to Hispanic, black and Asian mothers, is further evidence that white Americans will become a minority nationwide within about three decades. 
Overall the number of non-Hispanic white Americans is expected to begin declining by the end of this decade. 
Well that is pretty dramatic, isn't it?  But isn't it old news?  I mean, it should come to no surprise that the Census Bureau predicts changes in the racial makeup of the country, after all they predict that whites will only be 43% of the population in 2060.  As Ruy Teixiera noted at ThinkProgress, currently only four states (California, Hawaii, New Mexico and Texas) and the District of Columbia are majority-minority. Teixiera notes that before 2020 we can expect Nevada (46% minority in 2010), Maryland (45%), Georgia (44%) and possibly Florida (42%) to pass that threshold.  In the 2020's, Arizona, New Jersey and possibly Delaware and New York should follow suit. And by 2050, we may also see majority-minority populations in Connecticut, Illinois, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Virginia, Washington and possibly Alaska.

It turns out that Roberts was responding to a new study, which linked demographic changes to the economic difficulties of the past few years:
Nationally, said Kenneth M. Johnson, the senior demographer at the Carsey Institute, a research center based at the University of New Hampshire, “the onset of natural decrease between 2011 and 2012 was not anticipated.” He attributed the precipitous shift in part to the recession, adding that “the growing number of older non-Hispanic whites, which will accelerate rapidly as the baby boom ages, guarantees that non-Hispanic white natural decrease will be a significant part of the nation’s demographic future.”
According to the article, Johnson noted that in 2006 (before the recession), self-identified "whites" had 320,000 more births than deaths, as opposed to 2011, when the number was 29,000. Apparently the white population was even less fecund last year, resulting in the previously noted surplus of 12,000 deaths.  Perhaps it was this rapid drop-off that led a think-tank panjandrum to react with what seemed to be alarm:
"These new census estimates are an early signal alerting us to the impending decline in the white population that will characterize most of the 21st century," said William H. Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution.   
The transition will mean that "today's racial and ethnic minorities will no longer be dependent on older whites for their economic well-being," Dr. Frey said.  In fact, the situation may be reversed. "It makes more vivid than ever the fact that we will be reliant on younger minorities and immigrants for our future demographic and economic growth," he said.
Now it is possible that Frey was referring to the recent study cited in the Times ("For Medicare, Immigrants Offer Surplus, Study Finds").  But regardless, it seems pretty tacky (at minimum) and offensive to imply that "racial and ethnic minorities" are "dependent on older whites for their economic well-being". But having chastised Dr. Frey (who does seem overly prone to throw around phrases like "racial mingling"), I think it is worthwhile to take some time and see how these emerging demographic trends may impact higher education.

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According to the Census Bureau, it is likely that the proportion of the population younger than 18 will remain the same (about 20%) through 2060. So it is reasonable to assume that a similar amount of them will seek higher education after high school (or more, if the rate continues to rise).  I take for granted that the frequently seen worry that Massively Open Online Courses will destroy higher education is uninformed  fear-mongering by people who should know better, so therefore we should expect that the number of non-white college students will continue to increase in the coming decades. 

Most Americans consider themselves "middle class", and one hallmark of that status is an emphasis on education as a means of economic betterment. (This report from the Dept. of Commerce goes into quite a bit of detail about the American middle class, should you want to read it--it's 40 pages long, but it has an excellent bibliography). Unfortunately, economic mobility is not what it used to be, and fewer Americans are finding themselves able to improve upon the class status of their parents.  Furthermore, an increasing number of people think that they are losing ground; the Pew Research Center undertook a major survey last year, that (among other things), revealed that "85% of self-described middle-class adults say it is more difficult now than it was a decade ago for middle-class people to maintain their standard of living."

Several graphs from the 140 page Pew Report are quite thought provoking. The chart at right is proof that things have been getting worse for poorer people for decades.  While the immediate post-WWII decades saw consistent improvement for everyone, including the lower income quintiles (due to the strength of labor unions and commitment to collective bargaining by manufacturers who relied on domestic employees), the last three decades has seen a massive redistribution, leading to a situation where, as Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) observes:
Today, the wealthiest 400 individuals own more wealth than the bottom half of America - 150 million people. Today, the six heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune own more wealth than the bottom 30 percent.Today, the top one percent own 40 percent of all wealth, while the bottom sixty percent owns less than 2 percent.  Incredibly, the bottom 40 percent of all Americans own just 3/10ths of one percent of the wealth of the country.

In light of these figures, it is amazing that anyone has hope for the future, but the Pew Report indicates that it is the young, racial minorities, and the least educated who have the most faith that their children will experience higher living standards. If nothing else, this is an inspiring demonstration of the staying power of the American Dream. Especially in light of another story in this week's Times ("Discrimination in Housing Against Nonwhites Persists Quietly, U.S. Study Finds"). According to Shaila Dewan, the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development recently carried out a survey with disappointing results:
"Although we've come a long way from the days of blatant, in your face housing injustice, discrimination still persists,"Shaun Donovan, the department's secretary, said in a telephone conference on Tuesday. "And just because it has taken on a hidden form doesn't make it any less harmful.   
In each of the study's 8,000 tests, one white and one minority tester of the same gender and age, posing as equally well-qualified renters or buyers, visited the same housing provider or agent. In more than half the test cases, both testers were shown the same number of apartments or homes.  But in cases where one tester was shown more homes or apartments, the white tester was usually favored, leading to a higher number of units shown to whites overall. 
Overall, black prospective renters were presented 11% fewer rentals than whites, Hispanics about 12% fewer and Asians 15% fewer.  As prospective buyers, blacks were presented with 17% fewer homes and Asians 15% fewer, but Hispanics saw roughly the same number as whites.  White testers also were more frequently offered lower rents, told that deposits and other move-in costs were negotiable, or were quoted a lower price.  
The article notes that "even subtle discrimination like steering minorities to certain neighborhoods or failing to offer them the homes most likely to increase in value would result in substantially weaker accumulation of wealth." It is pretty clear from the table at right that minority groups have been among the "biggest losers" economically this century.  While it would be tempting to assume that when their numbers grow (by 2060, when today's minorities will collectively make up 57% of the population, up from 37% today) their incomes will also increase, it is not clear to me that this is so.

After all, why should we have faith that the economic mobility trends of the past three decades will suddenly reverse themselves?  And if today's racial minorities stay relatively poorer than whites, how will they be able to afford college?  Higher education costs have consistently risen over time, far outstripping the Consumer Price Index.  To be able to afford college (and graduate and professional schools), Americans have borrowed ever increasing amounts of money: over $1 trillion so far.



If upward economic mobility is limited, and if job options for college graduates are  ephemeral, leading to ever more over-educated minimum wage earners, how will tomorrow's young people be able to pay off their loans?  And what rational person will decide that it makes economic sense to take out such loans?  My wife and I have three graduate degrees among us (which is another way of saying that she has two), and 21 years after finishing our undergraduate diplomas (10 years since earning the last graduate degree) we still have 16 years to go until our student loans are fully paid off. While our degrees provide the main qualifications for our jobs, and no one can repossess our educations, I am not sure that the 18-year old version of me would have signed off on spending the next four decades in debt, especially debt that is very hard to discharge without full payment.

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So what have we learned?  The segments of the population that should grow the fastest in the next four decades consists of those who are currently the poorest, and who face many obstacles to economic improvement.  On the other hand, they are the most likely to be optimistic about the future of the country and of their children.  We've also learned that America's future prosperity will depend on this emerging majority, even though it is possible that higher education may be too expensive for them to continue expanding their share of the college population.

As I was preparing this post, Twitter blew up with accounts of a speech by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush (R).  Bush, the son and brother of former Presidents (and the husband of an immigrant from Mexico) is often touted as a future candidate for the nation's highest office.  Earlier today, while delivering a speech in favor of immigration reform,  Bush was quoted as saying:
"Immigrants create far more businesses than native-born Americans. Immigrants are more fertile, and they love families, and they have more intact families, and they bring a younger population. Immigrants create an engine of economic prosperity."
While he seems to be on the same page as William Frey, it is pretty clear that he misspoke when using the word "fertile". But Jeb Bush's larger point is impossible to argue against:
"If we don't do it [reform immigration policies], we will be in decline, because the productivity of this country is dependent upon young people that are equipped to be able to work hard."
Trends are clear that the "young people" of America's near future are much more likely to be Hispanic, Black or Asian.  And it is reasonable to think that they will have to work hard to survive (and to help support their elders--after all, I will be 90 years old in 2060!).  But will they be willing and able to pay the costs necessary to achieve the higher education that today's students struggle to afford?  Time will tell...




Thursday, June 13, 2013

In The News: Demographic Trends In The United States & What They Mean For College Education; Pt. 1

Ever since I was a kid, one of my favorite daily rituals has been reading the newspaper.  Nowadays, I rarely actually read the news in its "dead tree" format, but on a daily basis I do visit the websites of the following newspapers: the New York Times, the Guardian, the Washington Post, the Citizen's Voice and the Times-Leader (both of Wilkes-Barre, PA), and Philly.com, which compiles articles from the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News. I also read news commentary from the Atlantic, Slate, Salon, and the Huffington Post.  I know that seems like a lot, but what can I say?  It keeps me off the streets. One thing that I have learned from reading multiple news sources is that there are always several ways to look at a given subject, and one should never just blindly accept what one reads.    Just this morning I came across two articles that reminded me of this.  

As I've noted previously, in my day job I am a college counselor and American history teacher at Wyoming Seminary College Preparatory School in Northeastern Pennsylvania. I am frequently called upon to tell my students how fortunate they are to grow up in a family that expects them to go to college, because most Americans do not pursue formal education after high school; this always surprises them.  While I do not usually have to justify to my students the reasons to go to college, I do find myself dealing with lots of concern that college will not lead to meaningful careers.

On June 13, 2013, the New York Times published an article by Catherine Rampell headlined "Data Reveal A Rise In College Degrees Among Americans".  I think that this article is quite interesting, but in some ways too optimistic.  In my discussion of the article I will include excerpts (since people who don't subscribe to the Times have limited access to the paper), but feel free to read the full article if you can (and also take some time to read the hundreds of responses submitted by readers).  

The lede of Rampell's article is:
The number of Americans graduating from college has surged in recent years, sending the share with a college degree to a new high, federal data shows.
The surge follows more than two decades of slow growth in college completion, which caused the United States to fall behind other countries and led politicians from both parties, including President Obama, to raise alarms.
Last year, 33.5 percent of Americans ages 25 to 29 had at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with 24.7 percent in 1995, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. In 1975, the share was 21.9 percent. The number of two-year college degrees, master’s degrees and doctorates has also risen recently.
So, based on the introduction of the article, it would seem that Americans under 30 (the segment of the population most likely to still be pursuing their educations) are 8.8% more likely to have a bachelor's degree than they were 18 years ago; and furthermore that this is a positive development to be welcomed by Democrats and Republicans alike.  Leaving aside the fact that the parties seem to have trouble agreeing on anything, even education-related topics like student loan interest rates, digging deeper into the story shows that things are a bit more complicated.

The rest of the article analyzes the numbers on the basis of economics, focusing on issues such as unemployment rates, the correlation between income levels and educational achievement, and forecasted changes in the job market.  Some of the points raised make sense, but others struck me as either not going far enough, or being dubious.  

One of Rampell's major points is that the weak economy of the past half-decade has impelled people to seek temporary refuge in higher education:
The recent recession, which pushed more workers of all ages to take shelter on college campuses while the job market was poor, has also played a role.
“Basically, I was just barely getting by, and I didn’t like my job, and I wanted to do something that wasn’t living dollar to dollar,” said Sarah O’Doherty, 24, a former nail salon receptionist who will graduate next month from the County College of Morris in New Jersey with a degree in respiratory therapy. “After I had my son, I wanted to do something I felt passionate about, to have a career.”
Rampell also goes on to point out that the historical trend of higher education equating to lower unemployment is still ongoing:
Many economists point out that college graduates have fared much better than their less-educated peers and argue that rising educational levels will help the economy in the long run. Since the recession began in December 2007, the number of Americans with bachelor’s degrees who have jobs has risen by 9 percent, while employment has fallen for everyone else.
The unemployment rate for graduates of four-year colleges between the ages of 25 and 34 was 3.3 percent in March, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For high school graduates in the same age group who had not attended college, it was 11.8 percent.
This is important information, and (while it might not be relevant to Rampell's article) it might help to know that this is not new--the correlation between education and unemployment goes back for years, as demonstrated in this table from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis:



Furthermore, it is still the case that one's income will typically rise along with one's education:



But having said that, it is also increasingly likely that recent college graduates are "underemployed".  A Wall Street Journal article from March 30, 2013 points out that over a quarter of a million college graduates are working minimum wage jobs.  While the number of such people has decreased since the peak of the Great Recession, it is still remarkably higher than the numbers from just a decade ago.  In other words, today's college graduates are more likely than their older siblings to get a job for which they are over-educated and underpaid.


In fact, a recent survey by Accenture reveals that 41% of Americans who graduated college in 2011 and 2012 are working in jobs that do not require a college degree.  According to the survey, 32% of these college graduates earn less than $25,000 per year, and 44% live at home with their parents.  And when this year's graduates were surveyed in March, only 16% indicated that they had already landed a job.  

Rampell seems to ignore these negatives.  In fact, she seems eager to argue the opposite.  At the end of the article she discusses changes in "21st century employment" that call for a more educated workforce (the same things we've been hearing since Bill Clinton first ran for President 21 years ago):
Today’s premium for college degrees is caused partly by increasing selectiveness among employers about whom they hire and screening based on education even for positions that do not require higher skills. But jobs themselves have changed, too.
“Think about jobs 15 years ago that didn’t need any college education,” said Sandy Baum, a senior fellow at the George Washington University Graduate School of Education. Many of them now do, she added.
“Maybe you don’t need a bachelor’s to change bedpans,” Ms. Baum said, “but today if you’re an auto mechanic, you really have to understand computers and other technical things.”
I think that Rampell and Ms. Baum are living in a fantasy world.  In fact, our friends at the Bureau of Labor Statistics are pretty clear in their projections--at least 12 of the 30 fastest growing industries do not require significant education levels.



And what about the specific example provided in the article?  Is it true that auto mechanics need to "understand computers"?  Well, yes, but it does not mean that they need a college education.  In fact, the BLS is pretty clear in stating that they do not.  

Rampell's overriding point is that "The trends could bring good news in future years, economists say, as more Americans become qualified for higher-paying jobs as the economy recovers." But the data do not totally support this.  Leaving aside the question of just what a "recovered economy" will mean in the 21st century, when I look at the fastest growing jobs listed above, it seems like they can be broken into two categories: either health care or skilled and semi-skilled labor.  Those don't sound like the kind of jobs that are going to help my college counselees who are going to school to study history, or the classics, or business, let alone, those entering school with the most common major (undecided).

One of the most talented students I've ever taught just graduated last month from one of America's top universities. This student was so good at so many things that she had difficulty choosing a major, and ultimately settled on anthropology, all the while worrying about what kind of job prospects she would have. At this point she has no solid options for post-college employment, and is temporarily moving back home. She had a fantastic four years at her dream college, learning things and making friends that will enrich her life for years to come. But now that she has to enter the economy, she is (at least for now) just another statistic. So while it is wonderful that more people are pursuing higher education, it is not necessarily an unalloyed good. People should not look at college as the guarantor of a good income. Especially for those families that go into debt, it is important to recognize that the time it will take for the economic benefits to match the intellectual benefits of college can be considerable.