Monday, August 22, 2022

Colleges that Don't Seem to Help

The New York Times just published a follow up on this 2019 study:

Last year, 16 million students enrolled in an institution of higher education. Their number one reason for doing so: to get a good job that provides for a financially secure future. In practical terms, that means earning more than they would have if they never pursued a postsecondary education in the first place. Yet, employment data from the US Department of Education (Department) show that many institutions are failing to meet this expectation for most of their students. Last year alone, more than half of institutions left the majority of their students earning less than $28,000—the typical salary of a high school graduate. 

"Institutions" includes every sort of school for which you can get a federal loan, including 4-year colleges, community colleges, and trade schools. The survey point for this study was 6 years after entering the institutions, so two years out for students who finished a four-year college in four years.

There are a couple of caveats to make here. One is that the average time to complete a four-year degree is now over five years, so six years is not that far along in their careers. I haven't seen any recent numbers but I imagine many community college students also take extra time to finish. Another is that while a degree might not help right away, it might eventually help graduates rise higher in their companies or agencies. And this is what the New York Times found; measured ten years after entering school, more than 70 percent of schools had raised the salaries of more than half their graduates. Still, that means that nearly 30 percent of institutions did not meet this threshold. It's easy to blame the schools for this, and no doubt many of them are awful. But I suspect a bigger factor is the students; as far as I can see, the bottom line is that many students who pursue higher education in America are not interested or well prepared enough to get anything out of it. Where trade schools are concerned, it turns out that the main thing many students learn is that they don't want to do that kind of work. (I have two acquaintances who graduated from accredited massage schools but decided they hated doing massage.)

I think this is one of the main factors driving dissatisfaction in America. The system has been screaming at kids for decades that they need to get more education so they can have a good career, but in fact many people find that education doesn't help and they still end up in low-paid, dead-end jobs. With extra debt. Others find that they hate school too much to finish, or to put in the work needed to really get anything out of it.

There is simply a huge mismatch between what our economy demands and what many people want and are able to do. 

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