Tuning In to Dropping Out

Rick ScottFlorida’s governor, created a firestorm recently when he suggested that Florida ought to focus more of its education spending on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and less on liberal arts. Scott got this one right: We should focus higher-education dollars on the fields most likely to benefit everyone, not just the students who earn the degrees. Scott, however, missed another part of the equation: We need to focus more attention on the students who are being left behind, the millions of college and high-school dropouts.

Over the past 25 years, the total number of students in college has increased by about 50 percent. But the number of students graduating with degrees in STEM subjects has remained more or less constant.

Consider computer technology. In 2009 the United States graduated 37,994 students with bachelor’s degrees in computer and information science. That’s not bad, but we graduated more students with computer-science degrees 25 years ago!

The story is the same in other technology fields such as chemical engineering, math, and statistics. Few disciplines have changed as much in recent years as microbiology, but in 2009 we graduated just 2,480 students with bachelor’s degrees in microbiology—about the same number as 25 years ago. Who will solve the problem of antibiotic resistance?

If students aren’t studying science, technology, engineering, and math, what are they studying?

In 2009 the United States graduated 89,140 students in the visual and performing arts, more than in computer science, math, and chemical engineering combined and more than double the number of visual-and-performing-arts graduates in 1985.

There is nothing wrong with the arts, psychology, and journalism, but graduates in these fields have lower wages and are less likely to find work in their fields than graduates in science and math. Moreover, more than half of all humanities graduates end up in jobs that don’t require college degrees, and those graduates don’t get a big income boost from having gone to college. (Read more.)

Via Alex Tabarrok, The Chronicle of Higher Ed.

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Debt to Degree: A New Way of Measuring College Success

The American higher education system is plagued by two chronic problems: dropouts and debt. Barely half of the students who start college get a degree within six years, and graduation rates at less-selective colleges often hover at 25 percent or less. At the same time, student loan debt is at an all-time high, recently passing credit card debt in total volume. Loan default rates have risen sharply in recent years, consigning a growing number of students to years of financial misery. In combination, drop-outs and debt are a major threat to the nation’s ability to help students become productive, well-educated citizens.

The federal government has tracked these issues separately by calculating for each college the total number of degrees awarded, the percentage of students who graduate on time, and the percentage of students who default on their loans. While each of these statistics provides valuable information, none shows a complete picture.

In Debt to Degree: A New Way of Measuring College Success, Education Sector has created a new, comprehensive measure, the “borrowing-to-credential ratio.” For each college, authors Kevin Carey and Erin Dillon have taken newly available U.S. Department of Education data showing the total amount of money borrowed by undergraduates and divided that sum by the total number of degrees awarded. The results are revealing.

Via Kevin Carey and Erin Dillon, Education Sector

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College Dropouts Linked to Preparedness More Than Effort

There is no one simple answer to the question: Why do students drop out of college? But a new study from the University of Western Ontario tries to shed new light.

The study, “Learning About Academic Ability and the College Drop-Out Decision,” found that 40 percent of low-income U.S. college students who left a four-year college program did so because of poor academic performance, despite the students’ feeling they were prepared.

The researchers, Todd Stinebrickner, an economics professor at the University of Western Ontario, and his father, Ralph Stinebrickner, a professor emeritus at Berea College in Kentucky, found many university students were overly optimistic about their likely performance their first semester. After being disappointed with low grades, nearly half dropped out. It was not a matter of trying hard enough, but likely the institution was not a good match for them academically, the long-term panel study of students from low-income families found.

The authors suggest new policies be put in place that target individuals at much younger ages to better prepare them for a high-quality postsecondary education, especially for those who choose to study math or science (My emphasis). They caution that the study findings cast doubt on policies aimed at encouraging more incoming university students to major in math and science, and efforts should shift from recruitment to better preparation of high school students in these subjects.

via Education Week.

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