Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Value of a 2-year degree?

An article about improving graduation rates in IHE contains the following statement:

“Today, a two-year or four-year college degree or certificate is a prerequisite for economic success,” Hilary Pennington, director of education, postsecondary success and special initiatives for the Gates Foundation, said to an audience of higher education professionals gathered at the Library of Congress here. Yet while tangible economic incentives to finish college are evident, she said, completion rates have been stagnant since the 1970s.

Emphasis added.

First, if you take even a cursory glance at the graph I constructed showing 4-year grads, you can see that the completion rates have soared since the 1970s - for women. It is only the rate for men that has stagnated.

Further, the relation between a two-year degree and economic success is not supported by the census data I used in that previous study. It shows (table A-3 towards the bottom of the page) only a modest premium for anything less than a 4-year degree.

They don't break out an associates degree from "some college", but the raw numbers from 2007 don't support that claim:

HS degree31,286
Some college35,138
College degree57,181

A bit more than 10% might not make up for the opportunity cost or the loan debt some students get as the price of a failed attempt to go to college. A college dropout like Bill Gates is the exception.

By the way, those college-grad numbers really show why so many of my students see things like the recent announcement of federal support for "job training" at CCs as rather pointless. What they need is an extension of existing federal financial aid programs so they will pay for the extra year of classes they need to take before transferring into an engineering program. Students who aren't ready to start out in calculus as a freshman (ours often need a year or more of math before calculus) and also need a ton of science classes beyond the gen-ed requirements are ignored by the rules we currently operate under.

But high school completion, also mentioned in the article, is a BIG deal:

HS dropout21,484
HS degree31,286

Getting out of HS opens up lots of opportunities in the "skilled trades". I have no idea how a HS dropout can manage in our society, yet the census data say that about 14% never graduate.

BTW, I realize I forgot to work up the derivative data for college grad rates. I made a go of it, but the data are really noisy and I need to come up with a good smoothing algorithm that does not hide all of the fluctuations.

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