kitchen table math, the sequel: we're number 12

Monday, July 26, 2010

we're number 12

The United States used to lead the world in the number of 25- to 34-year-olds with college degrees. Now it ranks 12th among 36 developed nations.


“We spend a fortune recruiting freshmen but forget to recruit sophomores,” Michael McPherson, president of the Spencer Foundation, said at the meeting.


“We led the world in the 1980s, but we didn’t build from there,” he said. “If you look at people 60 and over, about 39-40 percent have college degrees, and if you look at young people, too, about 39-40 percent have college degrees. Meanwhile, other countries have passed us by.”

Canada now leads the world in educational attainment, with about 56 percent of its young adults having earned at least associate’s degrees in 2007, compared with only 40 percent of those in the United States. (The United States’ rate has since risen slightly.)

While almost 70 percent of high school graduates in the United States enroll in college within two years of graduating, only about 57 percent of students who enroll in a bachelor’s degree program graduate within six years, and fewer than 25 percent of students who begin at a community college graduate with an associate’s degree within three years.


The problem begins long before college, according to the report released Thursday.

“You can’t address college completion if you don’t do something about K-12 education,” Mr. Kirwan said.

Once a Leader, U.S. Lags in College Degrees
Published: July 23, 2010


Obi-Wandreas, The Funky Viking said...

Of course, this is a meaningless stat for two primary reasons:

1) Having a college or even graduate degree is no longer a sign of actually learning or knowing anything.

2) Post-secondary education does not necessarily mean college. There are plenty of careers (skilled craftsman, for example) that require post-secondary training and education for which a standard 4-year college is inefficient, if not completely useless.

Crimson Wife said...

Maybe other countries are wasting their taxpayers' resources in providing free college to individuals who don't truly have the need for it. We already have a lot of college graduates who are working in jobs that don't require a degree (like my brother-in-law who is a cashier at Target). That percentage would only increase if we improved the rate of college completion.

The real issue is job creation, not how many of our citizens hold a bachelor's degree.

Catherine Johnson said...

You all must read Race Between Education & Technology!

Goldin & Katz are the first economists to look into the effects of greater education levels on blue collar jobs.

They find a fairly large benefit, as I recall.

In essence: better educated people are better cashiers.

Catherine Johnson said...

The real issue is job creation, not how many of our citizens hold a bachelor's degree.

Prior to the crash, the real issue (citing Goldin & Katz) wasn't job creation. The real issue was a mismatch between jobs and labor. We were oversupplied with low-skill people & undersupplied with high-skill people.

For decades, American public schools produced - as I recall they show that the relationship is causal - steadily decreasing levels of inequality.

That changed in the 1970s.

The title of the book sums up what they found: there is a race between increasing education levels and increasing technology levels.

As 'technology' goes up, education needs to go up, too.

I put technology in quotation marks because as I recall Goldin & Katz define technology broadly....

I've got to start posting passages from The Race again.

Catherine Johnson said...

Having a college or even graduate degree is no longer a sign of actually learning or knowing anything.

I don't think that's true --- is there something in particular you base this in?

I'm sure we've had a progressive lowering of standards in colleges as well as in K-12, but to say (or imply) that students who make it through 4 years of college have no more knowledge than students who don't is wrong.

Pretty sure about that!

Anonymous said...

Sorry Catherine, but I have to agree.

Most liberal arts degrees are now worthless.*worthless*. They don't teach how to think. They don't teach how to read. They don't teach how to write.

Having a B.A. doesn't mean you've written a long term paper. It doesn't mean you've ever read a primary source. It doesn't mean you've read the western civ canon in any breadth, let alone any depth. Classes where you analyze Buffy the Vampire Slayer are not unusual.

What you think of as knowledge is absent most bachelors of arts degrees. Instead, students have a lot more "knowledge" of certain attitudes that the Left holds: the therapeutic mindset, the race/gender/class view of any element of history, the race/gender/class view of any literature, the race/gender/class view of political thought. This "knowledge" is not knowledge that either supports job creation or intellectual discipline.

So, I'd base it on what I saw students assigned as reading and writing in college undergrad studies at UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz, what I have seen of local undergrads around here from Macalester, U MN, Carleton, etc, and what I've seen from people who are recent law schools grads. This doesn't even address how little you can know and graduate from, say, San Diego State University.

It will take you some time to get up to speed on how poor universities are, but you should know before you get too far into this with C.

Catherine Johnson said...

Then why doesn't everyone have a college degree?

If students do nothing in college, then everyone entering college should easily be able to graduate 4 years later.

Crimson Wife said...

I don't think my BIL is any better at his Target cashier job after earning his BA than when he started working their part-time after high school. He's not a dumb kid, just someone who has trouble taking the initiative.

BIL got accepted to Notre Dame but when the school's financial aid package wasn't generous enough, he decided just to attend the local state college. By contrast, my DH took the initiative and figured out a way to pay for Stanford on his own by lining up outside scholarships including ROTC.

It strikes me as a waste of my IL's money to have paid for BIL to attend college at all given that he's working at the same kind of job he got after h.s. graduation.

Anonymous said...

That doesn't follow.

Humans in general have a difficult time convincing themselves to suppress immediate desires for long term gains. Adolescents and young adults are even less able to do this. For many people, especially men, the idea that 4 or more years from now, a piece of paper is going to matter, and foregoing small things now will affect that piece of paper, is just not relevant. It's especially difficult to keep with the immediate reward of a paycheck every week. So college is only preferable if the day-to-day stuff is more rewarding. If the day to day requirements include being bored day in and day out, especially if you are tired of hearing how privileged you are because of your skin color, that's another reason not to bother.

Then there's executive function. Not everyone has it well enough to manage college at 18, even if they have the inclination from other sources. Even if you aren't going to learn anything worthwhile in 4 years, you still have to have enough executive function to show up on time, write papers that conform to the ta's acceptable belief system, sit for the exams. If you're spending a lot of time drinking or getting high, executive function is even more compromised.

And of course, some students will be so badly prepared that they can't make it out of remediation.

Catherine Johnson said...

I can see I'm going to have to scare up the research.

There's quite a large body of research showing that students drop out of college because they aren't prepared to do the work.

That would not be the case if there wasn't any work assigned in college at all.

Nor would one need executive function in order to stick it out. If nothing is happening in college, there is nothing to stick. Students would check into their dorms, fire up YouTube & Facebook, and four years later have a degree.

Ditto for the ability to delay gratification. If nothing at all is happening in college courses - if no demands are being made - there is no need to delay gratification.

Catherine Johnson said...

Crimson Wife - of course I don't know your situation, but education isn't useful just on the job. I've drawn constantly on my own college education in the sciences when dealing with the many doctors & psychiatrists we've had to deal with.

I've also drawn heavily on Ed's education while engaging in local politics. Practically everything I've done locally has been built on Ed's historical knowledge of politics and change.

Catherine Johnson said...

btw, this isn't to say that I think our 17-year organization of K-college graduation makes sense.

I don't.

If I had my druthers it would be compressed.

And credentialism would go. I've just recently become aware of the fantastic escalation of course requirements for occupations that didn't require even a Bachelors degree in days gone by.

A doctor friend told me this is true for physicians as well. Instead of one year doing 'X' now medical students are expected to spend two years doing the same 'X' etc.

Anonymous said...

"Then why doesn't everyone have a college degree?

If students do nothing in college, then everyone entering college should easily be able to graduate 4 years later."

That the *content* of a 4-year BA degree from Unimpressive Rural State University is close to empty does not mean that anyone can do it.

Imagine, as a hypothetical, that we handed out BA degrees to anyone who could memorize the first 100,000 digits of a random digit string selected uniquely for each student. No knowledge implied by the degree, but not something that everyone can do, either.

Something can be tough, but meaningless. I think Allison is suggesting just this (although with a different manner of meaninglessness).

Additionally, while the college may not require you to write "long term paper", even a 3-5 page paper can be a *MAJOR* hurdle to many students.

Anecdote alert: 20 years ago while I was attending UCSB (middle of the pack for UC, but still a pretty good school when compared to the full range of colleges in the US), I had to take two English Lit classes as part of the required breadth. We had to write 3-5 page essays as part of these classes. These classes were *NOT* remedial ... in theory the students in them could already do high school level writing.

After the first assignment, the teacher stopped checking my handed in "proposed topics" and just told me to go ahead and write whatever I wanted. Huh? I asked him why. He said that mine was the *ONLY* essay in the bunch with a thesis statement.

My guess is that the situation at most 4-year colleges is worse. 2-year is probably even more horrible. Some percentage of these kids at UCSB were going to fail to graduate because they couldn't handle even 3-5 page essays. Most CalStates are worse. And things can go very downhill from there.

Onward. Primary sources? You must be joking. Any depth on western civ? Heck, or world history? Or US history? That is *retained* longer than the final? Sorry, no.

The bar seems pretty low to us for a 4-year BA from a nondescript school, but for the majority of graduating high school seniors, even this low bar is too high to clear. Sad :-(

-Mark Roulo

palisadesk said...

Interesting that they cite Canada as #1. I don't recall the source for this (may have been Michael Adams' fascinating book, Unlikely Utopia: The Surprising Triumph of Canadian Multiculturalism) but the high percentage of adults with university or college degrees is apparently due to high levels of immigration. The rate of university or college attendance among Canadian high school graduates is significantly lower than that in the U.S., even though tuition fees are much lower there.

Anonymous said...

Mark is better at making my point than I am.

Catherine, I didn't say there's no *work*. I am saying the assigned work in most BAs is worthless for helping a student to learn how to think or read or write. So what more do they have for real knowledge after 4 or more years of a BA? Precious little. But they know a great deal about seeing the world through the lens of gender, class, and race.

I will spend some time finding pointers so you can know what I'm referring to, but I'd start with VDH on the therapeutic culture, vocationalism, infusion of pop culture, etc.

are videos. Watch it. It's terrific.

Here's a short article, but it won't be giving much background.

Here's a longer article:

TerriW said...

In essence: better educated people are better cashiers.

Unfortunately, they are then better cashiers with tens of thousands of dollars of student loans.

Catherine Johnson said...

Unfortunately, they are then better cashiers with tens of thousands of dollars of student loans.

right - that's the boondoggle aspect of things.

Have you all read Walter Russell Mead's article on college & examinations??

I'll find the link.

Catherine Johnson said...

I have 1 nephew & 2 nieces currently attending community colleges (2 in CA & 1 in NC); I have 1 niece in a 4-year liberal arts college and another currently in law school. Also, my husband is a professor at NYU.

And I myself have a Ph.D. in a field that was saturated with post-structuralism, etc. at the time.

I do have some life experience of American colleges and universities!

Catherine Johnson said...

OK, I tracked down the Walter Russell Mead proposal & posted it.

Offhand, I love his idea. Haven't thought it through at all.

Another issue: I'm concerned about 'galloping credentialism'....which I **think** is a variant of the issue a number of you are raising.

Catherine Johnson said...

palisadesk -- wow!
Thanks for that factoid.

Bostonian said...

According to an A.P. article College dreams for Hispanics
"Census figures show that only 13 percent of Hispanics have a bachelor's degree or higher, compared with 30 percent among Americans overall."

From 2008 to 2050 the Hispanic proportion of the U.S. population is projected to rise from 15% to 30%, accrording to an NYT article In a Generation, Minorities May Be the U.S. Majority

Page 12 of the 2010 Progress Report says that 49.0% of whites, 70.7% of Asians, 30.3% of blacks, and 19.8% of Hispanics in the 25-34yr age group have at least an associates degree.
All of the countries ahead of the U.S. have populations that are mostly white or East Asian.

Given likely demographic changes, it will be a struggle to maintain the current fraction of college graduates, much less increase it. Reducing illegal immigration and changing the legal immigration system to be more skills-based, as in Canada, would be the most effective way to increase the fraction of college graduates.

Bostonian said...

To raise the fraction of college graduation rates, one must raise the graduation rate, and better preparation before college could help. In other countries, more time in high school is spent on core academic subjects. What a novel idea. /s

Do Differences in School's Instruction Time Explain International Achievement Gaps in Math, Science, and Reading? Evidence from Developed and Developing Countries
Victor Lavy
NBER Working Paper No. 16227
Issued in July 2010
NBER Program(s): CH ED LS

There are large differences across countries in instructional time in schooling institutions. Can these differences explain some of the differences across countries in pupils’ achievements in different subjects? While research in recent years provides convincing evidence about the effect of several inputs in the education production function, there is limited evidence on the effect of classroom instructional time. Such evidence is of policy relevance in many countries, and it became very concrete recently as President Barrack Obama announced the goal of extending the school week and year as a central objective in his proposed education reform for the US. In this paper, I estimate the effects of instructional time on students’ academic achievement in math, science and reading. I estimate linear and non-linear instructional time effects controlling for unobserved heterogeneity of both pupils and schools. The evidence from a sample of 15 year olds from over fifty countries that participated in PISA 2006 consistently shows that instructional time has a positive and significant effect on test scores. The effect is large relative to the standard deviation of the within pupil test score distribution. I obtain similar evidence from a sample of 10 and 13 year olds in Israel. The OLS results are highly biased upward but the within student estimates are very similar across groups of developed and middle-income countries and age groups. Evidence from primary and middle schools in Israel is similar to the evidence from OECD countries. However, the estimated effect of instructional time in the sample of developing countries is much lower than the effect size in the developed countries. I also show that the productivity of instructional time is higher in countries that implemented school accountability measures, and in countries that give schools autonomy in hiring and firing teachers.

momof4 said...

A previous post mentioned that in medical training, what was formerly done in x time is now done in 2x time. One of the factors driving that is a limit placed on the number of hours per week med students and residents may work, including on-call time. As soon as the GCME mandated a cap on hours for residents, one of the surgical training programs added a year to its residency, because it still takes the same amount of time to train surgeons in that specialty. I have also been told by med school faculty that the issues of med student time demands is related to the increasing number of women, which I think is now over 50% of the total. The demand for more family-friendly schedules is usually presented as a "women's issue" and therefore inviolable. This is also true in medical practice; women tend to be willing to trade a lower salary (or specialty) for better hours.