Non-Random Readings: Calculating the Value of College

From this week’s New Yorker and just in time for the September board meeting comes a timely review of the arguments made on behalf of (and against) various theories of the value of a college degree, which in one writer’s estimation lead to a conclusion similar to the one we’ve been trying to make in various ways since 2010:

Perhaps the strongest argument for caring about higher education is that it can increase social mobility, regardless of whether the human-capital theory or the signalling theory is correct. A recent study by researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco showed that children who are born into households in the poorest fifth of the income distribution are six times as likely to reach the top fifth if they graduate from college. Providing access to college for more kids from deprived backgrounds helps nurture talents that might otherwise go to waste, and it’s the right thing to do. (Of course, if college attendance were practically universal, having a degree would send a weaker signal to employers.) But increasing the number of graduates seems unlikely to reverse the over-all decline of high-paying jobs, and it won’t resolve the income-inequality problem, either. As the economist Lawrence Summers and two colleagues showed in a recent simulation, even if we magically summoned up college degrees for a tenth of all the working-age American men who don’t have them—by historical standards, a big boost in college-graduation rates—we’d scarcely change the existing concentration of income at the very top of the earnings distribution, where C.E.O.s and hedge-fund managers live.

Being more realistic about the role that college degrees play would help families and politicians make better choices. It could also help us appreciate the actual merits of a traditional broad-based education, often called a liberal-arts education, rather than trying to reduce everything to an economic cost-benefit analysis. “To be clear, the idea is not that there will be a big financial payoff to a liberal arts degree,” Cappelli writes. “It is that there is no guarantee of a payoff from very practical, work-based degrees either, yet that is all those degrees promise. For liberal arts, the claim is different and seems more accurate, that it will enrich your life and provide lessons that extend beyond any individual job. There are centuries of experience providing support for that notion.” 

Read the rest to see how he got there…

CCC Makes the Reader

I was a little puzzled when the Chancellor said, in her speech yesterday, that some people are afraid that CCC will become a trade school or something like that. I had to go back to HWC at lunch to get something from my office, so I did and, while there, picked up a Reader for the train ride and stumbled on an article all about Reinvention and came across this paragraph in an article on CCC and Reinvention:

And that’s what’s making some people nervous. “Economic engine” seems to run counter to the long-time mission of the City Colleges of Chicago, which will celebrate its hundredth birthday this year and has been, since its founding, a gateway not just to a job but to broad educational and intellectual opportunity, regardless of social or economic status.

The question of whether the “People’s College” (its original name) should be a vocational school was chewed over at its birth by the likes of Jane Addams and William Rainey Harper—and discarded. In America, and in Chicago, city colleges would ensure a democracy of the mind. Vocational training was eventually added without changing that principle, at least in theory. But there’s a new, results-oriented trend in education that looks like it could turn community colleges into glorified job-training centers, providing a skilled workforce but “tracking” low-income students into dead-end jobs. These institutions would be run like businesses, with the decision-making power in the hands of executives rather than academics and an emphasis on efficiency. Serendipitous intellectual inquiry and academic autonomy would be luxuries and scarce.

And then it made sense. Read the rest HERE.

Chronicle Day–An Imaginative Education

So, I guess today is going to be Chronicle Day, because over the past week, I’ve found some great stuff in the Chronicle of Higher Education, and I thought, “Why not do a day featuring nothing but stories from the Chronicle with each post featuring a different story?”

I could not come up with a reason not to, and so here we are.

THIS ONE, called, “What Are You Going To Do With That?” is my favorite of the lot. And not just because it has this sentence (which I am going to try to use in every one of my classes next week at some point as a personal challenge):

“Hey, my dad’s a smart guy, but all he talks about is money and livers.”

It also has this:

Moral imagination is hard, and it’s hard in a completely different way than the hard things you’re used to doing. And not only that, it’s not enough. If you’re going to invent your own life, if you’re going to be truly autonomous, you also need courage: moral courage. The courage to act on your values in the face of what everyone’s going to say and do to try to make you change your mind. Because they’re not going to like it. Morally courageous individuals tend to make the people around them very uncomfortable. They don’t fit in with everybody else’s ideas about the way the world is supposed to work, and still worse, they make them feel insecure about the choices that they themselves have made—or failed to make. People don’t mind being in prison as long as no one else is free. But stage a jailbreak, and everybody else freaks out.

If you don’t read any of the rest, read this one. Comments, too.