Monday, June 27, 2011

Hard Evidence on Financial Value of College

Who knew? Dishwashers, childcare workers and hairdressers are among the group of workers who receive a significant salary increase just by going to college, up to an 83 percent increase for dishwashers who went to college vs. colleagues who did not. These findings are discussed here in an op-ed by David Leonhardt.

We're definitely at a point where all sorts of experts are wondering if college really pays off, particularly at a time of high unemployment and equally high debt loads for graduates. This year college loan debt is higher than credit cards, reaching a trillion dollars. A college grad with loans averages about $24,000.

I've argued that it is a major loss to the U.S. that we don't value and pay skilled technicians more, so that there can be actual, respected career paths for woodworkers and plumbers and electricians. But that is not the case, and we are left with this situation: "Sending more young Americans to college is not a panacea," says M.I.T. economist David Autor. "Not sending them to college would be a disaster."

Leonhardt's final assessment on whether college is necessary rings true. He describes those skeptical about the value of college as well meaning people, almost always with college degrees who are going to make certain their kids go to college.
"But in the end," he says, "their case against college is an elitist one -- for me and not for thee. And that's rarely good advice."

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Search for Scholarships Can Yield Decent Results

I've heard so many people say there are lots of scholarships out there; you just need persistence in looking for them. I thought it was an urban myth and it has seemed like a waste of time to me, time better spent working on homework or personal essays.

One young man went on a serious scholarship quest, netting more than $22,000 in 22 scholarships ranging in size from $500 to $4,000.

OK. Maybe I was wrong.

I was impressed at his approach and his organizational skills in tracking these scholarship opportunities. But part of me wished he'd been as successful at applying to schools as to getting money. He had good grades and a good story - he'd worked one summer in South Africa. Yet he was only accepted by two of the eight schools to which he applied.

But he helped me see two advantages to the scholarship hunt I'd never considered.
-- Since most of the scholarships were local, he was interviewed by people in the organizations offering them; he gained lots of interview experience.
-- He had to write essays for most of the applications. Again, worthwhile practice, with a purpose.

So give the scholarship search a shot. There's no harm and it's possibly a good and lucrative experience.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Why Can't Americans Teach Their Children How to Speak -- Other Languages

I am embarrassed to be an American when we travel -- on my own behalf and on behalf of my country. Europeans are often fluent in several languages. When we were in Spain recently, even shopkeepers in tiny produce stores could communicate with us. We at least tried to respond in our host country's tongue.

Our daughter did well - she was able to understand several speakers and managed to conduct several transactions on her own. The trip certainly made her more confident and she enjoys Spanish. But when I hear people move effortlessly from one language to another, I am jealous and humbled.

I took French and German in high school -- and got great grades. I could read and write (somewhat) but I could not confidently speak -- and I'd say I have lots of company. Just think of the hours all of us have spent in language classes. What do we have to show for it?

Now, New York State's famously tough Regents tests will, after this year, no longer measure what's been learned in French, Spanish and Italian classes. You can still take classes, but there will be no statewide gauging of success. And I just learned that the Spanish lit class our high school offers as a final, in-depth study of the language, will likely be cut for budget reasons.

I doubt that when our teens head off to college that their skills will improve. Why are we such a nation of language louts at a time when clear communication becomes more and more critical?

Je ne sais pas.