Women flock to educational opportunities

Instead of Work, Younger Women Head to School

By , NY Times
Published: December 28, 2011

Workers are dropping out of the labor force in droves, and they are mostly women. In fact, many are young women. But they are not dropping out forever; instead, these young women seem to be postponing their working lives to get more education. There are now — for the first time in three decades — more young women in school than in the work force.

“I was working part-time at Starbucks for a year and a half,” said Laura Baker, 24, who started a master’s program in strategic communications this fall at the University of Denver. “I wasn’t willing to just stay there. I had to do something.”

Many economists initially thought that the shrinking labor force — which drove down November’s unemployment rate — was caused primarily by discouraged older workers giving up on the job market. Instead, many of the workers on the sidelines are young people upgrading their skills, which could portend something like the postwar economic boom, when millions of World War II veterans went to college through the G.I. Bill instead of immediately entering, and overwhelming, the job market.

Now, as was the case then, one sex is the primary beneficiary. Though young women in their late teens and early 20’s view today’s economic lull as an opportunity to upgrade their skills, their male counterparts are more likely to take whatever job they can find. The longer-term consequences, economists say, are that the next generation of women may have a significant advantage over their male counterparts, whose career options are already becoming constrained.

For now at least, many young women still feel that the deck is stacked against them.

“Almost everyone in my program is female,” said Ms. Baker, who hopes a master’s degree will help her get a job running communications at a nonprofit group. “That’s partly because of the program, but also because as women we feel like we have to be more educated to be able to compete in really any field.”

Women still earn significantly less than men. And in the two and a half years since the recovery officially began, men age 16 to 24 have gained 178,000 jobs, while their female counterparts have lost 255,000 positions, according to the Labor Department.

Apparently discouraged by scant openings, 412,000 young women have dropped out of the labor force entirely in the last two and a half years, meaning they are not looking for work.

Among young men, the labor force fell during the recession but has been flat since the recovery began. Today, across all age groups, an unemployed female worker is 35 percent more likely to drop out of the labor force in the next month than an unemployed male worker.

Some studies suggest that women are pickier about their job choices than men. Already earning lower pay, women are less willing to work when wages fall further, especially if they are able to rely on an employed (and these days, often newly re-employed) husband. Women are also more reluctant to work night or weekend shifts, according to government data on how Americans spend their time, partly because they have more family responsibilities.

“The jobs out there just aren’t very good, and men seem more willing to take them for whatever reason,” said Jonathan L. Willis, an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. “The women are looking at those same jobs and saying, ‘I’ll be more productive elsewhere.’ ”

Then there are societal influences that affect a person’s willingness to take a lesser job or return to school.

“There is still this heavy cultural message that men should be out there earning money and supporting themselves, and they feel more distressed by losing their breadwinner role,” said Stephanie Coontz, director of research at the Council on Contemporary Families. “We’ve made much more progress overcoming the ‘feminine mystique’ than this masculine mystique.”

While these roles evolve, community colleges are reporting record enrollment.

Both men and women are going back to school, but the growth in enrollment is significantly larger for women (who dominated college campuses even before the financial crisis). In the last two years, the number of women ages 18 to 24 in school rose by 130,000, compared with a gain of 53,000 for young men.

The education gap aside, in some ways young women will already have an advantage over men in the coming decade. Many of the occupations expected to have the most growth, like home health aides and dental hygienists, have traditionally been filled by women. That is not to say that men cannot take those positions, but they may not want to.

“Today young girls are told they can do anything, go into any occupation. But if boys express any interest in traditionally female occupations, they get teased and bullied,” Ms. Coontz said. “Lots of guys are not understanding what’s happening to traditional low-income or middle-income male jobs.”

Jobs in the male-dominated manufacturing industry and in other sectors involving manual labor have been, and still are, in structural decline. These careers can also be hard to maintain indefinitely because youthful strength eventually fades. And now many manufacturing workers do not have pensions to carry them through when their bodies do break down.

“It doesn’t surprise me that in a poor economy women are ramping up their schooling,” said Heather Boushey, an economist at the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning research organization. “The real question is: Why aren’t more men doing that too?”

The main risk in going back to school is the accompanying student loan debt. Tuition increases have been outpacing inflation for years, a trend accelerated by state budget cuts.

“Our funding per student has been cut 25 percent in the last three years,” said Stephen Scott, the president of Wake Technical Community College in Raleigh, N.C., which is one of the fastest-growing community colleges in the country. Consequently, class sizes have risen, and so has tuition. But the students — again, mostly women — still pour in.

“We now have 6,000 students on a waiting list because we didn’t have the resources to offer more classes,” he said.

Those attending more expensive private schools, like Ms. Baker, will have an even tougher time guaranteeing that their educational investment pays off. Including the loans that financed her undergraduate education at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, she will complete her master’s program next year owing about $200,000 in debt.

“I have to have faith that I will eventually get a good job that pays enough to pay my living expenses and pay back my loans,” she said, “and hopefully make me happy in the process.”

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College Drug Testing Student Body

Linn State Technical College Begins Widespread Drug Tests

ALAN SCHER ZAGIER   09/ 7/11 09:52 PM ET   AP

LINN, Mo. — Textbooks? Check. School sweatshirt? Check. Urine specimen cup? Only if you want to stay in school.

A drug-free demand greeted new students Wednesday at Linn State Technical College, a two-year school in central Missouri that has enacted what may be the most far-reaching drug testing policy at a public college or university in the country.

Federal and state courts have consistently upheld more limited drug testing of public high schools students, such as those who play sports, as well as NCAA athletes and students at private colleges. But the move by Linn State to enact widespread drug tests of the general student body appears unprecedented – and no small point of pride for administrators at the state’s only technical college.

“It does appear that our program is unique in its scope and breadth,” said Kent Brown, a Jefferson City attorney who represents the 1,200-student school, which is located about 100 miles southwest of St. Louis. “But there aren’t very many colleges as unique as ours.”

School leaders say the tests, which they prefer to call drug screenings, are necessary to ensure student safety at a campus where the coursework includes aircraft maintenance, heavy engine repair, nuclear technology and other dangerous tasks. They surveyed hundreds of local employers, who overwhelmingly supported a requirement those same students will soon encounter in the job market, said Richard Pemberton, associate dean of student affairs.

“They’re going to be faced with this as they go into the drug-free workplace,” he said. “We want them to be prepared.”

All first-year students – including those pursuing general education degrees while studying accounting, communications, math, and social sciences – must comply with the requirement, which began Wednesday, two weeks into the fall semester. So must returning students who took a semester or two off and are seeking a degree or academic certificate at the school’s campuses in Linn, Jefferson City and Mexico, Mo. Physical therapy students enrolled in cooperative programs between Linn State and two community colleges in northern and southeastern Missouri also must participate.

The mandatory drug tests are raising the hackles of civil libertarians, who call it a constitutional violation of the Fourth Amendment protection against unlawful searches and seizures, an invasion of privacy and a likely lawsuit target.

“I’ve never heard of any other adult public educational institution that presumes to drug-test all of its students,” said Columbia attorney Dan Viets, a member of the Missouri Civil Liberties Association. “They’re trying to break some new ground here. I don’t think the courts will uphold it.”

While Linn State officials say they are working to address the objections by Viets’ group, the attorney suggested that a legal challenge was imminent unless the program is halted.

“I don’t know why they think they can get away with it,” Viets said. “I hope we don’t have to go court. But if we have to we will.”

Brown, the school’s attorney, said Linn State is on firm legal footing. He noted that more narrowly focused drug tests for students who work with heavy machinery, or are in some health professions, are not uncommon.

The tests screen for 11 drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine and oxycodone. Students who test positive can stay in school while on probation but must test clean 45 days later to remain enrolled while also completing an online drug-prevention course or assigned to other, unspecified “appropriate activities,” according to the school’s written policy.

Students who initially test positive but then test negative a subsequent time will remain on probation for the rest of that semester and also face an unannounced follow-up test. The tests cost $50, a fee paid by students.

“We wanted this to be more of an educational approach,” Pemberton said. “What we’re doing here is not as strenuous as in the workplace.”

“We’ve been very careful about treading on their rights to privacy,” he added. “When you do something that has the potential to violate someone’s rights, you have to be cautious.”

New and prospective students were advised about the testing program in the spring, as well as during fall orientation.

Viets said his group learned of the new program from Linn State students who were concerned about the drug tests. First-year student Brian Crider, though, said his classmates aren’t worried about the requirement.

“I don’t think a lot of us are bent out of shape,” he said. “I think it’s a good idea. It helps us prepare for the real world.”

College Becomes First to Ask Applicants About Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity

Illinois college becomes first to ask undergrads if they’re gay

(CNN) — Elmhurst College, a private liberal arts school in suburban Chicago affiliated with the United Church of Christ, has become the first college in the country to ask an optional question about a student’s sexual orientation and gender identity on an undergraduate admission form, according to the school and a gay rights advocacy group.

“Would you consider yourself a member of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community?” the new application asks prospective enrollees.

Students can answer “Yes,” “No,” or “Prefer not to say.”

That optional demographic question is among others about religious affiliation, language spoken at home and whether they have worked with a community-based organization, according to the college and the advocacy group.

The sexual orientation question is designed to help the college advance diversity and connect prospective students with school resources such as scholarships and campus organizations.

“We took this step in an effort to better serve each of our students as a unique person,” Elmhurst President S. Alan Ray said in a news release Thursday. “It also allows us to live out our commitments to cultural diversity, social justice, mutual respect among all persons, and the dignity of every individual. These are among the core values of this institution. They provide the foundation for all of our academic, student and community programs,” Ray said.

Added Gary Rold, dean of admission, in the media release: “All of the information that we glean from our admission applications is used to provide a wide variety of opportunities, services and programming that is appropriate to each individual student.”

Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride, which calls itself the leading national nonprofit advocating safer learning environments for LGBT college students, praised Elmhurst College.

“Elmhurst College has really set the bar when it comes to college admissions and allowing LGBT students to be who they are and to be out,” Windmeyer said. “As a result, they can take responsibility for setting a safe learning environment for all students.”

For the past five years, Campus Pride has been trying to get the optional question included in a standardized online college application now used by more than 400 U.S. universities, including Ivy League schools, Windmeyer said.

But that effort by Campus Pride has been unsuccessful, Windmeyer said.

Elmhurst College is among the remaining 2,100 public and private four-year institutions in the country that are not part of that nonprofit membership organization using the standardized online application, Windmeyer said.

Located in Elmhurst, Illinois, the college is affiliated with the United Church of Christ, a Protestant denomination that was the first to ordain a woman in the 19th century. It was also the first to ordain an openly gay person in the 20th century: William R. Johnson, a graduate of Elmhurst College, who became a church minister in 1972, according to the school.

The school describes itself as being at times “pioneering on social justice issues,” according to its news release.

“Of course, we recognize that this question may signal to applicants that Elmhurst is ‘walking the walk’ of support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons,” Ray said in the release. “This is a source of pride for us. It is entirely consistent with our mission and vision to prepare students to “understand and respect the diversity of the world’s cultures and peoples.”

Student Debt Could Be Next Financial Bubble to Burst

Moody’s Warns Student Loans May Be The Next Financial Bubble To Burst

Student Debt Sucks

First Posted: 8/9/11 06:25 PM ET Updated: 8/9/11 06:37 PM ET, The Huffington Post

WASHINGTON — Record borrowing by college students who are graduating without jobs may lead to the next financial crisis, according to a recent report by Moody’s Analytics.

“The long-run outlook for student lending and borrowers remains worrisome,” concluded the report, which came out in July.

“Unlike other segments of the consumer credit economy, student loans have not demonstrated much improvement in performance despite some improvement in the broader economy. … [T]here is increasing concern that many students may be getting their loans for the wrong reasons, or that borrowers — and lenders — have unrealistic expectations of borrowers’ future earnings.”

 

 

The Moody’s report points to the fact that student loan volume growth, unlike other lending, has accelerated during the recession. This is due in part to people seeking more education and retraining as well as some students opting to remain in college longer to avoid poor job prospects.

The report indicated that in addition to college enrollment tripling over the past four decades, “demand [for student loans] is driven by the cost of education, which has grown at an extraordinary rate over the past three decades.” Based on Consumer Price Index data, the cost of tuition and fees has more than doubled since 2000, and has outpaced inflation across all goods, health care, housing and energy.

Student lending has also increased due to state governments making cuts to their public education institutions, causing colleges to raise tuition. Further, college endowments have recovered slowly throughout the economic downtown, forcing schools to increase tuition and limiting the amount of in-house money for scholarship use.

The student loan debt load now outpaces credit card debt, and according to Mark Kantrowitz, who publishes the financial aid websites Fastweb.com and Finaid.org, the average 2011 college graduate carries $27,200 in student debt.

“Fears of a bubble in educational spending are not without merit,” the Moody’s report said.

Using consumer credit data from Equifax, Moody’s noted the original borrowing amounts taken out by students have risen significantly over the past two years.

For-profit schools, which have much lower graduation rates than traditional colleges, have also grown rapidly.

Youth unemployment among those under the age of 24 has been much higher than the rest of the workforce — creating an even more pessimistic outlook for student loan repayment. In the U.S., it was over 15 percent for the first quarter of 2011, and is similarly problematic around the world.

However, the report notes there could be negative implications if people take out fewer loans, when that is their only means to attend college. In the short term, if fewer people pursue higher education and avoid student debt altogether, it would cause a drag on consumption. In the long term, a less educated workforce would put the U.S. at a disadvantage.

With the changes coming to student loans by the recent debt ceiling agreement, some college students will inevitably see even more debt by the time they graduate.

In the Budget Control Act of 2011, the agreement to raise the debt ceiling, subsidized federal student loans were put on the chopping block. Beginning next July, graduate and professional students — those who already have bachelor’s degrees and seek masters or doctorates — would be charged interest while in school. According to Finaid.org, this would potentially increase students’ total debt by graduation by 16 percent.

The cuts to federal student loans were redirected toward shoring up Pell Grants. After the details were announced, Pauline Abernathy, vice president of the Institute for College Access & Success, expressed concern for the more than nine million students who utilize Pell grants.

“Even with a Pell Grant, recipients are more than twice as likely as other students to have to take out student loans, and they graduate with significantly more debt than other students,” Abernathy said in a statement last week.

According to the Associated Press, the promise of further cuts from the “super committee” — formed as a result of the debt ceiling agreement — raises concerns of reductions in tax breaks to offset the cost of college and the low interest rates of federal student loans.

Pell Grants Are A Point of Contention for GOP

Conservatives angry over Pell Grant funding in Boehner debt bill

By Alexander Bolton – 07/28/11 06:13 PM ET The Hill

House conservatives who have stalled legislation to raise the national debt limit are angry that it includes $17 billion in supplemental spending for Pell Grants, which some compare to welfare.

Legislation crafted by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to raise the debt limit by $900 billion would directly appropriate $9 billion for Pell Grants in 2012 and another $8 billion in 2013.
This has shocked some conservative House freshmen who say they were elected to cut spending, not increase it. Some House Republicans think of it as being akin to welfare.
“I really don’t understand why we’re increasing spending in a bill supposed to be cutting spending,” said Rep. Andy Harris, a freshman Republican from Maryland. “It was negotiated without the input of a lot of members.”

Harris has indicated to The Baltimore Sun that he will vote no.

House Republican leaders say they included concessions to Democrats in efforts to forge a compromise that could pass both chambers.

“This is a compromise piece of legislation that was negotiated between the Speaker and the bipartisan leadership in the Senate,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told reporters Thursday afternoon.

One major concession is the establishment of a select joint committee to assemble another deficit-reduction package later in the 112th Congress.

“The joint select committee is something that came from the Democrats. We don’t have all the cuts we like in this bill but we’re willing to compromise,” Cantor said.

The inclusion of the extra money for Pell Grants could cost Republican votes.

Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) has compared Pell Grants to “welfare”.

“So you can go to college on Pell Grants — maybe I should not be telling anybody this because it’s turning out to be the welfare of the 21st century,” Rehberg told Blog Talk Radio in April. “You can go to school, collect your Pell Grants, get food stamps, low-income energy assistance, Section 8 housing, and all of a sudden we find ourselves subsidizing people that don’t have to graduate from college.”

Rehberg has not said how he will vote on Boehner’s bill.

Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), who has not revealed his position, said the Pell Grants have “been part of the discussion” among conservatives who are debating whether to support the bill.House GOP leaders postponed a vote on the plan Thursday evening because of opposition within their conference.

Funding Pell Grants has been a top priority for President Obama. In his 2012 budget blueprint, the president sought to preserve the maximum grant at nearly $5,550 a year.

How to Make College Cheaper

Coming from a liberal arts background, I’m not sure I would necessarily agree with everything prescribed here, but still an interesting read…

Better management would allow American universities to do more with less

Schumpeter Jul 7th 2011 | from the print edition THE ECONOMIST

DEREK BOK, a former president of Harvard, once observed that “universities share one characteristic with compulsive gamblers and exiled royalty: there is never enough money to satisfy their desires.” This is a bit hard on compulsive gamblers and exiled royals. America’s universities have raised their fees five times as fast as inflation over the past 30 years. Student debt in America exceeds credit-card debt. Yet still the universities keep sending begging letters to alumni and philanthropists.

This insatiable appetite for money was bad enough during the boom years. It is truly irritating now that middle-class incomes are stagnant and students are struggling to find good jobs. Hence a flurry of new thinking about higher education. Are universities inevitably expensive? Vance Fried, of Oklahoma State University, recently conducted a fascinating thought experiment, backed up by detailed calculations. Is it possible to provide a first-class undergraduate education for $6,700 a year rather than the $25,900 charged by public research universities or the $51,500 charged by their private peers? He concluded that it is.

Mr Fried shunned easy solutions. He insisted that students should live in residential colleges, just as they do at Harvard and Yale. He did not suggest getting rid of football stadiums (which usually pay for themselves) or scrimping on bed-and-board.

His cost-cutting strategies were as follows. First, separate the funding of teaching and research. Research is a public good, he reasoned, but there is no reason why undergraduates should pay for it. Second, increase the student-teacher ratio. Business and law schools achieve good results with big classes. Why not other colleges? Mr Fried thinks that universities will be able to mix some small classes with big ones even if they have fewer teachers. Third, eliminate or consolidate programmes that attract few students. Fourth, puncture administrative bloat. The cost of administration per student soared by 61% in real terms between 1993 and 2007. Private research universities spend $7,000 a year per student on “administrative support”: not only deans and department heads but also psychologists, counsellors, human-resources implementation managers and so on. That is more than the entire cost of educating a student under Mr Fried’s scheme.

Veteran university-watchers may dismiss Mr Fried’s ideas as pie in the sky. (“The only part of college not mired in tradition is the price,” grumbles Ben Wildavsky, a co-editor of “Reinventing Higher Education”.) Yet some universities are beginning to squeeze costs. The University of Minnesota’s new campus in Rochester has defined teaching as “job one”. The Harrisburg University of Science and Technology has abolished tenure and merged academic departments. Regents at the University of Texas are talking about a $10,000 undergraduate degree.

Mr Fried fails to mention an obvious source of savings. Americans could complete their undergraduate degrees in three years (as is normal elsewhere), instead of four. In practice, most American students take even longer than four years, not least because so many work to pay their tuition. Surprisingly, America’s future chainsaw-wielding corporate titans take a leisurely two years to complete their MBAs; most Europeans need only one.

Shai Reshef, an educational entrepreneur-turned-philanthropist, is pioneering an even more radical idea. His University of the People offers free higher education (not counting the few hundred dollars it costs to process applications and mark exams), pitching itself to poor people in America and the rest of the world. The university does this by exploiting three resources: the goodwill of academic volunteers who want to help the poor, the availability of free “courseware” on the internet and the power of social networking. Some 2,000 academic volunteers have designed the courses and given the university some credibility. Tutors direct the students, who so far number 1,000 or so and hail from around the world, to the online courses. They also help to organise them into study groups, and then supervise from afar, dropping in on discussions and marking tests. Mr Reshef pays for incidental expenses with $2m of his own money and donations.

There are plenty of questions about Mr Reshef’s project. Can you really build a university on volunteerism and goodwill? Can students really be relied upon to do most of the teaching themselves? Will free courseware remain free? (Newspapers that used to give away content online are now putting up pay barriers.)

Mr Reshef’s university has yet to win accreditation, which could take years. But he can take comfort from Clayton Christensen’s classic book “The Innovator’s Dilemma”. Mr Christensen points out that innovators often start by offering products that are cheaper, but markedly inferior. Quickly, however, they learn how to improve their offerings. Even if Mr Reshef fails, there are plenty of other disruptive innovators around. In America, one tertiary student in ten already studies exclusively online. One in four does so at least some of the time, and a growing number of bodies, including elite universities, think-tanks, governments and international organisations, are putting first-rate material online.

The coming campus rumpus

Sometimes when academics grouse that there is “never enough money”, they are justified—big science costs big bucks. But higher education is nevertheless marred by inefficiencies and skewed incentives. Students pay to be taught, but their professors are rewarded almost entirely for research. Mr Fried’s calculations suggest that one can slash costs without sacrificing much that students value. Mr Reshef’s experiment may fail, but there is no doubt that universities need more experimenters. The cost of tuition cannot forever rise faster than students’ ability to pay. Industries that cease to offer value for money sooner or later get shaken up. American universities are ripe for shaking.