Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Tying Student Loans to Graduates' Employment Records

Sam Petula suggests that if you explicitly tie student loans to how college graduates do in the employment market, you can put pressure on colleges to scale back or even eliminate certain academic programs:
Last week’s announcement of new rules to bear down on career colleges like the University of Phoenix, which offer degrees in programs like Health Administration and Criminal Justice Administration, weren’t designed to force those questions. These programs come under a different section in the Higher Education Act, excluding them from regulations for how much money their graduates make. But the new rules—the gainful employment rules, as they’re called—could push federal regulators to start peering under the hood of more traditional colleges majors, according to reporting by Inside Higher Ed.
I'm reminded of recent reports about the college degrees that pay the least, with the psychology major being held out as a prime example of a popular but low-paying major. I majored in psychology (although principally because I wanted to graduate - I could have graduated a semester later with a major in chemistry, general science or political science), so I can attest both that you won't find job ads seeking candidates with bachelor's degrees in psychology and that it doesn't matter, because a bachelor's degree in psychology is not designed to be a terminal degree. If you want to be a psychologist, you continue toward a Ph.D., and if you don't you get a graduate degree in whatever field you intend to pursue. The knowledge you gain from the study of psychology can be helpful in other fields, but does not qualify you to be a mental health professional.

To the extent that students entering college believe that "Chinese literature", "religious studies" or "women's studies" are terminal degrees, colleges should be educating them to the contrary. If a traditional college is being anywhere near as misleading toward people majoring in those fields as the for-profits often are in relation to the job opportunities and incomes they suggest can be achieved through their programs, those colleges deserve a similar consequence.

There's a degree of difficulty in comparing a two year certificate program from a private university, that does little to nothing for a graduate's job prospects, with a four year degree that is meant to be followed by a graduate education. The better comparison is to community colleges which typically offer similar degree or certification programs at a significantly lower cost, and without the false promises or exploitation of the federal student loans. It would have made no sense to tell me that I would not qualify for student loans based upon my major... well, first because I went to a then-inexpensive state college, worked a ridiculous number of hours, lived on a shoestring, and graduated from my undergraduate program with no student loan debt, but ignoring that for a moment... because I could have simply and very plausibly declared a different major in order to qualify for loans, and also because my plan was to continue to graduate school such that my nominal major didn't matter.

To the extent that the government's hand appears too heavy, it's not because the government is cracking down on private colleges to the extent truly necessary to correct abuses - most of the teeth have been pulled from the final regulations. I would rather the concept of colleges acquiring insurance for the student loan moneys that they distribute, such that they could do what they wanted but in the event that their graduates didn't find jobs would find the insurance coverage for their students' loans to become unavailable (or, if you prefer, increasingly expensive and, with no corrections, ultimately unaffordable). The "lack of value" in a particular non-terminal four-year degree would be mitigated by the fact that the majority of recipients would continue through graduate school, and thus should not play a significant role in a college's insurance premiums.

5 comments:

  1. I'm all for the idea of colleges not pumping out graduates for whom there are no jobs. For example, oh I don't know, TEACHING!!!! I mean, I'd hate to begrudge the professors their cushy salaries (and yes, they are cushy!!) but the education schools continue to pump out thousands of graduates who will, quite bluntly, never find a teaching job. Elementary ed, Social Studies, History, Phys Ed, Music, Art...these fields are all saturated. Even special education is getting hit with graduates, such that most jobs now require three years of teaching in order to apply.
    Years ago, the Free Press had an article about how 3/4 of EMU education graduates would not find work...and that was before the nationwide recession. Now, I can't imagine how few actually find teaching jobs. Meanwhile the College of Ed just keeps taking the applicants and putting them through....
    (And yes, some of the responsibility lies with the students themselves, who should understand the risk of getting an Elementary Ed endorsement)
    PS: Happy belated birthday, Aaron :)

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  2. Cushy... I guess it depends upon the field. I recall a while back seeing an ad for a political science professor - expected to have two years of full-time teaching experience, a Ph.D. or equivalent, and offering a $45K starting salary. Better than an entry level k-12 teacher, sure, but the Ph.D. isn't required for teaching K-12. Odds are they had 100+ qualified applicants.

    In a lot of academic fields the bulk of teaching is increasingly performed by part-time, non-tenure track faculty. Which is a bit like turning colleges over to TFA. That's where I suspect the union busters want to go with K-12 education - low-paid workers who work themselves ragged trying to get permanent positions, but instead get tired after a couple of years and move on to other fields. (And, of course, if the union busters get their way with tenure, "permanent" would merely mean "not automatically fired at the end of the school year.)

    I don't think that there can be much dispute at this point that, whatever the intention, the "reforms" that started with NCLB have made life pretty miserable for a lot of people who intended to be career teachers, and between the lousy job market and warnings from people who have left (or are thinking of leaving) the profession, fewer and fewer people with other options are going to consider a career in teaching.

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  3. Well, I say cushy b/c I once made the mistake of looking at the UM salary list. I think I wet my pants; I know I cried. :) EMU is paid pretty well...my professor (granted, she's been there 10 years and is tenured) said she makes more than the top teacher in my district ($75k) but don't forget this professor only goes into EMU three days a week!!!

    I agree with you re: future labor...my district DID try to hire subs ($75-90 per day) to teach classes but the union sued their asses off and won. I sometimes read sub chat boards and man...it is ROUGH out there!

    Did you know that in Florida, they are now permanently on one year contracts? No one will ever know if they have a job the coming fall.

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  4. To the extent that students entering college believe that "Chinese literature", "religious studies" or "women's studies" are terminal degrees, colleges should be educating them to the contrary.

    They are, but not in the way you're suggesting. The "terminal" degree is not the B.A., but the PhD., and students are encouraged to continue on to that with the promise of a cushy academic job.....of course, after they've poured money and time into that advanced degree, and more importantly, offered underpaid, overworked labor as graduate students.

    I don't know if you were told this because as I recall you were not expecting to go onto an advanced degree in psychology, but we were in college at the time that humanities majors were told "of course there will be jobs for you - this whole generation of professors is retiring and you'll be able to step in."

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  5. I very much agree that people were (and probably still are) encouraged to pursue Ph.D.'s by colleges that should know better. But then, look at a typical law school's salary and employment figures - attempts to mislead are pervasive. Insuring student loans, as opposed to guaranteeing in the present sense, should deter universities from pushing people into graduate degrees with little to no market demand, may discourage exaggeration of graduates' employment and salary, and should create a reliable metric for colleges, majors and degrees - default rates, both for the college and the nation.

    If schools believe that their programs truly are going to produce highly employable graduates, they can continue to offer loans; if not, but they want to continue those programs without incurring higher loan costs, they could shift those programs toward grants and scholarships.

    I recall some of the "the current crop of Ph.D.'s will retire" stuff - and the number of part-time faculty was much lower back in the 1980's. But I also have a father who, when getting his Ph.D. back in the very early 70's, had been told pretty much the same thing - "There's a shortage of Ph.D.'s in your field, and jobs will be there for the taking." I also recall an editorial cartoon from... I think the Michigan Daily when we were in law school... showing a recent grad in a cap and gown, riding in the back of a taxi, eyes wide, with the driver saying, "Yes, I remember when I got my Ph.D."

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