Thursday, January 22, 2009

Support for Real Education & A Call for Outcomes

by Daniel Bennett

In his highly provocative book, Real Education, Charles Murray makes a strong case that only a small percentage of high school graduates (between 10-20%) have the intellectual capability to handle a true liberal arts college education (before colleges become purveyors of customer satisfaction) and that America needs to de-stigmatize vocational/technical training. It is true, many Americans associate completion of a bachelor's degree with success. Murray also suggests that the expected payoff to a college education is grossly over exaggerated and that the earnings differential is attributable to innate differences in intellectual capabilities.

Murray argues that it is wrong to direct all students on to four year colleges and that each student should evaluate his/her own abilities, as well as interests, in deciding the best route for him/herself. That is to say, that many young people ought to consider what they have a comparative advantage in when evaluating postsecondary education options, including technical/vocational schools (as well as the costs and benefits of each option). A person who has relatively strong linguistic and mathematical-logical intelligence should probably shoot for a four-year college, while someone with relatively strong spatial and naturalistic intelligence may be better for suited for a technical/vocational field.

A recent study prepared by the Hudson Institute and CNA, offers some evidence in support of Real Education, as well as provide support for colleges to track student outcomes, such as job placement and earnings. Researchers Louis Jacobson and Christine Mokher made use of a large longitudinal dataset that tracked the postsecondary education choices and earnings of a cohort of nealry 145,000 Florida public high school students. The data were used to estimate the effect of education on earnings, postsecondary outcomes, and the differences in earnings and postsecondary outcomes by family income. Among the key findings:
"...that there are postsecondary pathways available to raise the earnings of students who did not perform especially well academically in high school."

"Student preparation and performance are important predictors of persistence and the attainment of a credential."

"Students with weak performance in high school have high probabilities of attaining a credential in career-oriented high-return fields"

"For students receiving degrees, close to half of the difference (in earnings) is associated with better high school preparation and performance, better performance in college,... This result implies that the earnings of students attaining degrees would be substantially above average even if they did not attain degrees or attend college (emphasis added). This result suggests that attainment of a certificate, especially in career-oriented fields, offers a pathway to substantially increase earnings that is open to lower performing high school students."

"when all factors are taken into account, students with certificates show substantial earnings gains relative to students with similar characteristics who leave college without credentials"
The moral of the story is that high school students who are not prepared for college are often saddled with remedial courses when they begin college--course material which they were unable to grasp in high school and have a high probability of failing to grasp in college. This sets these students up for failure in addition to being a drain on taxpayer dollars and the individual student's personal economic situation. Instead, it would be much better policy to guide students who possess a comparative advantage in spatial or technical knowledge into a vocational or technical field, where their chances of completion are increased and earnings potential greater.

As for a call for outcomes, as stated earlier, this study was possible due to the State of Florida's unique data system that links its citizens education and employment records. If this type of system was available on a national level, then policy makers would be better equipped to make decisions on how to allocate taxpayer money to education. This makes logical sense, but there appears to be resistance from college leaders--who state a need to protect the privacy of their students, which is blasphemy, considering the increasing number of security breaches happening at US colleges, which allow hackers access to personal information of thousands of students, as well as the fact, which Kevin Carey points out, that colleges are already electronically submitting personal information on a monthly or quarterly basis to the National Student Clearinghouse--used to track the location of students for loan purposes. Some colleges may simply be afraid that the truth may be found out-- that their institutions offer little value added, other than a credential.


capeman said...

This is so naive, in much the way Murray is naive. Consider

"often saddled with remedial courses ... it would be much better policy to guide students who possess a comparative advance in spatial or technical knowledge into a vocational or technical field, where their chances of completion are increased and earnings potential greater."

A "comparative advance (sic) in spatial or technical knowledge" is precisely what a vast swath of the students taking remedial courses lack -- remedial math, remedial science, basically high school or even grade school level stuff.

Murray is so naive, and rather condescending to boot, about "technical" vocational educational. He seems to think if you're stupid, or just plain dull, that off you go to discover your potential as an electrician or auto mechanic or even heaven help us an accountant.

Whereas these are not such easy programs, even leave out accounting, not so easy. The distinction between a marginal engineering student and the kid who's cut out to be an electrician is not so clear cut, not so obvious that you can sort them the way you do cranberries into the rejects and the successful ones (who get to be in cranberry sauce).

Not everyone is cut out to be an engineer, but it's no crime to try and fail, or try and find out it's not what you want. Plenty of people in trades end up there after a process of trial and error.

Cowboy said...

Based on what I have read on this blog site over the past few years and the simple-minded comments by people like "capeman" who seem to have nothing better to do than troll the internet all day long; And also based on ad hominem personal attacks like those comments by "Chris" leveled against the bolg site posters at CCAP; and, finally, based on my own research and reading, I have come to the conclusion that I just can not compel myself in any way to support higher education in any way that would perpetuate such a mess and gathering of people who are completely unhinged. It's quite sickening and disgusting. I think "Higher Education" deserves a lot better than the childish, amateur hour that it seems to be.

Good luck.

capeman said...

Simple-minded, childish, troll, sickening, unhinged ... your admiration shines through ... may your good feelings be amply repaid!