Understand Job Demand When Pursuing Higher Ed Options

Business Insider posted an article recently titled “I Consider Law School a Waste of My Life and an Extraordinary Waste of Money.” While this represents just one person’s experience, the narrative paints a startling picture of the realities some people face in this microcosm of higher education.

The article is a Q&A with an anonymous 28-year-old lawyer who says he incurred a “life-destroying” amount of debt by going to law school, with nothing to show for it now.

“Never in my worst nightmares did I think I’d find myself with $200,000 in debt, making less than $50,000, struggling to find job openings and to move on in my career,” he writes. “I live with my parents. I don’t have a car. I don’t go out to socialize. I don’t date. I don’t buy new clothes. I don’t buy electronics. I don’t buy much of anything.”

After he graduated from law school, he moved around small law firms for two years, even working for free as an intern at one point. Then, he worked for a $12,000 annual salary; after three months he got a raise to $24,000. Now, he works for a $45,000 salary with 15% of it going to his law school loans on an income-based repayment plan.

“There is an enormous oversupply of JDs in the United States. Low-paying jobs routinely receive hundreds of resumes from desperate law school grads,” he concludes. “I think getting a computer science undergrad or even community college degree leads to a more positive economic outcome than law school the vast majority of the time.”

Though Indiana needs more bachelor’s degree graduates too (in certain degree tracks), IndianaSkills.com was created to help meet employer and employee needs in a very specific area. The greatest job demand in Indiana is in the middle skills, meaning Indiana’s economy needs many more workers with sub-baccalaureate skills and credentials (associate’s degrees, certifications, certificates). Not all degrees and credentials are created equal – we encourage all students and job seekers to understand Indiana’s labor market demand when making choices about further education. IndianaSkills.com is one resource to find that information.

Education and Business Must Work Together to Succeed

Outstanding Talent is the first of four drivers in the Indiana Chamber of Commerce’s Indiana Vision 2025 economic development action plan. Two goals of that driver directly address the importance of businesses being involved in upcoming Indiana College Success Coalition efforts. They are the need to:

  • “increase to 90% the proportion of Indiana students who graduate from high school ready for college and/or career training”; and
  • “develop, implement and fully fund a comprehensive plan for addressing the skills shortages of adult and incumbent workers who lack minimum basic skills.”

In order to achieve success in these areas, K-12, higher education and businesses must work together. The Indiana College Success Coalition is providing the opportunity for that to take place.

Five county summits (sponsored by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education’s Learn More Indiana initiative) have taken place, with two more coming up in October. Each is designed to allow community organizations, education representatives and business leaders to discuss opportunities and challenges in their areas. But after attending four of the first five summits, one piece of the puzzle that I’ve seen missing is the business input.

To voice concern about workers lacking skills or not being prepared for the workplace is understood. The next required step, however, is being part of the solution. The groups noted above must all collaborate. Employers must clearly communicate employee expectations – and these summits are one way to do just that.

Below is information on the two remaining summits, followed by details of an October 9 meeting in which you can learn more or potentially start a coalition in your county.

  • October 24, Lawrence County, Bedford Middle School (4:00-5:00 reception, 5:00-7:00 p.m., program). RSVP to Sarah Richardson at [email protected] or call (812) 849-4447.
  • October 30, Hamilton County, Westfield High School (6:00-6:30, reception, 6:30-8:30 p.m., program). No advance registration required. Contact Nancy Ramsey ([email protected] or 317-501-2473 for more information).

The October 9 Indiana College Success Coalition informational meeting (1:00-3:15 p.m.) will take place at the Indianapolis Wyndham West. Registration is requested prior to October 1. Contact Sue Reynolds (812-349-4142) with questions.

The Indiana College Success Coalition, sponsored by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education (Learn More Indiana), currently includes almost 1,500 organizations in 50 counties. Collectively, they have implemented over 2,100 activities to promote college access and success.  
 
Individuals living in counties that do not currently have a College Success Coalition are invited to start a coalition in their county.  In addition to start-up and progress funds, Learn More Indiana provides significant leadership team development, strategic planning resources, student data reports, mentoring and on-call support.  

Caution Required in College Ratings Plan

Yes, the explanation gets a bit technical. But the point – although changes in the current system are needed, getting a valid set of measures in place is not going to be easy — is valid in this Brookings analysis of President Obama's announced college ratings plan. Current data gaps are only one part of the challenge.

The President’s plan, which he is touting on a two-day bus tour through New York and Pennsylvania, proposes that the Department of Education develop a new rating system that will judge colleges based on accessibility for low-income students, affordability, and outcomes, including employment and earnings.  The ratings will be developed over the next year and will ultimately be made available to students shopping for college on the White House’s College Scorecard.
 
There is clearly a need for more and better information on college quality. The current lack of transparency has created a highly dysfunctional market for higher education in which students can choose from a wide variety of institutions but often have access to better information about the amenities colleges offer than the quality of their academic programs.  Consequently, colleges compete on measures that factor into popular rankings such as average SAT scores and student-faculty ratios rather than quality and price.
 
Expanding the College Scorecard is a worthy strategy on its own, but President Obama has proposed to go a giant step further and eventually tie the availability of financial aid to the new ratings.  Students attending highly rated institutions would receive larger Pell grants and more generous terms for federal student loans. Institutions would receive a bonus grant based on the number of Pell-eligible students they enroll and graduate.  As a result, institutions would have an incentive to recruit and graduate more low-income students, and low-income students would have an incentive to attend higher quality institutions.
 
If the problem in the market for higher education is a lack of information, why does more information need to be accompanied by top-down accountability from Washington rather than the bottom-up, market-based accountability produced by the information itself?  Congressional Republicans have reacted to the president’s plan with fears of “price controls” and “standards set by Washington bureaucrats.”  But these objections miss an important point about higher education: because taxpayers are footing the bill for a significant fraction of the nation’s investment in higher education, we cannot rely entirely on consumers to incentivize institutions to operate efficiently, innovate, and generate good student outcomes.
 
But getting from a laudable set of principles to a workable set of policies is going to be hard work.  The first task is for the Obama administration to develop a set of measures of college quality that will ultimately be accurate enough to use for accountability purposes.  This is not possible with existing data, with notable shortcomings including the fact that graduation rates are only calculated for first-time, full-time freshmen (who comprise a small share of students at many institutions) and a federal law banning the government from connecting education and earnings data in order to examine graduates’ success in the labor market.  These problems are fixable, but will take significant effort and, absent a back door to earnings data, Congressional action.

Turning the Tables on Higher Ed Grades

The grades are in — for Indiana’s public colleges and universities. The "teacher" in this case is the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for a Competitive Workforce. Its Leaders & Laggards report evaluates states in 11 categories.

Derek Redelman, Indiana Chamber vice president of education and workforce policy, says there are few surprises in the report. The "A" grade for overall policy environment, he adds, is a "nice affirmation that the U.S. Chamber likes what we’re doing with education policy in Indiana." The other "A" comes in the overall category of innovation in online learning.

The third overall category was innovation in openness to providers. Indiana received a "C." The other eight grades were divided between four areas for both four-year and two-year institutions. Those marks were:

  • Student access and success: C (four-year) and D (two-year)
  • Efficiency and cost effectiveness: D and B, respectively
  • Meeting labor market demand: B and C, respectively
  • Transparency and accountability: C and C

Check out the overall report and the Indiana analysis.

Purdue Helps Students Get “World-class” Degrees Near Home

It’s almost graduation time for college students across Indiana. Some of the least heralded gems are those mined right in our local communities, thanks to the Purdue College of Technology Statewide, with 10 locations across Indiana. Students stay home, continue their careers and get a world-class degree they can put to work right in their hometown.

In South Bend, 46 Purdue students will earn their bachelor’s on May 14. Class responder Curtis Damon, a major in industrial technology, paired his classes with a job as associate project engineer for PEI-Genesis in South Bend. And he plans to stay there.

"The College of Technology trains local professionals and young adults on new advanced topics in engineering, quality and design," he explains. "I have personally witnessed many individuals who are not looking for a particular degree but are taking classes for advancement at work and/or for a direct improvement at the workplace they are currently at. The classes in lean manufacturing and production, Six Sigma and inventory management are very straightforward and make it easy to take what you learn and implement it directly into your workplace.

"The College of Technology also allows individuals to stay at home, advance their education and build careers. This is a great benefit to both students and the local businesses in the area. It allows the local community to hire people who are from the area, who are highly educated and motivated to work. You can’t beat hiring individuals who don’t need relocation packages, know the area where they live and the community around them, and have the knowledge and education to help companies succeed."

You can read more about Curtis here. Statewide Technology is an extension of the College of Technology. Its degree programs follow the same curriculum requirements as the programs on the West Lafayette campus. Classes are taught by Purdue faculty or those approved by academic department heads. More than 1,350 students are enrolled at its sites in Anderson, Columbus, Greensburg, Indianapolis, Kokomo, Lafayette, New Albany, Richmond, South Bend and Vincennes. Of those, 53% attend full time.

Jeanne Norberg is a spokesperson for Purdue University.

New Site, Partnership Provides Higher Education Info

The Indiana Chamber is partnering with the Indiana Commission for Higher Education and the governor’s office on a grant from the Lumina Foundation for Education to enhance the performance of the state’s public colleges and universities. A recent productivity report, video success story in Richmond and much more can be found at the Achieve Indiana website.

Purdue “TAPs” Into State Need, Makes Big Impact

Purdue has been one of many Indiana resources working to enhance higher education and the Hoosier workforce over the years. The school recently hit a milestone with its impressive efforts:

Purdue University’s Technical Assistance Program reached a milestone during its 2009-10 fiscal year: $750 million in economic impact in Indiana since its inception in 1986.

Along the way, TAP has assisted more than 8,900 organizations, trained more than 9,400 employees, and saved or added more than 5,500 jobs in the state,

"As we reach our 25th anniversary, TAP is recommitting itself to helping Indiana businesses, manufacturers, health-care providers and government organizations grow," said David McKinnis, TAP director and associate vice provost for engagement.

According to its recently released annual report, TAP provided services that helped Indiana companies increase or retain sales worth $54.1 million during the fiscal year that ended June 30. Companies working with TAP realized cost savings of $6.8 million. TAP’s efforts led to $26.1 million in capital investment.

During 2009-10, TAP worked with 541 employers, hospitals, health-care providers and governmental units in 82 Indiana counties. It trained 3,731 employees, and its work is credited with creating or saving 1,098 jobs.

"Many companies have undergone significant changes during the recession, and now is the perfect time to plan for how those changes will affect performance in an improving economy," McKinnis said. "Our team is focused on developing programming and recommendations that can help businesses in Indiana thrive going forward."

One business that used TAP during the year – and is continuing to use it going forward – is Whitney Tool Company of Bedford, a manufacturer of milling-type cutting tools, counterbores, drill and tap extensions, combined drills, countersinks, and other specialty milling cutters.

Whitney Tool worked with the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), a division of TAP, to develop a quality management system to help improve customer satisfaction and overall company performance.

MEP also conducted a value stream mapping class at Whitney Tool that helped the company reduce product lead times by a week.

Currently, Whitney Tool is working with TAP to upgrade its website to support e-commerce and search-engine optimization.

"Purdue’s TAP has been an outstanding resource in helping us continuously improve our operations to secure our jobs for tomorrow," said W. Scott Baker, Whitney Tool operations manager. "The TAP and MEP teams exert whatever effort is required to deliver high-quality results above and beyond expectations within set timelines. Without their efforts, small businesses like ours could not survive in today’s world."

I was fortunate to write about Purdue’s TAP green training initiative in a BizVoice article last summer.

Video Spotlights Higher Ed Success Story at Ivy Tech & IU East

A BizVoice® magazine story earlier this year included the following quote:

“We used to have an associate degree in nursing,” states Nasser Paydar, chancellor of Indiana University East (IU East) in Richmond. “Ivy Tech has an associate degree in nursing. What this did was confuse the students in the first place. Why would two state institutions within walking distance have the same degree program, accredited by the same agency?”

IU East no longer has any associate degree programs. Its partnership with its neighboring Ivy Tech campus and other locations within its region goes much deeper. It is a formula that can – and should be – replicated in areas around the state.

But don’t take our word for it. Listen to students, faculty and administrators at the two Richmond campuses describe how young people are able to move through the higher education process more efficiently and be prepared to enter the state’s workforce. A video on the Achieve Indiana web site tells this important story – in their words. 

Dollar Dilemma for Scholarship Programs

HOPE, "Bright Futures" and "Promise" are the names of three state-based college scholarship programs intended to expand higher education opportunities. Each effort, along with those in other states, may fall victim (at least in part) to a series of fiscal challenges.

It’s a combination of lower funding sources, higher tuition costs and expanding enrollments that are threatening the programs. The "solutions" vary, each with its own set of negative consequences.

Stateline.org has the interesting story, including this excerpt.

One possibility is to reduce the amount of the scholarship. Rather than guaranteeing to cover 100 percent of ever-increasing tuition rates, those states now offer students awards at a flat rate. However, it makes college less affordable for many families and disproportionately affects those with lower incomes.

The other option is to reduce the number of students who are eligible for the scholarships. That, too, has negative side effects. Upping academic standards steers awards toward students who are likely to attend college anyway. And it steers money away from lower-income students, minorities and those who are the first in their families to attend college.

Indiana, by the way, established the Twenty-first Century Scholars Program in 1990 to help students from low- and moderate-income families. In recent years, Gov. Daniels proposed privatizing the Hoosier Lottery and using the proceeds to assist all Hoosier students with at least a portion of their public education expenses. A Department of Justice opinion on such privatization scuttled that idea.