How the Media Distorts College Admissions

FiveThirtyEight: “Here’s how the national media usually depicts the admissions process: High school seniors spend months visiting colleges; writing essays; wrangling letters of recommendation; and practicing, taking and retaking an alphabet soup of ACTs, SATs and AP exams. Then the really hard part: months of nervously waiting to find out if they are among the lucky few (fewer every year, we’re told!) with the right blend of academic achievement, extracurricular involvement and an odds-defying personal story to gain admission to their favored university.”

“Here’s the reality: Most students never have to write a college entrance essay, pad a résumé or sweet-talk a potential letter-writer. Nor are most, as The Atlantic put it Monday, ‘obsessively checking their mailboxes’ awaiting acceptance decisions. (Never mind that for most schools, those decisions now arrive online.) According to data from the Department of Education,1 more than three-quarters of U.S. undergraduates2 attend colleges that accept at least half their applicants; just 4 percent attend schools that accept 25 percent or less, and hardly any — well under 1 percent — attend schools like Harvard and Yale that accept less than 10 percent.”

America’s Teachers Are Confused About Climate Change

City Lab: “Given the topic’s partisan grip in the U.S., with many conservatives unlikely to trust mainstream news outlets, early education has a huge role to play, too. That’s a problem, according to a new study in the journal Science, because many middle- and high-school teachers are confused about climate change themselves.”

Researchers “conducted what they call the ‘first nationally representative survey of science teachers focused on climate change’ … The researchers found that most teachers devoted only about an hour or two of class time to climate change … But the quality of that education was often as poor as the quantity: only 54 percent of teachers emphasized the consensus view among scientists that modern warming is the result of human activity and not likely due to natural causes.”

“Instead, a considerable share of teachers (roughly 31 percent) offered students the mixed message that current climate change is caused by both humans releasing greenhouse gases and natural shifts in temperature. The survey found that one in 10 teachers denied the human source of global warming in the classroom—only telling students that it’s the result of nature. Another 5 percent offered no causal explanation for climate change at all.”

“A key problem, according to the researchers, is that teachers themselves seem to be ‘unaware of the extent of scientific agreement.’”


A Growing Majority of Professors are Liberal

Christopher Ingraham: “If you’ve spent time in a college or university any time in the past quarter-century you probably aren’t surprised to hear that professors have become strikingly more liberal. ”

“But the folks that first put these numbers together, a group of academic faculty calling themselves Heterodox Academy, argue that homogeneity in higher education is a bigger problem than it is in other areas.”

“Interestingly academics are, on the whole, considerably more liberal than even their students. HERI has also been surveying incoming college freshmen for a number of years. America’s students are much more likely to refer to themselves as ‘moderate’ than as liberal or conservative.”

“A quarter-century ago, college professors were about 16 percentage points more likely to identify as ‘liberal’ or ‘far-left’ than their first-year students. By 2014, professors were close to 30 percentage points more likely than freshmen to call themselves liberal.”

“American politics seems to work best when the two main factions are animated by rigorous thinking and serious ideas. And if there’s no home for conservative ideas at today’s colleges, it stands to reason that our political discourse will be poorer for it.”

Where do the Brainiest Americans Live?

Citylab: “While nearly 40 percent of Americans have a college degree and about a third of workers are members of the creative class, just 11 percent of adults 25 and over have a graduate or professional degree. But where exactly are these super-brains located?”

“To get at this, my Martin Prosperity Institute (MPI) colleague Karen King used data from the 2011-2013 American Community Survey to identify the geography of the extremely highly educated across all 381 U.S. metros. MPI’s Isabel Ritchie made the maps, and we separated out the results for large metros with over one million people.”

“Washington, D.C., tops this list of large metros with 23 percent of residents holding an advanced or professional degree. Following closely behind are San Jose, Boston, San Francisco, and Hartford. Baltimore (home to Johns Hopkins), New York City, Raleigh in the North Carolina Research Triangle, Denver, and Rochester round out the top ten.”

Where Americans Have the Most Student Debt

City Lab: “The collective student loan debt in America stands at $1.2 trillion. That’s ‘the second-largest class of consumer debt behind mortgages,’ according to a recent government report, and it’s growing. An analysis of this data released in September found that this amount is four times what it was 12 years ago. This year, the average student debt in the country surpassed $35,000—the highest it’s ever been in U.S. history.”

“A new interactive map takes a geographic look at the troubling trends. Built by the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, Generation Progress, and Higher Ed, Not Debt, the map tracks student loan balances, delinquency rates, and median income by zip code.”

Image Mapping Student Debt

The Student Debt Problem, Mapped

Vox: “The student debt problem in the US is really two problems. The first is that a college degree is more expensive than it used to be, and students are graduating with higher debt loads than ever. The second is that some students are struggling to pay back their debt.”

“When you look at individual states or metropolitan areas, you see that the zip codes with high average loan balances aren’t the same as those where delinquency is high. In fact, they’re almost reversed. Here are the loan balances around Washington, DC, where a darker color indicates a higher balance:”

Map of debt loads around Washington

And here are the delinquencies. A darker shade indicates more people are delinquent:

Map of loan delinquencies in DC metro area

“This contradiction, that the people who borrow the most in student loans often end up doing fine, makes it hard to create a sensible student loan policy. Many people think of the student loan problem as all about balances. But it’s really about the hidden, struggling borrowers, whose inability to pay back their loans can follow them for life.”

Is Common Core to Blame for the Dip in Math Scores?

Vox: “Results from the standardized test known as the Nation’s Report Card are out, and the grades aren’t good.”

“Math scores declined for the first time since 1990. Reading scores were flat in fourth grade and declined in eighth grade. Nobody did better than in 2013, the last time the test was administered. No states managed to raise scores across the board.”

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Is the Common Core to blame?

“The truth is it’s hard to determine exactly why scores on the test go up or down — which is why every time the scores come out, groups pushing various education policies can use the National Assessment of Educational Progress to argue that their policy preferences are superior. The scores have risen so steadily and reliably that finding even correlation, let alone causation, can be tough. They’re sensitive to changes in demographics: The fourth-graders who took the test in 2015 might be poorer or have more learning disabilities or be different in other ways from the students who took the test in 2013.”

“While education is mostly a state and local issue, scores were flat or declined across the board in every state this year, regardless of the individual changes those states embraced. Fourth-grade math scores were flat in Kentucky, which embraced the Common Core, for example, but they were also flat in Virginia, which was one of the few states never to adopt it.”

Which States Have the Best School System?

Vox: “A new report from the Urban Institute looked at how students from each state compare with similar students in other states on fourth- and eighth-grade tests in reading and math. The researcher, senior fellow Matt Chingos, adjusted states’ scores based on a variety of factors, including race, ethnicity, the share of students still learning English, and the share of students living in poverty.”

“Using Chingos’s adjusted scores, Massachusetts still looks very good. Texas and Florida look much better. And Utah, which is about average based on test scores alone, slides nearly to the bottom when adjusted for demographics:”

“Instead, nearly every state improved more than would have been expected, adjusted for demographics … And Massachusetts continues to be a standout, with the best scores with or without the demographic adjustment, and one of the biggest leaps in adjusted scores between 2003 and 2013 — even though in 2003 it already had some of the best schools in the country.”

Small Student Debts, Big Problems

Susan Dynarski, in the New York Times, explains how “borrowers who owe the most are least likely to default. The reason for this strange pattern? The biggest borrowers tend to become the highest earners.”

“This fact about loan defaults is one way in which the national conversation about student debt is at odds with the data. In many people’s minds, the so-called student-debt crisis revolves around graduates of selective colleges or graduate programs who run up six figures in debt.”

“But such borrowers aren’t the real source of trouble. The vast majority of bachelor’s degree recipients do very well. Only 2 percent of undergraduates borrow more than $50,000, and they also aren’t the ones who tend to have problems with their debt.”

“Defaults are concentrated among the millions of students who drop out without a degree, and they tend to have smaller debts. That is where the serious problem with student debt is. Students who attended a two- or four-year college without earning a degree are struggling to find well-paying work to pay off the debt they accumulated.”

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“The United States also has income-based repayment options, but relatively few student borrowers — currently 19 percent of Direct Loan borrowers — are enrolled in them. The people who need these programs the most are not taking them up.”

The Key to Financial Success? Be a Man.

Washington Post: m\”Men still out-earn women at every education level, and it may have something to do with the careers that women and men choose.”

“The charts below, created by self-described data tinkerer Randy Olson, illustrate how gender, major and earnings are related. Olson analyzed data on college majors and median earnings after graduation for those under 28.”

“Median yearly earnings are shown on the vertical axis: Majors that appear toward the top of the chart tend to earn more, and those toward the bottom earn less. The gender makeup of the major is on the horizontal axis, with majors that are male dominated on the left and female-dominated majors on the right.”

“One theory that Olson entertains is that male-dominated majors tend to be focused on quantitative skills, which are in general highly valued. Engineering is both male dominated and highly valued and paid by businesses.”

“It could be that society just doesn’t value ‘women’s work’ as much as ‘men’s work,’ due to lingering prejudice and discrimination. The difference could be in part due to different salary negotiation strategies used by men and women. Or it could be because men, who traditionally have been familial bread-winners, are more motivated to seek out jobs with higher incomes, while women prioritize other job attributes.”

Minorities’ Wealth is Not Protected by a College Degree

New York Times: “A new report by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis “raises troubling questions about the ability of a college education to narrow the racial and ethnic wealth gap. ‘Higher education alone cannot level the playing field,’ the report concludes.”

“Economists emphasize that college-educated blacks and Hispanics overall earn significantly more and are in a better position to accumulate wealth than blacks and Hispanics who do not get degrees.”

“But while these college grads had more assets, they suffered disproportionately during periods of financial trouble.”

“From 1992 to 2013, the median net worth of blacks who finished college dropped nearly 56 percent (adjusted for inflation). By comparison, the median net worth of whites with college degrees rose about 86 percent over the same period, which included three recessions.”

“There is not a simple answer to explain why a college degree has failed to help safeguard the assets of many minority families. Persistent discrimination and the types of training and jobs minorities get have played a role. Another central factor is the heavy debt many blacks and Hispanics accumulate to achieve middle-class status.”

Clinton Proposes Plan to Pay for College

The New York Times reports Hillary Clinton will unveil a $350 billion student debt reform plan that aims to make college accessible to Americans without loans.

“The Clinton proposals might fare better than those offered by her two main opponents for the Democratic nomination, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland, because unlike them, she is not relying mostly on the government to deal with student debt. Colleges would have to hold down costs and show improvements on graduation rates, for instance. Mr. Sanders has proposed spending about $47 billion a year to end public college tuition, with another $23 billion a year coming from states; Mr. O’Malley has proposed his own debt-free plan, though a campaign spokeswoman said there was no cost estimate yet.”

MSNBC: “”By closing undisclosed tax loopholes on the wealthy, Clinton plans to raise $350 million over 10 years to invest in higher education. Of that, more than half would be used for grants to states, public universities, and non-profit colleges that keep costs low for students and meet several other requirements. Another third of the money would go towards debt relief for students. Clinton’s plan would allow every American who owes money to the government to refinance their loans at today’s historically low interest rate. And she’d cut future borrowing costs by preventing the government from making a profit on loans to students.”