Higher Education Benefits

It seems to me….

Ensuring quality higher education is one of the most important things we can do for future generations.” ~ Ron Lewis[1].

Many U.S. schools and universities, which at one time were considered to be the best in the world, have become an embarrassment. There admittedly are some; Stanford University, Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech)…; that have avoided this slide toward mediocrity but they are exceptions. While seventeen of the world’s top 20 research universities are located in the U.S., the University of Oxford in the U.K is currently ranked the top institution for teaching computer science, engineering, and technology[2]. Stanford and Caltech’s scores fell due to their research environment. Stanford and MIT also received lower scores for their teaching environment, research environment, and industry income.

Many universities need an injection of meritocracy. Only a handful, such as Caltech, admits applicants solely on academic merit.

As of 2015, the U.S. ranked 10th among the 35 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries in college attainment. By March 2016, 48 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds had completed at least an associate degree exceeding the OECD average of 42 percent [3]. Women continue to outpace men in terms of educational attainment, though both groups made gains at a fairly similar rate. A larger share of female 25- to 34-year-olds (52 percent) had finished college in 2016 than their male counterparts (43 percent).

While most colleges and universities adhere to recognized educational standards, only fully accredited public educational institutions should be provided public funding. Too many receive public funding support as a result of political influence rather than educational quality. The U.S. Department of Education (DoED) publishes a list of nationally recognized accrediting agencies considered to be reliable authorities as to the quality of education or training provided by the institutions or programs they accredit. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) recognizes regional accrediting bodies for colleges and universities in the U.S.; it is these bodies that confer Regional Accreditation. The U.S. Secretary of Education also recognizes State agencies for the approval of public postsecondary vocational education and nurse education.

Additionally, programs, departments, or schools that are parts of an institution should be approved for specialized or programmatic accreditation by organizations recognized within disciplines such as National Association of Schools of Art and Design and the National Association of Schools of Theatre which accredits program areas within the arts; the American Bar Association for schools of law; Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) for applied science, computing, engineering, and engineering technology at the associate, bachelor, and master degree levels; or the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB International) which grants national accreditation to undergraduate and graduate business administration and accounting degree programs. Other additional recognized accrediting agencies also exist.

Republicans and Democrats broadly agree on the beneficial impact of higher-level education for skills, opportunities, and growth but there is substantial difference in how they view the primary overall purpose of colleges and universities[4].

While most Republicans said that colleges do well in preparing people for good jobs in today’s economy and that their own college experience was valuable for developing skills for the workplace, they have grown increasingly negative about the impact of colleges and universities on the U.S.; 58 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say colleges and universities have a negative effect on the way things are going in the country, just 36 percent say their effect is positive. A wide majority of Democrats (currently 72 percent), including large majorities of college graduates and non-college graduates, continue to view colleges and universities as having a positive effect on the nation. Overwhelming majorities of Republican (93 percent) and Democratic (97 percent) college graduates also indicated their education was useful in helping them grow personally and intellectually.

58 percent of Republicans said the main purpose of college should be to teach specific skills and knowledge for the workplace; 28 percent said it should be personal growth. Democrats were divided: 43 percent said the main purpose of college should be to learn specific skills while 42 percent said personal growth.

Some politicians and pundits, primarily conservatives, have characterized scientists, educators, and intellectuals as elitists who look down disparagingly at everyone else. One of the candidates for President in the 2016 election even equated President Obama’s encouragement of the pursuit of higher education with snobbery[5]. It is difficult to understand how education can be equated with elitism but the implications for a scientifically illiterate population should be of general concern. If anyone needed a President to mispronounce words even though they are supposedly highly educated, there is the example of President Bush trained at Yale. Political motivation is obvious as that same community critical of Presidential elitism never complained that Bush was Yale educated.

A higher percentage of young people completing a university degree is beneficial to our nation’s economic growth and social mobility. Additionally, a degree provides a path for bright adolescents from less wealthy families to prove their abilities. Better-educated people are more likely to come up with productivity-boosting innovations. As technological change escalates demands on workers, the need will increase for even more of them to be well-educated.

Modern labor markets rely on widely understood indications of experience and expertise such as a university degree or baccalaureate. This also is true for vocational degrees within specific fields. This admittedly constitutes only a portion of the learning paradigm as considerable learning happens in an informal and experiential setting.

Companies routinely now require applicants to have degrees even though only a minority of employees already working in some role currently have one. This increases the graduate premium but by punishing non-graduates rather than boosting them, the advantage is provided to those degreed. This degree inflation; e.g., in fields such as journalism, nursing, and teaching in primary schools; has become common in areas which previously only required only shorter training often received while working. Today, having a degree is usually an entry requirement.

Many students start college without any idea of in what they would like to major other than that they do not want to have to find a job or join the military. The term “follow your passion” has increased nine-fold in English books since 1990. “Find something you love to do and you’ll never have to work a day in your life” is another college-counseling standby of unknown provenance. It might be time to change the way we think about our interests. Passions are not “found”, they are developed.

Many students are basically indolent and avoid what are considered “hard” majors. Many U.S. K-12 schools are not adequately preparing students for higher education: consequently, the majority of students have to take either remedial English, math, or both. Students frequently express dissatisfaction with being required to take classes in which they are not particularly interested, especially in college. Perhaps they should consider the role of an employee assigned an undesirable project. If employees could choose to only work on projects in which they were interested, there would be little necessity to pay anyone to work.

For many, the problem frequently is simply lack of motivation. As a faculty adviser, I usually tried to direct those students unable to determine in what to major into a general liberal arts program heavy on math and science. The math always was important if they later decided to change to either science or engineering. Unfortunately, too many students initially get caught up in the social aspects of college rather than the academics.

In the U.S. 40 percent of college students fail to graduate with four-year degrees within six years of enrolling; drop-out rates across the developed world average around 30 percent. It is the students admitted with the lowest grades who are least likely to graduate. They also will have paid fees but miss out on any earnings potential afforded those degreed. Much of this could be alleviated with additional counseling and academic assistance but that is difficult for already underfunded institutions to provide.

There are some college majors with significantly lower earning potential and more difficult in which to find gainful employment. While not the only criteria for choice of college major, students desiring higher earnings and better job prospects may consider avoiding some fields of study including:

Clinical psychology: median income: $43,093. unemployment rate: 8.06 percent,
Miscellaneous fine arts: median income: $47,051, unemployment rate: 7.46 percent,
Composition and rhetoric: median income: $45,595, unemployment rate: 6.58 percent.

The median income for all bachelor’s degree holders in 2017 was $62,217. One of the most detrimental inequalities in modern societies is not in income levels but professional preparation. Majoring in entertainment or the arts might feed the soul but for the vast majority of degree holders, starves the body.

The “graduate premium” is the difference between the average earnings of someone with a degree and someone with no more than a secondary-school education after accounting for fees and the income forgone while studying. This gap is often expressed as the “return on investment” in higher education, or the annualized boost to lifetime earnings from gaining a degree. Research by the New York Federal Reserve shows that the return on investment in higher education soared between 1980 and 2000 in the U.S. prior to levelling off at around 15 percent a year. In other words, an investment equal to the cost of tuition and earnings forgone while studying would have to earn 15 percent annual interest before it matched the average value over a working life of gaining a degree[6].

But this graduate premium is flawed. Within different countries, the average conceals wide differences. Most students know that a degree in mathematics or finance is likely to be more lucrative than one in music or social work.

Workers displaced by automation or computing require retraining to fill those positions created by technology. Universities generally do not support such training for non-degree positions and community colleges have insufficient capacity to meet current needs. For the most part, such training is being left to two-year colleges, career academies, and an increasing number of private firms offering training certificates, many of which are not certified and are not worth the expense.

It is beneficial to our nation and society in general for higher education, whether at colleges or universities or vocational schools, to be completely free of student costs. This is becoming common in many other nations and will be necessary here if our nation is to remain competitive.

That’s what I think, what about you?

[1] Ronald E. “Ron” Lewis was a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1994 to 2009 represented the 2nd Congressional District of Kentucky.

[2] Bothwell, Ellie. Top US Technology Universities Lose Ground In Computer Science And Engineering, The World University Rankings, https://www.timeshighereducation.com/world-university-rankings/top-us-technology-universities-lose-ground-computer-science-and-engineering#survey-answer, 29 November 2018.

[3] Fry, Richard. U.S. Still Has A Ways To Go In Meeting Obama’s Goal Of Producing More College Grads. Pew Research Center, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/01/18/u-s-still-has-a-ways-to-go-in-meeting-obamas-goal-of-producing-more-college-grads/, 18 January 2017.

[4] Fingerhut, Hannah. Republicans Skeptical Of Colleges’ Impact On U.S., But Most See Benefits For Workforce Preparation, Pew Research Center, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/07/20/republicans-skeptical-of-colleges-impact-on-u-s-but-most-see-benefits-for-workforce-preparation/?utm_source=Pew+Research+Center&utm_campaign=84b5533b0e-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_07_13&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_3e953b9b70-84b5533b0e-400092341, 20 July 2017.

[5] Miller, Todd. Space Exploration And The Culture Of Innovation: An Interview With Neil deGrasse Tyson, SFGate, http://blog.sfgate.com/tmiller/2012/03/28/space-exploration-and-the-culture-of-innovation-an-interview-with-neil-degrasse-tyson/, 28 March 2012.

[6] Going To University Is More Important Than Ever For Young People, The Economist, https://www.economist.com/news/international/21736151-financial-returns-are-falling-going-university-more-important-ever?cid1=cust/ednew/n/bl/n/2018021n/owned/n/n/nwl/n/n/na/96088/n, 3 February 2018.

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About lewbornmann

Lewis J. Bornmann has his doctorate in Computer Science. He became a volunteer for the American Red Cross following his retirement from teaching Computer Science, Mathematics, and Information Systems, at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, CO. He previously was on the staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Stanford University, and several other universities. Dr. Bornmann has provided emergency assistance in areas devastated by hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. He has responded to emergencies on local Disaster Action Teams (DAT), assisted with Services to Armed Forces (SAF), and taught Disaster Services classes and Health & Safety classes. He and his wife, Barb, are certified operators of the American Red Cross Emergency Communications Response Vehicle (ECRV), a self-contained unit capable of providing satellite-based communications and technology-related assistance at disaster sites. He served on the governing board of a large international professional organization (ACM), was chair of a committee overseeing several hundred worldwide volunteer chapters, helped organize large international conferences, served on numerous technical committees, and presented technical papers at numerous symposiums and conferences. He has numerous Who’s Who citations for his technical and professional contributions and many years of management experience with major corporations including General Electric, Boeing, and as an independent contractor. He was a principal contributor on numerous large technology-related development projects, including having written the Systems Concepts for NASA’s largest supercomputing system at the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. With over 40 years of experience in scientific and commercial computer systems management and development, he worked on a wide variety of computer-related systems from small single embedded microprocessor based applications to some of the largest distributed heterogeneous supercomputing systems ever planned.
This entry was posted in AACSB, ABET, Academia, Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (, American Bar Association, Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, Bush, California Institute of Technology, Caltech, Certifications, CHEA, Clinical Psychology, College, College, Community College, Computer Science, Council for Higher Education Accreditation, Degree, Department of Education, Department of Education, DoED, Economy, Education, Education, Education, Education, Employment, Employment, employment, Engineering, Engineering, Entertainment, Entertainment, Harvard, humanities, Humanities, K-12, Learn, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Mathematics, Mathematics, MIT, National Association of Schools of Art and Design, National Association of Schools of Theatre, Obama, OECD, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Private, Public, Quality, Retraining, Science, Science, Stanford, Technology, Technology, Technology, technology, Training, University of Oxford, Yale and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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