Archive for September 1, 2009

Business panel to freshmen: “Study IT to avoid unemployment”

“Human resources executives advised college freshmen to study engineering, computer science, or healthcare rather than marketing or law to avoid being unemployed when they finished their studies. The advice came in a survey of 150 HR executives by global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas.”

September 1, 2009 at 7:24 pm Leave a comment

College Computing Educators are Widening the Gap Between Rich and Poor

The first time that I read about higher-education faculty being a significant cause of the widening gap between the haves and have-nots was in this column in 2005 by David Brooks of the New York Times. He explicitly argues that colleges, rather than being a ladder to improving one’s life, are actually reducing the opportunities for the poor.

“As you doubtless know, as the information age matures, a new sort of stratification is setting in, between those with higher education and those without. College graduates earn nearly twice as much as high school graduates, and people with professional degrees earn nearly twice as much as those with college degrees. But worse, this economic stratification is translating into social stratification. Only 28 percent of American adults have a college degree, but most of us in this group find ourselves in workplaces in social milieus where almost everybody has been to college…The most damning indictment of our university system is that these poorer kids are graduating from high school in greater numbers. It’s when they get to college that they begin failing and dropping out. Thomas Mortenson of the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education has collected a mountain of data on growing educational inequality. As he points out, universities have done a wonderful job educating affluent kids since 1980. But they ‘have done a terrible job of including those from the bottom half of the family income distribution. In this respect, higher education is now causing most of the growing inequality and strengthening class structure of the United States.'”

Richard Tapia, in his foreword to Jane Margolis et al.’s Stuck in the Shallow End, actually makes the explicit argument in his title, “Computer Science is Widening the Education Gap.

“Over the years, I have developed an extreme dislike for the expression ‘the best and the brightest,’ so the authors’ discussion of it in the concluding chapter particularly resonated with me. I have seen extremely talented and creative underrepresented minority undergraduate students aggressively excluded from this distinction. While serving on a National Science review panel years back, I learned that to be included in this category you had to have been doing science by the age of ten. Of course, because of lack of opportunities, few underrepresented minorities qualified.”

So what will convince computing educators that their definition of “best and brightest” is in accurate or even downright wrong?  It’s so easy for computing educators to define “the best” — “This guy aces my test and can hack up a storm!”  What if there is even someone better whom you’re ignoring, who is invisible to you because of the way that you construct your class?  I believe that’s Lecia’s point in her comment to my earlier blog post.  What gets educators to look beyond?  I’m not sure that an argument based on broadening participation, fair treatment, and equal opportunity is being heard.

Maybe it will be economics.  Forbes clearly blames the colleges themselves for rising higher-education costs. The graphics in the piece are well-worth checking out, especially the rising cost of College presidents and the diminishing budget spend on education.  But I’ll close with the ending statement from Forbes, which suggests that the schools that most emphasize the “best and brightest” are really no better than those schools that emphasize catering to those who need education:

“In the end, should students and parents just stop fretting over the high cost of elite universities and instead opt for a lower-priced public college? Probably. It turns out that where students go as undergraduates doesn’t help them earn more money over their lifetimes, according to a 2002 study by Stacy Dale, a researcher at Mathematica Policy Research in Princeton, N.J., and Alan Krueger, a Princeton economics and public affairs professor. Their study looked at 14,238 full-time workers who were freshmen in 1976. The ones who were bright enough to get into the highest-ranked–but usually expensive–schools but then didn’t attend, did just as well in their careers as the students who did matriculate at those schools. “What we found is that it doesn’t matter where you went to school, but who you are,” Dale says. Someday parents and students may wake up to this reality and balk at the prices being charged for a college education. Until then, colleges can continue to be blasé about costs.”

September 1, 2009 at 9:33 am 11 comments

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