College

“Choosing THE RIGHT School”: BS or Total BS?

We’ve been talking a lot about college on the Billfold lately, which brings up an important question: How do you know if you chose the right school? People in our society make a fetish about picking the place that’s right for you as though there’s only one correct answer, and as though “the place that will give you the most aid” or “the state school closest to home” isn’t the guiding principle behind the way a lot of us make this choice.

Universities seem to serve as kind of a “You complete me” soul-mate stand-in. And for maybe the same reason we talk about “the one” in a romantic context, we take for granted that “the right” college exists out there for everyone interested in higher education. Doesn’t that raise expectations to an unreasonable level? After all, how do you evaluate the choice once you’ve made it? 

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Concerning Eschewing Ivies and Raising Working-Class Heroes

On the heels of Ester’s exploration of trust fund kids (my position: don’t trust ‘em), I came upon this rather wide-ranging indictment of elite colleges and the admissions process in the New Republic: in short, the author avers, the Ivies squelch creativity, channel thinking and energy into a narrow set of endeavors, reinforce privilege, and perpetuate the illusion of a meritocracy: “This system is exacerbating inequality, retarding social mobility, perpetuating privilege, and creating an elite that is isolated from the society that it’s supposed to lead.”

And the cause (aside from, you know, how rich people always set stuff up to benefit themselves)?

Not increasing tuition, though that is a factor, but the ever-growing cost of manufacturing children who are fit to compete in the college admissions game. The more hurdles there are, the more expensive it is to catapult your kid across them. Wealthy families start buying their children’s way into elite colleges almost from the moment they are born: music lessons, sports equipment, foreign travel (“enrichment” programs, to use the all-too-perfect term)—most important, of course, private-school tuition or the costs of living in a place with top-tier public schools.

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In the Future, We Will All Understand Code

In a story for Mother Jones last month, Tasneem Raja asked, “Is Coding the New Literacy?” This wasn’t a “go to college and study STEM” argument, but rather, a discussion of whether understanding code in an increasingly digital world will just be as important as understanding how to read and write. Reading and writing, Raja points out, became more important in the 19th Century as written information from newspapers to store displays began to bombard people. Literacy rates soared, fostered “through religious campaigns, the nascent public school system, and the at-home labor of many mothers.” Everyone understood that reading and writing was important, though not everyone decided to become a writer. Could it be the same for code literacy? It’s not absurd to think that we may all understand code one day but not all grow up to be programmers.

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My No-Bullshit Hiring History: Kitchens, Concert Halls, Banks and More

In addition to handing out programs, I scheduled the other ushers and occasionally ran the sound booth. Perks included choice hours and the ability to wear colors. The highlight of this job was meeting Aretha Franklin backstage. She called me Stewart and asked me to bring her a hamburger.

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Leave Religion Off Your Resume, With One Big “Unless …”

Science, man. Always bringing us down. The ice caps are melting, the coral reefs are dying, restaurants are less safe than food trucks, everyone’s a little bit racist. The latest blow comes from UConn, where experts took some time off from cheering for their women’s basketball team to figure out whether resumes from job applications that list affiliations with campus religious groups get fewer responses than resumes that don’t. The short answer? Yes, with an “and.” (The “and” being that the effect held true for every religion tested, even a made-up faith, except one.)

Researchers at the University of Connecticut found that applicants who included a religious reference in their applications were less likely to get responses than those who did not, an effect that held true across most faiths. … The study used Catholic, evangelical Christian, Jewish, Muslim, atheist, pagan and a made-up religion called Wallonian identities across different applications. All in all, résumés with a religion mentioned got 33% fewer responses than the completely secular ones.

There was one outlier — according to the report, résumés listing a Jewish affiliation received more responses than those listing other religions. “Not only did Jewish applicants not face discrimination but they also actually may have received preferential treatment by some employers — that is, they were more likely to receive an early, exclusive or solo response from employers, compared with all other religious groups combined,” the researchers wrote. “This suggests there is a subset of employers who show a preference for Jewish applicants.”

What’s going on here? Scientists don’t like to speculate — as bloggers, that’s our job — so they don’t draw any conclusions except, maybe, leave even your leadership role in your worship group off your resume if you want to get more calls. But we have some deeper thoughts.

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When Life Bites You In The Class: Around the World, in Oakland, and on Campus

Is “middle class” a useful appellation when it means such drastically different things in different places? We’re not even talking Pittsburgh vs. Brooklyn here, but, like, Los Angeles vs. Laos:

Middle class is as much a matter of perception as statistics—the number of Americans describing themselves as middle class has remained essentially unchanged in recent years even as their incomes and spending power have eroded. When the same term is used to describe an American household bringing in up to $100,000 per year (according to a recent poll; $250,000 if you’re Mitt Romney) and Laotians living on $2 per day (according to the Asian Development Bank), it may not be a very useful term.

It’s relative, in other words, dependent on context. It means you’re less well-off than the well-off and not as poor as the poor.

Sometimes it means that you’re a white girl in 1990s Oakland whose radical parents could live elsewhere but don’t. In that situation, you identify in key ways with your non-white classmates, neighbors, and fellow members of the local swim team — especially when it comes to trying to finally depose the fancy-pants country club team that shows up with their matching swim suits and their hubcap-size muffins and wins everything. In that case, you want what your team wants: to wrench victory from the soft hands of the enemy, even if only this once. But you also occasionally, guiltily yearn for the pop culture version of white adolescence, where everything is safe and clean, cute and funny:

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Labor (Profs) vs Management (Administration) at Colleges Heats Up

Four intrepid professors have risked their future prospects to highlight the insane disparity in what college administrators are paid vs. everyone else, starting a popular movement. Even more nutty: this happened in Canada.

The current president and vice-chancellor of the University of Alberta, Indira Samarasekera, is leaving next summer.* This means that her job, which pays at least 400,000 Canadian dollars (about $368,500), is up for grabs. I’m sure the search committee expected a lot of top talent in the application pool—but they probably didn’t expect 56 Canadian academics, fed up with a highly paid administration in the face of country-wide “austerity” measures, applying for Samarasekera’s job in groups of four.

The elaborate and serious joke—an HR performance piece, if you will, that would also happen to have spectacular results if it actually worked—is the brainchild of Dalhousie University professor Kathleen Cawsey and three friends, a Gang of Four whose pointed (and hilarious) cover letter has become a Canadian media cause célèbre.

Since each of us would love to get paid 1/4 of what the president is, the original letter pointed out, we’d be thrilled to share the position. As a bonus, we’d do an excellent job! Probably better than OSU’s E. Gordon Gee, who took a $6 million golden parachute with him when he retired in disgrace.

Rarely has a stunt so funny been quite so sobering.

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“I’ll Have a Venti Skim Half-Cap Frappucino and a BA, Please. No Foam.”

Amazon wants you to win you back. In addition to a new Prime Music Streaming service and a deafening whisper campaign about the super secret mystery Kindle smartphone it might have up its sleeve, it is also launching Smile, a program that allows you to choose a charity the store will support. Thanks, guys! But wouldn’t it be easier to treat authors, publishers, and maybe even employees a little better?

Starbucks, another massive corporation that has gotten flak for taking over the world and putting the little guy out of business, is trying to drum up some goodwill of its own in a very unusual, but more direct, way: subsidizing undergraduate education.

Starbucks will provide a free online college education to thousands of its workers, without requiring that they remain with the company, through an unusual arrangement with Arizona State University, the company and the university will announce on Monday. The program is open to any of the company’s 135,000 United States employees, provided they work at least 20 hours a week and have the grades and test scores to gain admission to Arizona State. For a barista with at least two years of college credit, the company will pay full tuition; for those with fewer credits it will pay part of the cost, but even for many of them, courses will be free, with government and university aid. …

Many employers offer tuition reimbursement. But those programs usually come with limitations like the full cost not being paid, new employees being excluded, requiring that workers stay for years afterward, or limiting reimbursement to work-related courses. Starbucks is, in effect, inviting its workers, from the day they join the company, to study whatever they like, and then leave whenever they like — knowing that many of them, degrees in hand, will leave for better-paying jobs.

Investing in your employees as a business strategy happens to be good PR. Win-win-win. Is Bezos taking notes?

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Link Round Up: Student Loans and More Student Loans; Millennials Hoarding Cash Like Dragons

President Obama’s move to help ease the student loan crisis started a cascade of think pieces about student loans over the weekend. Here are a couple of the most interesting:

Here’s Why the Student Loan Market Is Completely Insane, via Businessweek. Complete with charts! Oh, and facts, lots of sobering facts:

Default rates at such places as Stanford, Duke, Carnegie Mellon, MIT, and Yale are all less than 2 percent. Not surprisingly, graduates from these schools command high salaries in the job market. At such places as West Virginia, Louisville, South Florida, and Boise State—schools much better known for athletics than academics—default rates are 10 percent. Further down the food chain are much higher default rates at places such as Alcorn State (16 percent), Colorado Technical University (23 percent), University of Phoenix (26 percent), Lincoln Technical Institute (30 percent), and Arizona Automotive Institute (42 percent).

+ Finding Shock Absorbers for Student Debt, via the NYT, also concerns itself with the problem of default, and wants to help cushion students against the risks they incur by paying for college.

The core problem with student debt is that we don’t adequately insure students against the risk of investing in college. While a vast majority of undergraduates have borrowed much less than some headlines suggest — in one study from the last decade, 98 percent borrowed less than $50,000 and four out of 10 borrowed nothing at all — millions are in default or behind on payments. With damaged credit records, they face higher interest rates on car and home loans, rejected rental applications and lost job opportunities. … But how can we help in the short term? We should allow student-loan payments to rise and fall with income, as we do with Social Security and taxes. If borrowers hit a tough spell, payments should drop automatically. If they score well-paying jobs, payments should rise. This is called “income-based repayment.”

+ Perhaps all of this has something to do with why millennials are hoarding cash like dragons?

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President Obama to Students: Be Smart, Not Cynical

President Barack Obama joined David Karp, the founder of Tumblr, for a live chat about student debt Tuesday. One-third of Americans who applied for an educational loan this year also have a Tumblr account, said Karp, who fielded questions about educational costs submitted by Tumblr users. Here’s what POTUS had to say to today’s students.

My student debt was manageable, unlike yours.

Obama said that when he graduated with an undergraduate degree he was able to pay off his student loan debt in a year with a job that wasn’t particularly high paying. But today student loan balances average about $30,000.

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Does Success in One Area Mean Failure In Another?

Shonda Rhimes’ Dartmouth commencement speech just hit Medium. It’s ostensibly posted by Ms. Rhimes herself, which — I mean, I really want to break this down for a minute, she could have picked anywhere to post her speech, anywhere from HuffPo to The Atlantic to Kindle Singles, and she picked Medium? (Does Shonda Rhimes really need a gatekeeper-free publishing platform to share her message?)

Anyway, the speech is great, and the pull quote about “dreamers vs. doers” works, but to me, the most interesting part of the speech was the section that began:

Whenever you see me somewhere succeeding in one area of my life, that almost certainly means that I am failing in another area of my life.

That is the truth, right there.

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7 More Reasons Why I Didn’t Study STEM

Yesterday’s piece, Why I Didn’t Study STEM, was true but, as you all noted, incomplete. Fair enough. Here are seven more reasons why I didn’t go from Mathlete to math major.

7. I lived in a small town, so I didn’t have any real ideas of what STEM careers were besides “crime-solving math detective.”

6. When I taught myself how to program in BASIC, I was much more interested in the nodes of the massive text adventure game I was building than the actual programming language.

5. When I signed up to take a programming course at the local college, I dropped it after the first session because the lab section would have conflicted with community theater rehearsals.

4. Also, community theater gave me actual jobs where I was paid money. Clearly, theater was where the jobs were.

3. I was also getting work as a church organist and choral accompanist. Nobody was interested in paying me to do science to things.

2. I never understood trigonometry (even though I probably could have learned it eventually) and have only the vaguest idea of what calculus actually is.

1. I spent most of high school writing a novel titled The Red Book of Cordia. The minute that was finished, I started writing a musical.

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