90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
PLEDGE NOW
Here and Now with Robin Young
Public radio's live
midday news program
With sponsorship from
Mathworks - Accelerating the pace of engineering and science
Accelerating the pace
of engineering and science
Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Will Today’s Generation Be Less Educated Than Parents?

(Flickr/University of Leicester)

(Flickr/University of Leicester)

It’s back to college time and more students than ever are attending this year.

College enrollment has been trending up for over a decade and according to a new study by the  Pew Research Center, it’s now at a historic high. In 2010, the last year for which statistics are available, there were 12 million students in college between ages 18 and 24.

Now here’s the “but.”

For every five students who start in community college, only one finishes within three years, even though community college programs are supposed to be two years or less.

The numbers at four year colleges are not much better — only around half the students who enroll manage to get their Bachelors’ degrees in six years.

Reporter Jon Marcus says that statistics like those “have helped push the U.S. from first to 10th in the world” for the proportion of college graduates.

Marcus says this generation of college-age Americans could become “the first to be less-well educated than their parents.”

President Obama vowed to reverse that trend in a major speech at Macomb Community College in Michigan in 2009.

Marcus visited Macomb this year and says that things have gotten “much, much worse” for public and community college students.

Marcus says severe budget cuts have translated into higher tuition and fees and less financial aid, forcing students to work more while they go to school. The budget cuts also mean fewer classes, making it harder for students to find room in required courses.

Guest:

  • Jon Marcus, reporter with the non-partisan and non-profit education news outlet, The Hechinger Report

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Tccloer

    After serving two tours of duty with the Navy and working two full-time jobs for years, I finally graduated with my degree in Social Science from the University of Virginia. It was the hardest thing I have ever earned. Because of my experience, I have made it my life mission to make college accessable to others who would not otherwise afford it. I currently work as a financial aid administrator for the University of Maryland University College to make the accessability of higher education easier for adult learners.

  • Litvins

    “Maybe not everyone has to go to college, maybe not everyone should own a home.” 
    Not everyone can do it but it is because of the failure of the state. We should be transitioning to a country where more can own and more can study and be the best they can be. This elitist thinking that maybe not everyone should own property and should subsist on rent and should not have an education that provides security is feudalistic and sad. It shows this country is morally corrupt where the thought is some deserve a good and others do not.

    • Bailey

      I agree that we as a society should be encouraging everyone to be the best that they can be, but often times trade jobs and training that did not include higher level educations is often overshadowed.  Jobs that are held by people that did not go to a 4 year university are incredibly important to society and are hardly ever given the credit they deserve.  In fact, those individuals are often belittled.  Who’s to say going to the quintessential 4 year school is the ONLY right way?

  • Sandiegocitizen

    I heard “Why get an education if there are no jobs when I graduate?” and nearly fell out of my chair.

    • Christian

      Hahaha, yepp

    • ragrant

      So true in fact, the unemployment rate is significantly lower among college graduates and Americans with advanced degrees.

    • Pearlgirldancer in NC

      Please don’t take our dear Virginia Foxx too seriously on that quote. She’s a bit out of step with reality and her constituency. I know…I’m one of them!

  • Shawn

    Do you have a college or university official that will respond to these claims by Jon Marcus that capable students will not be admitted as colleges compete for better students, or that colleges will give students unearned passing grades? These comments seem more sensational than instructive.

  • alexander

    The real issue is that public high schools are not preparing students adequately for college.

    As a lab instructor at a local city college I found students unable to do the basic math or write complete sentences. Many students have to spend an additional year getting caught up on basic math and english so they are unable to complete college in 4 years.

    • Litvins

      I agree, we have to modify the American mentality that education, information and knowledge is somehow reserved for the nerds. It’s education, it’s empowerment and it should be as necessary and as natural as putting on shoes. No one forgets to put their shoes on in the morning, no one should forget to go to school and do homework. Furthermore, less emphasis should be on grades, 4.5 GPA students are great at doing assignments and doing the work assigned. We need people who are take in information from many sources and are able to collaborate with others to create more complete picture of the world than recreating the one that a teacher has at that moment.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dale-Milburn/1818133810 Dale Milburn

    Maybe its time we redesign college. With shcools like Harvard and MIT having their entire undergraduate course cirriculum and course materials online and telecommunications technologies like Skype and eletronic collaboration available; perhaps we shouldn’t limit classes to how many students can fit in a lecture hall. The best students end up teaching themselves with some help from tutors and good teachers being available when needed. The biggest hinderance will then be how much the shcool will charge each student for the ability to access their professors.  I fear that greed on the part of the schools will keep access to their programs high; simply because they can.

    • Litvins

      I received two degrees from UCSD in Physics and Electrical Engineering. 90% of my learning came from other students. If not for them, I don’t know if I would have persevered. The other ten percent were excellent lecturers, laboratories and undergraduate research work. The last one prepared me for the working place the most. That is why I do not advocate complete reliance on web. Although after taking some web classes that involved group work over chat, I’d say that it is a viable alternative in times of budget cuts. Still, cutting education is a poor move given that it is taking our own future away and only accelerating our downfall.

    • Pearlgirldancer in NC

      With all due respect, Dale…..Have you been living under a rock? Visit your local community college or high school classrooms. Even the smallest, most back-woods institutions are using technology to teach “beyond the walls.” No, it’s not for every learner, but it does fit the bill for many, many self-motivated individuals. A better way to “redesign college” is to examine the needs of the workforce and custom design education based on those needs. And yes, community colleges are at the forefront of that. Yet in N.C., community colleges receive 8 cents for every dollar the state spends on education. And community colleges enroll exponentially more students, as in 830,000 compared to something like 175,000. Yet, funding was reduced more than 10% this budget year.

  • Christian

    We live in
    a time where information and knowledge is more accessible than ever. There are
    many movements like the khan academy (http://www.khanacademy.org/)  that
    would be able to offload colleges to some degree, if not replace them
    completely. For the self-driven motivated, examples of students given on the
    show, it could completely replace going to a community college. What has to
    happen is that there has to be some type of accreditation and recognition given
    to classes of this kind, but given that they are free (open source :-)), I
    don’t expect that to happen anytime soon.

     

    You have to
    ask yourself how to you define “educated”. If it is purely by an
    accredited degree, then so be it. But in a time where you can educate yourself
    on anything you want for free (minus and internet connection and a device that
    can take the information), kids these days have an opportunity to become more educated and in a more convenient manner than ever before.

     

    Another
    example of this movement for students interested in photography:

    http://www.wired.com/rawfile/2011/08/free-online-class-shakes-up-photo-education/

     

    This
    movement is happening right now, but I think it will take the powers to be a
    long time to catch up…..

    • Flimbus

      I used to believe that one could very capably “educate” one’s self, but after attaining a master’s and eventually a doctorate degree, I completely disagree. At each level I was challenged to learn more, explore different avenues of knowledge, and comprehend concepts completely unfamiliar to me. The problem with self-educating is that it is a hall of mirrors, where one seeks only what interests them at the moment, and merely reinforces one’s beliefs and prior knowledge. For whatever reason, the challenge of exploring paths that are utterly unfamiliar is not easily accomplished in the absence of others’ prodding you on – sort of like how we learn as youngsters, really.

      • Christian

        Not sure if you have looked at either of the classes offered at Khan Academy or other places like it, but I find that if I have an interest to learn whatever topic it may be, the classes structured well enough to introduce new concepts to me. 

        “and merely reinforces one’s beliefs and prior knowledge” – That I do not agree with at all, but I guess that depends on what kind of individual you are and how much of an open mind you have.

        I agree with you last sentence . I think that it is only the few that are capable and have the self-motivation to ”educate” one’s self.

        Ultimately, I also think this whole discussion varies highly depending on what industry you will going into. My own industry is computer science and 3d graphics and I went to a traditional school for a master’s degree and just by having that piece of paper got me a $10.000 higher starting salary than a bachelor’s degree.

        Personally, I would have gladly taken some Khan Academy general education to fill in some of the general ad requirements if it had been accepted in some way.

  • Christian

    Not sure what happen to the formatting below :-)

  • Theneville

    I teach at a university in an urban setting and I have many senior students dropping out primarily because of financial issues. Reducing Pell grants will only make this problem worse.

  • Carrie

    I think that your speaker has a lot of great points, but I don’t agree that every student who attends a private college has grown up with a sense of entitlement. I was a first generation college graduate in 2004 from a private college in Michigan. I worked very hard to achieve that level of education. 7 years later, I am still paying for my tuition through student loans. I disagree that a community college student would be a better employee than myself. I have the drive I needed to complete my degree which makes me an asset the company I work for.

  • Jono1118

    Most of the individuals in Community Colleges and Universities are not “kids”.  They can be responsible for themselves as adults.  I attended a Community College prior to obtaining a BA and a BS at a state University, then went on to a PhD at an Ivy.  I was not treated as a child and was responsible for my own failures – which I hope I have learned from as well.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tabitha-Mullins/518059179 Tabitha Mullins

    I was denied grants because my single mom made too much money working at Boeing.  I’ve had to work 70 hours a week to be able to pay for college.  Unfortunately, that leaves me exhausted and unable to focus in class. 

    • Holly2277

      Stay with it though! I have been working my way through college for the past 3 years, and even though 60 hour work weeks on top of college classes leaves you frustrated and drained, it will pay off. I have one year left and don’t regret a thing. I have finally been able to find a decent job in my field and can drop down to 40 hours a week. I went to community college for 2 years and am now at Southern New Hampshire University, which offers 8 week classes at night, on weekends or online. I think that more colleges should offer non traditional class schedules so that anyone can get a degree. For an increasing amount of people, it is the only way. Stick with it Tabitha and good luck! :)

  • Klintbroox

    I think the schools should offer a graduation incentive to students. Take the tuition fee the student pays each year and give the student the interest it would have earned in the 2,3, or 4 years spent at that school. A graduation bonus from the school with the Students own money.

  • Callie

    As a community college instructor, I am curious how we can be held accountable for the most transient student population graduating – those stats don’t reflect everything that students must deal with — and in many cases are overwhelmed by. Not the least being ill-prepared to attend college, funding for remedial programs being severely cut, and a smaller and smaller body of full time faculty. Our college, like many, is basically using adjunct, part time faculty to cope with the budget cuts, and in turn this creates a large body of employees who are also overwhelmed and underpaid – how am I supposed to shepherd students through graduation when I’m also trying to work enough to pay my bills? Technology is a neat answer, but who is going to meet with all those students who don’t understand? Teaching isn’t just about transmitting information in the hopes that someone catches on. It is a very interactive process, and the more students a faculty person has, coupled with a higher class load per term – this leads to higher inefficiency and more underserved students. Why not computerize the administration? They get the most money and in my mind don’t serve an entirely justifiable function considering. To switch from all-access to completion accountability is a little psychotic.

    • Anonymous

      Certainly, being at a community college is a difficult predicament these days, but attacking the administration is not the answer. There are innumerable tasks that they complete on behalf of faculty. There are increasing regulations at the state and national levels across all sectors of the economy and particularly education. Who do you think will compile the reports, meet with the legislators, develop alliances with businesses, raise scholarship dollars from donors and steer the ship of your college if you slash administration? Will you do it? If so, then who will teach? What they do enables you to do your job. Once we all recognize that administrators, faculty and staff are on the same side, then we can begin to come to some consensus as to how we can improve learning outcomes for students, but attacks from within only serve to undermine the credibility of the institution and learning as a whole.

  • Bailey

    I was incredibly lucky to come out of a Bachelor’s degree with no financial aid debt due to my incredibly hard working, lower middle class parents.  I am now looking at going to grad school, of which I will be paying 100%.  I work full time and (as a 27 year old) am living with my parents to save enough money as possible to pay for the program I am hoping to be admitted to.  Even with these preparations, as well as my plan to go to school part time and work part time, I have no idea how I am going to come up with all of the money to pay tuiton.  I have no idea how individuals who are less fortunate than I am can even comprehend the idea of returning to school to further their education and job prospects. 

    I agree with the comment you made about comparing schooling to health care.  Instead of trying futilly to come up with aid for students to help pay astronomically high costs, why not evaluate why the costs are so high to begin with?  Its all well and good to have prosperous schools, but all of that hard work will be in vain if no one can afford to attend them. 

  • Zod

    The bottom line is that a majority of Americans simply do not value education in general. Some go so far as ranting that education is merely a vehicle for the secularization of our populace, and is responsible for society’s divergence from “God’s Word”, whatever that would ultimately bring (a pre-Enlightenment society, I suppose). We will pay for this ridiculous posturing on the global playing field, obviously, and the results are already manifest. Until we accept the fact that learning is illumination, we will continue to grope our way around in darkness.

  • Venessa

    I came from an impoverished family, estranged @ 16 and first generation to go to college – community college anyway.  I graduated in the top of my class in HS but money was the issue for me.  It took me 4 years while working full time and taking terms off when I couldn’t afford school to get 2 associates degrees. When I finally finished, the thought of going in to major debt for a bachelor degree seemed ridiculous; I still didn’t know what I wanted to do.  What I did find over the years is that I started hitting the ceiling in several jobs – held back because I didn’t have a university degree though I had more knowledge & experience than individuals who would get the position.  This is typical of large corporations.  I don’t have time for corporate politics and now use my knowledge for self employment and consulting work.  I make far more now and think it was the best thing I could have ever done for myself.  I have no regrets I only have an associates degree.  Unfortunately we live in a society where a 4 year degree is more valuable than real world experience.  College isn’t for everyone but it certainly is difficult for those who come from less privileged backgrounds.  Overcoming the obstacles to reach educational goals takes a lot of determination.

  • Anonymous

    1) It is silly to compare the US (with 300M people, the world’s #3 most populous country) with tiny countries, e.g. those of Scandinavia. Comparing apples to apples, you would compare the US with the EU, New England to Scandinavia, and New Hampshire to Finland.
    2) It is silly to focus on the four years of college, coming far too late after the squandered 13 years of K-12 education. The US has the highest per-pupil spending in the world, with mediocre results (even worse than our health care); that statistic remains generally valid at the state level as well.
    3) In the program the speakers frequently lumped private and government colleges together, when the dynamics were quite different. State colleges, like state K-12 schools, have grown enormously in size, like Soviet factories or modern hog farms, organized for the benefit of the administrators. I wonder if private universities have become so bloated and non-customer-focused?
    4) I thought it was common knowledge by now (after last century’s socialist experiments) that providing a good or service at a below-market price increases demand. Of course people are wasting education, same as they leave the water running. Instead of providing cheap college, thereby reducing college’s incentives to innovate and provide higher quality at reduced price, and otherwise hugely distorting the market, expand provision of student loans; this is probably less distorting. 
    5) I didn’t hear you mention the impact of modern technologies, e.g. the Khan Academy, or the question of whether college is even necessary (witness Peter Thiel’s $100K non-scholarships). The contradictions between the current state-sponsored system and the education market will soon reach the breaking point. As in the documentary “Waiting for Superman”, more people are pointing out that the emperor wears no clothes.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_DPKS3HUGQBPILPIU7IVZSHGXLI Robert_N

    I wonder how many students these days work their butts off to such an extent, trying to avoid heavy debt, that they’re more prone to burning out/not doing well in school. We’re told by researchers that most people don’t function well (especially cognitively) on a consistent 4-5 hours of sleep. So maybe another potential factor (even if a relatively modest one) in the cycle, in which lower graduation rates could lead to less funding.

    I also wonder whether funding could be more graduated according to a college’s overhead. If their compensation and administrative costs are higher than average, but their success rates are not, they get less. If we’re going to penalize for low graduation rates, we should do the same for schools that waste money and think they’re entitled to get rich off of federal funds.

  • Feeno

    It’s true that not all people are college material, but it should be a matter of motivation and ability, not finances.  I spent over 30 years in Higher Education, and I can attest that the majority of what they spend is not spent on students.  Their constant complaint is that Legislatures aren’t keeping up, but the truth is that public universities have been on a spending binge for more than three decades.   Here is the kicker – the problem is student loans.  If students couldn’t borrow tens of thousands to go to college, university administrators would have to reduce the cost.  

  • Addison

    I am an adult student going back to school after having failed to complete a private school program. I have very little in terms of financial resources to draw on in this second attempt at school, and I can say with certainty that as much as I want to complete my education goals this time around, if I were to encounter significant financial obstacles due to further government cuts to education, I would probably have no choice but to give up on school. Other all the people investing in themselves by going back to school I cannot possibly agree that education funding should be cut at this point In time.

  • Gordon

    I was shocked to hear you say that an inattentive human might be in danger of being eaten by a dinosaur!  No human, no primate, no monkey, even, was ever endangered by a dinosaur.  As we try to educate our students carefully, this comment – even off the cuff as it was – should have been self-edited.  Thanks!

  • Jscarfo

    I am a junior at ASU.  I find that there is plenty of money for school if one just takes the time to look for it.  I received $24,000.00 in scholarships and grants for this year.  I applied for over 45 scholarships and received 4.  It took about 80 hours of my time so I figure I made $300.00 per hour.

  • MtOldMan

    Hadn’t we better find out immediately how a community college can manage to educate their students for a significantly lower cost than the full colleges/universities? If we need to manage our costs then we need
    to adopt the low cost options.

  • Anonymous

    I am those students that enter school and struggle financially and drop out.  But I have gone back four times, trying to get through.  This past June was my 20 year high school reunion.  I have not graduated, yet.  I attribute my many delays to financial, exclusively. 

    Not poor enough to qualify for the threatened Pell Grant (or similar) funding, and not wealthy enough to limit work to make time to succeed in classes.  I recall, early in my college career, frequently skipping class to pick up shifts at a variety of jobs often held simultaneously. 
     
    I know what it means to have to choose to skip class and make money to buy food to eat that day.  Or taking a final hungry and distracted because I needed to leave to get to work on time.  No time to check my work.
     
    I have not given up.  I am enrolled in 10 hours this fall, I work full-time, I have a toddler and am expecting my second child in February.

    • Anonymous

      After 20 years, it’s more than financial. I’m the same age you are and worked full-time as a secretary while getting my bachelor’s degree at night. It took 8 years, but I did it without quitting, without incurring debt, without help from my parents and I never qualified for Pell. Then I got a master’s degree the same way.

      If you plan well and manage your time, there’s no need to be hungry (crock pot of beans will last a week and takes absolutely no effort to cook), skip class or miss work. Kids will throw a wrench in things now, but if you have help, you can still make it work if you want it badly enough.

      • Anonymous

        Kudos to you.  I appreciate your backhanded encouragement.  Given you were not a part of my life in the last 20 years I suggest you reserve judgement.

        • Anonymous

          No judgment, merely a suggestion that it can be done without the stress of juggling a “variety of jobs.”  

  • Jonneek54

    WE’RE #10, WE’RE # 10. 20th coming soon. More war, and welfare for the rich. Less freedom for “We the People”. Obama  is just like Bush.  GO TEA PARTY.

  • Anonymous

    There are many factors at play here, including, but not limited to:

    1. The four-year model is obsolete. Many people work full- or part-time while attending college in order to avoid massive debt and don’t graduate on time or even within 150% time. The notion that it happens otherwise skews the metrics from the beginning.

    2. Recent high school graduates are ill-prepared for the rigor of a collegiate classroom. They have been over-tested and are sorely missing basic foundational skills upon which to build. Vertical alignment between high schools/colleges and personal responsibility for learning must be emphasized.

    3. Elementary and secondary teachers in the US primarily come from the bottom 1/3 of their graduating classes in college. How can we expect teachers to teach what they do not comprehend? Pay teachers better and you’ll attract leaders in their chosen fields. Korea and Finland provide good models for reference.

    4. The overriding emphasis in many high schools (particularly in the South) is football/sports, not academics.  Until we make extra-curricular activities extra and focus on learning outcomes in high schools, we’ll continue to lose ground in the global marketplace.

    5. For a significant portion of the population, a college education is not emphasized at home.

  • Lizz

    What happened to vocational education choices in high school?  When I was in school in the 60′s  car repair and secretarial arts were offered at my school and a neighboring community had a large vocational curriculum including car repair, beauty culture and secretarial arts.  What happened to training high school students, who have no intention of going on to college (for financial other other reasons) for actual jobs that we know will exist. I had a high school friend who then had to go on to a one year course to be a medical tech in a doctor’s office. She definitely could have learned those skills in high school. We know there will be a huge need for medical transcribers, record keepers, hospital mechanics, and dozens of other professions that do not need college degrees. High school is free to the students.

  • Tlpressm

    Education, its methods, accessibility, and ewtc. will continue to be controversial.  Of one thning I am certain – the people highlighted who are working two jobs and investing in their future, however uncertain, will be among the best educated people on the planet.   May find it challenging to get a good job, but the work ethic and perseverance they display will ensure a life worth living.  They have received the increasingly rare gift of self-reliance – sadly lacking in many students at our “elite” schools.

  • Ben

    The dumbing down of the educational system has been evident to me for decades now from all my years of travel overseas.
    The aim of the ruling elite in the U.S. is to keep the masses occupied on the 3 “S’s”: SEX, SCREEN and SPORT.
    Also as Bill Mollison stated: Keep the masses FAT, DUMB and HAPPY to control them.
    People who know the least make the best slaves.

    As G.M. Trevelyan stated:
    “Eduation has produced a population able to read, but unable to distinguish what is worth reading.”  

    “A certain percentage of children have the habit of thinking; one of the aims of education is to cure them of this habit.”  …Bertrand Russell…

    “First God made idiots.  Then he made boards of education.”  Mark Twain

    • TimR

      As for the Mark Twain quotation. There is a sentence missing.

      The complete quote is: 

      “First God made idiots. That was for practice. Then he made boards of education.  …Mark Twain…

      The age of ignorance commenced with the Christian system.     …Thomas Paine(1737-1809)…

      • TimR

        “I don’t want a nation of thinkers, I want a nation of workers.”    …John D. Rockefeller…

      • Litvins

        There was a study that poor people were happy so long as there were poor people bellow them. So offering help to the poor is not what poor want even if they benefit from it… becaaause they are kept ignorant.. 

        And from that comes the whole mantra that has been in the media the past few years: “maybe college isn’t for everyone”

        If you can get into college, it is for you. The only people college is not for are those who are not able to finish it and there are very few of those. We all have ability just not all are given the tools.

  • Harry

    “How is it that little children are so intelligent and men so stupid? It must be education that does it.”
        — Alexandre Dumas

Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

April 17 3 Comments

Jane Goodall Plants ‘Seeds Of Hope’

The world-famous primatologist discusses her new book, which is back on shelves after some controversy.

April 17 9 Comments

College Advice From A High School Counselor

Lisa Micele answers listener questions and explains what schools are looking for beyond GPAs and standardized test scores.

April 16 Comment

ER Doctor Looks Back A Year After Marathon Bombing

Dr. Ron Medzon, an emergency room physician at Boston Medical Center, recalls treating victims injured in the bombing.

April 16 36 Comments

Tensions Build In San Francisco Amid Tech Boom

As San Francisco experiences a historic economic boom, some activists say not all city residents are reaping the benefits.