Should Colleges Be Responsible for the Equitable Outcomes of Their Graduates?
I’ll admit it: I’m watching the Winter Olympics.
I’ve been hooked since I first watched ABC’s Jim McKay peer into the camera from Sarajevo in 1984. But judging from this year’s television ratings for the Olympics, it seems I’m part of a shrinking group of fans.
The author and fellow Olympic fan David Epstein wrote about the challenges facing the Olympics in his newsletter earlier this week. Epstein interviewed Steve Mesler, a three-time U.S. Olympian and board member of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC). They discussed what they called the “troubling trajectory of the Olympic brand” to the point that International Olympic Committee is increasingly finding it difficult to get cities to bid for the games.
Remember those days, not so long ago, when the announcement of the Olympic host city was news in and of itself. Atlanta even had a ticker-tape parade after it was announced as host city for the 1996 summer games.
Reading about the problems facing the Olympics, and the resulting public reaction, I couldn’t help but think of higher ed: Is its brand being tarnished in the same way with concerns about cost, political bias, and whether college adequately prepares graduates?
I read Epstein’s newsletter this week as I was sitting in a coffee shop in a Cleveland suburb, where the night before I spoke at a local high school about the state of college admissions. As usual with these events, the questions at some point turned to the value of higher ed. What this group of parents asked was similar to what I have heard over and over again these past two years.
Are there other, less-expensive alternatives to education after high school? Do all employers want four-year degrees? Why are some college graduates struggling to launch? Is the college degree worth it?
This is a suburb where the median household income in 2019 was nearly $77,000. These are the types of families that for decades have written tuition checks, taken out home-equity loans, and drawn down savings to pay for college—no questions asked.
Yet, here they were asking if they should still follow that well-trodden path. In the end, many will, not necessarily because they want to, but because they don’t want to take a chance that their kids will end up on the wrong side of the economic divide.
The thing makes college unique “from nearly every other product or service on the planet is that it involves our children in a way that we consider to be absolutely essential,” Ron Lieber, the New York Times columnist and author of The Price You Pay for College, told us on the Future U. podcast that dropped earlier this week
“Because we’re all wrapped up with the idea of upward mobility as destiny, and as entitlement, enough of us will pay whatever we need to give our kids what they want—and what we think they need—that I think it will continue to support prices like this,” Lieber said. “We’re going to see $100,000 [annual tuition] in the next 10 years and it could go higher.”
☕️ Good Saturday morning, and thanks for reading Next. In this issue we’ll explore the role colleges play in diversifying the professions and a new college major that’s showing up on some campuses: cannabis studies.
Same College, Differing Outcomes
21% of U.S.-born Blacks and Latinos have a bachelor’s degree. 37% of whites and 58% of Asians do.
For decades, much of the diversity and equity focus in higher education has been on access to college for underrepresented students.
As a sign of progress, colleges and universities are quick to tout the racial and ethnic makeup of the student body on their campuses.
In recent years, while colleges have condemned racism and crafted diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging plans, many of their approaches stop short of helping underrepresented students succeed after college.
Why it matters: Black and Hispanic students are disproportionately concentrated in majors with lower earnings, and that contributes to their higher likelihood of being underemployed after graduation, according to a new paper co-authored by Matt Sigelman, president of the Burning Glass Institute, and Chris Howard, the outgoing president of Robert Morris University.
“Underemployment” is defined as someone who has a bachelor’s degree working in a job that does not typically require one.
The paper uses a treasure trove of data from Burning Glass, an analytics company that provides real-time data on the job market.
One key metric: There is more than a two-fold difference in underemployment rates between bottom and top performing majors.
By the numbers: When academic majors were analyzed by the race and ethnicity of their graduates, Burning Glass found that Black and Hispanic students were least likely to be enrolled in the majors with the lowest rates of underemployment.
What’s more, Black and Hispanic students were more likely to be underemployed compared to their white and Asian counterparts even in majors that are considered to be highly employable, such as business, engineering, and computer science.
—Any suggestion that colleges encourage students to major in academic disciplines with better careeroutcomes is likely to be met with opposition on campuses from those departments that see these choices as a zero-sum game, Sigelman and Howard write.
“But it’s not,” they add. “It’s about college leaders promoting career fields that historically have lacked diversity in part because institutions have left the onus on student success to the students themselves. Now, helping students is both a moral and financial imperative for institutions.”
More details: Beyond a student’s major, the analysis for the paper found that the big intervention colleges can make in positioning students for future success is the internship.
On average, a student who lands an internship in college is 9% more likely to hold a BA-required job after graduation.
But Black and Latino students are less likely than Asian and white students to get the hands-on experience that is a stepping stone to a job requiring a bachelor’s degree.
The big picture: The paper also alanalyzed recruiting data from companies. It found that the racial and ethnic diversity of a college’s student body is linked materially to improved outcomes for all students.
Diverse companies have a higher percentage of employees, including both white employees and employees of color, who attended diverse colleges, while the opposite is true for less-diverse companies. In other words, diverse companies recruit on diverse campuses, offering job opportunities to all students.
Bottom line: Sigelman and Howard write that diversifying the professions is not just for traditional-age students. Universities, they write, “must extend their approach on this front to include those already in the workforce.”
To do that, colleges need to work with employers to identify jobs that are most relevant to the future of their region’s economy and then build programs that direct graduates toward those opportunities.
Colleges also need to understand specific skills at a granular level that allow workers to move up and into new jobs and careers.
The pandemic has only upped the pressure for digital transformation across higher education to improve student success, research prowess, and prestige in the decade ahead. Learn about how institutions can think systematically about the best ways to use technology to ultimately engage students and faculty. Read the report now.
High Times for Cannabis Programs
With the growing political, cultural, and legal recognition of marijuana, and its related industries undergoing explosive economic growth, more colleges are increasingly offering classes—and even degrees—in various types of cannabis studies.
Driving the news: Fortune Business Insights projects the global cannabis market will grow from $28.2 billion in 2021 to $197.7 billion in 2028.
The 2021 Leafly Jobs Report estimates there are currently 321,000 cannabis-related jobs in the U.S, and that number is only expected to grow. That’s slightly more than the number of electrical engineering jobs.
What’s happening: The National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) is working to compile information on the rise of the cannabis curriculum in higher education.
The association has found 70 programs that offer a degree or certification.
Some of the strongest training programs are often not accredited, given the fluid legal situation around cannabis, said Kathy Knutson of the NCIA’s education committee.
Cannabis concentrations of study include law, cultivation, pharmacology, botany, biology, public policy, and business-related applications such as running a cannabis-related business.
—Oaksterdam University in Oakland claims it is “the world’s first cannabis college” to promote the study and policy around the benefits of cannabis.
Oaksterdam’s foundational curriculum includes classes on the history of cannabis, cannabis law, safety, efficacy, and the physiology of cannabis, said Paul Armentaro, chair of science at Oaksterdam.
“Students have to take that core curriculum to give them this understanding of where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going in this political, cultural and legal landscape,” Armentaro said.
The big picture: Colleges and universities are integrating cannabis-specific curriculum into more traditional courses of study like biology, marketing, health care, business, criminal justice, public policy and science.
The Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University offers a class titled “Cannabiz: Exploring the “Legalized” Cannabis Industry from a Corporate Transactional Perspective.”
Students at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy can take electives in cannabis, such as “Cannabis Pharmacology and Therapeutics.”
While Lake Superior State University offers degree programs in cannabis, students in other business and science majors can also take classes such as “Cannabis Economics” and “Cannabis Entrepreneurship.”
—The subject matter might tempt some of us to make silly jokes, but Armentaro finds his students are quite serious about their chosen profession. The price of a certification or degree can be quite costly, he said, and that deters degree-seekers not dedicated to upholding industry and legal standards.
What’s next: More than half of states allow marijuana for medical or recreational use. As cannabis continues to gain cultural and legal acceptance, expect to see more mainstream universities and colleges add and expand the cannabis curriculum.
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