Nan Austin

June 26, 2013

On Campus: College tech, life after changing fast

College kids have new tools, new tests to face in a fast-changing world. Statistics show United States needs to raise college completion rates and improve number of students ready to go.

On Campus

The latest on local schools and education

This week I went with my high school grad to pick out a laptop for college. When I packed for the dorms (in the Paleolithic era) I took a portable typewriter and a slide rule.

I remember my mother’s alarm when I told her I’d bought brand new technology, a calculator, for a college calculus class: “You’ll never learn anything if you don’t have to do the work!” she shouted into the phone. I didn’t mention I’d also signed up for a computer programing class. That would be Fortran, which involved punched cards and an underground bunker cooled to refrigerator crispness.

My son’s computer does not require Fortran, climate control or banks of underground hardware. It weighs less than a “venti” frappachino and could run a small country.

He researched the different models online, weights, battery life, security features, RAM, gigabytes, software — all that. For my typewriter, I walked into the local stationary store and picked between two models.

In both cases, mom paid. Some things don’t change.

But so much else has. Technology offers incredible TV screen resolution and gruesome game graphics, instant connections and privacy invasions, easy-to-find answers and tough-to-avoid temptations.

The classes my son takes will have to prepare him for jobs that do not exist yet, requiring tools not yet invented and know-how no one knows yet. As he put it, knowledge gets outdated almost instantly — employers need people with skills.

So it was with great interest that I looked over college and career statistics gathered by the Organisation (sic) for Economic Co-operation and Development in its Education at a Glance 2013.

OECD advisor Andreas Schleicher described the findings, looking at education in terms of economics, the costs and benefits over time. Some thought-provoking notes:

-- Unemployment: In the recent recession, college graduates fared the best in remaining employed and lost far less, on average, in income than other groups. 

“It’s really quite striking,” Schleicher said. “Those who didn’t have a good education or a high school diploma have really paid the price for the crisis.”

-- U.S. individuals with college degrees pay about $200,000 more in taxes over their lifetimes than their education or other services cost. Those with more education also smoke less and have lower obesity rates.

-- The United States ranks nearly dead last in college completion rates, with half of all college students failing to achieve a degree. College costs here are far higher and far more of the expense is borne by the private sector, about two-thirds vs. one-third in other countries.

-- Kids in elementary grades are doing well compared to other countries, middle schoolers less well, and by high school our students fall well behind those in other industrialized nations, Schleicher said.

-- U.S. teachers are paid less, nationwide, than others with similar education levels.

-- The country getting the highest marks in just about every category was Iceland. 

Vel gert! — which means well done! in Icelandic, according to Google, something my little typewriter could never have told me.

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