Tuesday, January 24, 2017

College readiness and completion of ICCSD high school graduates

The state recently released some “post-secondary readiness” data about Iowa high schools. Specifically, there are charts showing the college enrollment and completion rates, up to five years out, of the graduates of the high school class of 2010. They also show, as to those students who enrolled in a public college or university, what percentage took at least one remedial English or math course within a year of graduating from high school. (That part of the data is from more recent graduating classes.) Here are the charts for City High and West High (click to enlarge, or click on the school name to go to the site):

You can go on the site and look up any high school in Iowa. It’s important to be careful about drawing broad conclusions from any one set of data, but I wanted to post these because I’ve always been curious about college completion rates and about just how many students start pursuing a college degree but don’t finish. One thing it shows is that five years after graduating, a significant portion of our high school graduates—between 30 and 40 per cent—had not received a college degree and were not pursuing one. I know we will never send all of our graduates to college, and I don’t see that as the goal. But I think it’s still a fair question whether we are adequately serving those students, whether college is in their future or not.

These charts, by the way, are defining “remedial math course” very narrowly, to cover only non-credit-bearing remedial work. Karen W. explains here.


Anonymous said...

These reports are a good reason for ICCSD to have vocational training in the schools where kids don't have to go off campus to access the training.

amy said...

I think we'd do well to recall that it's no longer 1982, and vo-tech by itself doesn't do the trick anymore. There's no factory waiting to receive. I know there are a lot of fantasies being peddled these days about the noble and lucrative profession of coal mining, but there are reasons why coal-miner (and electrician, and pipefitter) grandpas were glad to see their kids go to college instead of the mines -- even if those jobs were going to be rolling up by the trainload, and they aren't. Ignore the community-theatre guy who plays a tough guy on TV and look at the BLS stats.

Anonymous said...

Amy, there are construction jobs in this area many City and West High college drop outs don't have the skills for. Why not give the kids skills in high school? There is also nothing wrong with being an electrician where you can own your own business and your job can't get outsourced overseas. No one is suggesting the schools teach kids how to mine.

Anonymous said...

It's easy to lump tradesmen into the category of unskilled workers. But the specialized knowledge that a master plumber, electrician, etc has is impressive. Even to reach journeyman status requires experience and specialized training.

We need more people with this type of training and less American Studies or other semi-worthless liberal arts degrees. (I know, liberal arts broadens the horizons of people, teaches them to critically think, blah, blah, blah. But it also frequently leaves one unable to buy groceries)

And mining? Try getting into the Colorado School of Mines. Mining too is a highly skilled profession for most of the engineers, mechanics, equipment operators, etc who make it work. We need more of them, too, by the way.

Iowa City needs to get over its elitist view that people who sweat during the performance of their job or who have callouses are inferior.

Jenny said...


Did you know maintenance supervisors in manufacturing can make $80k+ and they are in demand? On top of the base salary, they can opt for overtime and it is not a dead-end job. Not only that, companies are looking for people with basic skills and will provide whatever additional training is needed at their cost. Kids need to know more about the options available to them if they want to "work with their hands." There are opportunities and they can have very fulfilling careers. They do need to be encouraged to finish high schools and get those basic math and writing skills. Our education leaders need to sit down with local manufacturers and get the real story.


Anonymous said...

Amy - I do believe that you are incorrect in your assessment. I work in Cedar Rapids for a large manufacturer and we can't find enough skilled maintenance techs. These are $40-50k+ per year jobs with plenty of opportunity for advancement. I am not sure why you chose coal mining as an example - I have never heard anyone peddling coal mining as a vocation around these parts....

amy said...

Yeah, we're already in the wage-gap propaganda land here, and you guys are not actually reading what I've said.

I repeat: look at BLS stats. There is no evidence of growth in these job areas. The fact that some people locally are having trouble finding skilled labor does not mean that a widespread shortage exists. The employers who will pay for training are relatively rare. Check national job boards. Most of what people are looking for is itinerant labor -- a job that lasts a few months, maybe a year. Bring own tools, insure self. That's true in many other sectors of the economy, too. If you've got a salaried job with good benefits and corporate training and unemployment insurance and private disability insurance, you're a fortunate person, but there's a reason why you've been hearing more and more about 1099s. If you're out working construction as an itinerant on a local job and you get hurt, then I hope you've got some backup at home.

Furthermore, the kinds of lives you're talking about *require education beyond high school*. You can't just shunt kids to vocational ed and say "great, you're done with high school, go be a journeyman X (for $14/hr) for a few years and you're good." Basic math and writing skills are not and will not be enough. Apart from which many of them aren't graduating with basic math and writing skills. They pass tests, then things fall out of their heads. If that weren't the case I wouldn't get paid to re-teach them. I taught 7th-grade grammar to a bunch of undergraduates just last year. Not billed as a remedial course, incidentally. They struggled with it.

About 35 years ago we lost industrial dominance because we could not wrap our heads around the idea that high-quality manufacturing, which is the kind that makes money if you have labor regs and minimum wages, required well-educated techs. I hear the same sentiments here. You may very badly want to believe that you can give the kids "a basic education" followed by "an apprenticeship" and that this will leave them set, but this is wrong. The money in trades is coming from jobs that overlap with engineering, and a breadth of knowledge and flexibility of approach is required, as well as the ability to communicate complex ideas clearly and plainly in writing to people who are not techs/engineers. High school doesn't get them there.

I really do wish people would stop misrepresenting these things to the kids. It'd be delightful, too, if people would be more honest, or at least more knowledgeable, about job markets in STEM, which also get held up in opposition to "worthless American Studies degrees". The job markets in STEM are so wonderful that we've already got thousands and thousands of jobless and underemployed scientists wandering around or working in areas that have nothing to do with STEM.

I'll put it another way: if you want a life working with your hands, that's terrific -- if you're good at it, if you've got or can develop good business and management chops, if you're able to continuously educate yourself once you're done with formal schooling, if you're healthy, if you're male (let's please not pretend that massive discrimination against women has disappeared from trades), if you're well-insured, and if you're well-educated enough to communicate clearly about what you're doing -- in speech and in writing -- with people who are not in your line of work, and if you're what they call a creative problem solver. Then you're in demand and you'll manage nicely.

Anonymous said...

Amy - During the recent 5 year building boom at the Univ. of Iowa due to rebuilding after the flood, most projects required skilled craftspersons to come in from other states because there is a huge storage of Iowa workers in the building trades.
The reality is the only stable jobs in Iowa are the ones that cannot be outsourced to other countries.
If you have had the frustration of trying to get an appliance repair/plumber/electrician/builder to your house, you know that most of them are near retirement age or older, with no replacements in sight.
ICCSD desperately needs to face the reality that half of their students will not pursue college degrees and those students deserve the educational options that other districts are providing. Right now, the ICCSD writes checks to the Mid-Prairie district for over 125 students who open enrolled there to take advantage of the exceptional Voc. classes that ICCSD does not offer.
Not acknowledging that 1/2 of students will not get college degrees, does not make their need for job training go away. Amy's solution of doing nothing, guarantees those students they will be locked into low wage, fast food jobs for the rest of their lives.

Anonymous said...

Amy, it would serve you well to find out what a journeyman is and what the qualifications are for this very skilled status. $14 per hour? Triple that and add benefits and you may be getting closer.

I agree with you that simply going to high school won't get you there. But going to high school also won't get you a semi-worthless American studies degree. If we can start students down the path towards technical skills we will be doing them well. If we can deter students from going down the path towards a semi-worthless American studies degree we will be doing them well also.

On my way to work this morning I followed a plumber's truck and an electrician's truck. Both had help wanted ads on them.

Anonymous said...

Many would agree that Iowa City's greatest asset getting to where it is today is the University of Iowa, it's undeniable. And while the U will remain the communities bedrock Kirkwood CC is arguably its greatest asset moving forward.

Not only is Kirkwood nationally recognized for its quality it is a vehicle into the future that the U will never become. Kirkwood, with its curriculum flexibility and the advanced training requirements of today's skilled trades, needs to be recognized for its potential. And its relationship with this old university town needs be seen as vital starting with this school board. But I'm not hearing it.

We are currently bogged down with district leadership that doesn't have a vision beyond a very narrow spectrum. And if you're not sure where that center focuses follow the money trail. Have a look at where most of the $340 million from SAVE, PPEL, and the proposed GO BOND is going.

Hey Liebig how about you do a blog on what's happening to WHS with the plan you support. How many clubs, classes, teams, groups are being fragmented? to what extent? and how about City HS (beyond the school board cutting Alexander out of your HS)?
Or maybe you talk about moving up the NL buildings on the FMP and finishing the HS and the JH so they are up to spec and not getting dragged through unnecessary growing pains. Show some respect for the difficulties of starting a new HS. Look how long it took WHS to get where it is today. And while you're at it show some respect for WHS also.

amy said...

Anon 10:21 - sure, come do physically dangerous work for minimum wage and maybe we'll pay you. If we feel like it. You might have to sue us for it, and you'll pay self-employment taxes. No bennies, temp job. Oh, wait -- were you thinking they were going to arrange nice $50K sal/ben jobs if only they could find enough people locally? I mean if only.

If your own reading comp skills were up to par, you'd have noticed I'd said there's nothing at all wrong with manual labor, but that the nature of manual labor that pays a reasonable middle-class (har) wage has changed radically over the past few decades. It now requires both college-level intellectual work and the training with the stuff you work with the hands. Otherwise you're suing for your min-wage 1099 pay. Part of your job, incidentally, is likely to be the hiring and exploitation of the min-wage workers. Welcome to America.

Anon 11:11 -- Sure, it's not easy to find good people to exploit. I'm sure they are looking for people. How you get the trucks: you learn the trade, have the biz chops that either come natural or you learn in college (or your kid learns in college), and then you borrow for the trucks and tools and find some other guys (guys, male) to pay min wage or close to it. And yes, I've been looking at journeyman wages. Union scale is not so nice. There are two ways you come out okay: you find a somewhat unusual position sal/ben for a company and hang the hell on, or you build your biz as above, which will necessarily be on the backs of low-wage employees, unless you head upmarket and serve only a wealthy clientele, have top service, and can pay yourself and a few others a healthy income. Short form: lucky and very able -- multiply able -- people in trades do well. Everyone else looks like the people you see on roofs and installing your dishwasher. Would you like all the stories of hanging-on various tradesmen who've come to my house have told me? I find they tell these stories to women much more readily than they do to men. Maybe it's that we listen.

tl;dr - high school ain't enuf, trades or no trades.

As for the value of a semi-worthless American Studies degree: maybe you should have a look at the tweets coming from the desperate White House staffer before that account got shut down. My guess is that not very many history majors looked at Trump and thought: yeah, looks like a real good idea. It's slow to pay off, that librul arts stuff, but without it you got trouble with a capital T.

Can we be done with the Sinclair Lewis novel now? Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Your the one writing the SL novel, Amy. The rest of us know that there are plenty of good jobs out there if you want to acquire technical skills and are willing to work with your hands. The deadend positions are held by people who don't/can't/weren't given an opportunity to acquire these attributes.

My point is that giving these people a start in acquiring technical skills during high school would wonderful and would start them on the process of a career.

And to me there is little worse than spending 4 years of your life and $80,000 acquiring a degree that gets you nowhere.

What you can't do is have no skills or abilities recognized in the marketplace and expect to succeed. One can either choose and work to get ahead or one can whine about being oppressed. It really is that simple.

Anonymous said...

Amy, you need to recognize that many business owners come out of the trades. The trades aren't just manufacturing jobs that have disappeared. They are alive and well in the Iowa City area and include culinary arts jobs.

In addition having technical,trade and vocational training in high schools makes the academic subjects more interesting to some kids. The beginning courses should be at high school and not off at a remote spot.

amy said...

I've already answered most of the responses since my last post, so if you're still banging away at the idea that I've been saying "trades bad", go back and reread before you fire off another one.

As for onsite v. offsite -- I don't know anything about this. One of the things, maybe, that would make it difficult to have beginning classes onsite is the expense involve in kitting out rooms with new equipment to keep up with industrial changes. If Kirkwood's already doing this and is also able to serve adults with the same classrooms, it seems to me reasonable to keep Kirkwood as the center for tech training. But, like I said, I don't know anything about it.

I also wouldn't be in favor of building anything to direct kids to a trade that discriminates massively, demonstrably, and recalcitrantly against girls and women. What's the men:women ratio you see on job sites, and what's the ratio you see in local offices? You'd have to build in those opportunities. Not "look, girls, you can start your own business, and be discriminated against one client at a time", but actually make changes resulting in positive discrimination *for* hiring and promoting women until local trades actually learned to cope well with their presence. So no, not a dime for trades training in high school so long as the career opportunities are so sharply limited for one gender.

Another thing to consider is flexibility. What I'd never be in favor of is training a kid so narrowly that it's hard for him or her to switch fields. If there are no decent electrician jobs open in the area, the person can't just be sitting there waiting for economic magic to happen and a certain kind of job to reappear; s/he has to have other skills ready to go. Preferably multiple skills. (Which, incidentally, is exactly what a lib arts background trains you for.) I know very few people who've had the luxury of working one kind of job for the last three decades, and you cannot count on employers to spend time and money training you beyond some limited patience while you figure out a new job.

All of which is separate from a question for Chris about those stats: Chris, I'm sure you see that at university level we lose a lot of kids because of a combination of "can't pay" and "first-gen lacks good guidance, makes expensive mistakes in trying to get through school". Are you taking parental income and ed level into account in looking at those college dropout numbers?

Anonymous said...

Amy -How are women supposed to get into skilled trades when the public schools don't make that path easily available to any sex?

And skilled trades becoming outdated? It's not happening and never will. Look what's happened to electricians and plumbers and welders. They aren't obsolete even though they have been recognized as trades for 100+ years. They are even more important now.

For example, skilled plumbers have given us clean drinking water which has saved more lives than the health care industry.

I still don't think you understand what a skilled trade is. We are not talking about people who deliver and install your dishwasher. We are talking about the people who designed and installed your electrical and plumbing system to make your dishwasher work.

And there are skilled tradesmen that traditionally have been highly female - think dental hygenists, dental assistants and bookkeepers.

You don't need a liberal arts degree to have skills and to be flexible and grow in your career. Really - what good does an American Studies degree actually do if, for example, you need to calculate the voltage drop in a three hundred foot long length of
8-2 UF wire? That's the sort of thing that a journeyman electrician does and it's learned through technical training and experience.

And why not teach advanced academic nontrade classes through the UI or Kirkwood and have a vocational track? If you want an academic career that's the place to be. anyway.

Heather Young said...

To discuss the issue of preparing high school students for future careers, I highly recommend delving into Matthew Crawfords "Shop Class as SoulCraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work"

An excellent article that reviews Crawfords book is here:

This book totally transformed my views on the importance of university vs. skilled labor, I am so glad I took the time to read it.

amy said...

Anon 11:34 - yeah, you're missing the majority of my points pretty thoroughly. You've also got a seriously outdated view of labor markets. Kids trained as narrowly as you propose will have a rough time of it even though people still need electricians. And yes, I am aware that trades don't just mean dishwasher delivery.

As for the sexism problem, training the girls is pointless if the companies and other tradespeople go on discriminating as severely as they do against hiring and promoting women in trades. It's a well-studied problem and various legislatures have tried since the 1970s to address the problem and so far failed. You get guys saying, "well, of course we can't hire them, there aren't any," and programs spring up to train the women, and the women show up in droves and do well in training, and then they can't get work, or they're hired and harassed and threatened out of the field. And then the guys go back to saying, "well, of course we can't hire them, there aren't any." In the end few women making trade wages have the wherewithal to sue to solve the problems. When they do, the law's frequently far behind where they need it to be. So yeah, unless the trades themselves are willing to solve this problem and actually make real progress there, I have zero interest in putting public money behind training students for those careers.

Hygienists and dental assistants don't generally think of themselves as tradespeople, incidentally. Nor do bookkeepers. And we already do ready them for CC tech courses in high school with courses like math and biology and accounting.

Kids who are advanced academically already do take academic courses at Kirkwood and UI. But very few people who go to college will become academics. That's not what bachelor's-level programs are for. I'll try to find something for you that explains why a broad liberal-arts education reliably turns out people with necessary job skills. In the end, if you go into trades, you're going to need both -- the college study and the tech. But that's true of almost any field now. If you think you're going to get a job as a ______ and just stay employed in that line for the next 20 years, you're probably wrong. The people who get decent jobs have multiple backgrounds, useful combinations, and the ability to mix and match.

Bottom line: it's not 1978. And, despite a certain president's promises, it never will be again.

Beyond finding a "why college" source I really have said all I've got to say here about this.

amy said...

Anon 11:34 -- the history of trades hiring discriminating against women who show up well-trained for the jobs is long and well-documented and resistant to state and local efforts to break it. It's not a matter of training girls. It's a matter of breaking sexism in trades. ICCSD cannot do that. If the trades (and no, bookkeepers and dental hygienists don't think of themselves as being in trades) insist on complaining that they can't find enough people, they're going to have to do something about their problem dealing with women. Their unions are also going to have to deal with the reality that women are still primary caregivers to both children and elderly. So far they've been unwilling. Too bad for them, then. I'm not voting a dime towards them till they get over the macho fixation and figure out how to cope with substantial numbers of women in trades.

As for the strain of going off-campus for training: have you actually been over to Kirkwood's center on the Oakdale campus? It's pretty sweet. It's also unrealistic to expect that every high school will have machinery and education like this available -- it's massively expensive and serves a relatively small number of kids at each school. You ought to go over there and have a look -- I'm sure they'd be happy not only to show you around, but to explain why your vision of a one-year training program that kits you out for life no longer applies to the reality of trades today, not if you want to make a decent living. Maybe it'll be more palatable coming from a guy who likes to bend metal?