Schooled Reporting on education

Major decisions

Education | New data can tell students the value of their degree before they commit to a college
by Laura Edghill
Posted 11/27/19, 05:09 pm

The U.S. Department of Education released an update to its College Scorecard last Wednesday, providing college-bound students data on salary and debt levels for specific majors.

The Obama administration launched the College Scoreboard website in 2015 with tools to compare costs, graduation rates, employment rates, average amounts borrowed, and loan default rates between schools. In part a response to a spate of controversial closures and bankruptcies of for-profit colleges, the website attempted to bring more transparency to the college shopping experience.

But prospective students couldn’t access information on specific degree programs. The average figures given for institutions failed to tell the whole story of how a teacher might fare financially compared to an accountant.

High school senior Caleb Smith from Macomb, Mich., said he appreciated the ability to narrow the scope of his search to a specific major.

“If you’re looking at a big school that’s got lots of different degrees, like a sociology degree versus a nuclear science degree, they’re going to have very different stuff which will affect their average, so basically you don’t know,” Caleb said. “But this will tell you, which is nice.”

Abigail Brown, also a senior from Sterling Heights, Mich., plans on a career in the medical field, so she is comparing potential salaries with average debt of graduates in her major.

“Medical school will be very expensive,” Brown said. “So making sure I won’t have a lot of undergrad debt is very important.”

In addition to popular search criteria like average annual salary and graduation rates, options also include considerations like size, “urbanicity” (whether an institution is in a rural, suburban, or urban area), and a dizzying array of more than sixty possible religious affiliations.

While the expanded site hosts a treasure trove of new data, it only contains earnings information for about 20 percent of the 200,000 degree programs listed in its database.

Not surprisingly, the website shows that degrees in specialties like anesthesiology and dentistry bring in higher-than-average salaries even though they often carry commensurate debt levels. But let the buyer beware: The scorecard also reveals countless majors in which the median debt far exceeds the median reported salary. Many film, drama, and visual arts programs at prestigious schools like Columbia University and New York University sport median debt levels that are four times the median salaries reported by graduates.

Associated Press/Photo by David Crane/The Orange County Register Associated Press/Photo by David Crane/The Orange County Register A memorial to students outside Saugus High School

A senseless act

Two weeks later, investigators in Santa Clarita, Calif., are still working to determine what drove a 16-year-old Saugus High School student to open fire on classmates before turning the gun on himself.

By all accounts, Nathanial Berhow was quiet and likable. He ran cross country, was a Boy Scout, and had a girlfriend. But the seemingly untroubled young man acted in grossly troubling ways on Nov. 14 by apparently constructing an unregistered “ghost gun,” concealing the weapon in his backpack, walking to the middle of a courtyard at his suburban Los Angeles high school, opening fire, and even pausing to count his rounds before finally ending 16 seconds of terror and confusion with a shot to his own head. The brief encounter left two students dead, three wounded, and countless others forever affected by what they witnessed.

Berhow left behind no note or manifesto.

“It still remains a mystery why,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said. “You have the image of a loner, someone who is socially awkward, doesn’t get along, some violent tendencies, dark brooding and online strange postings—stuff like that,” none of which described Berhow.

That stereotype is often inaccurate, said psychologist and threat assessment expert Marisa Randazzo, the co-author of current federal guidelines on assessing school shooting threats. She explained that a significant life event, loss, or disappointment can often push shooters over the edge.

“These are acts of suicide as much as homicide,” Randazzo said. Investigators have noted that Berhow’s father died two years ago and the day of the shooting was the boy’s 16th birthday.

Meanwhile, the community grieves and attempts to move forward. Thousands attended a prayer vigil last week. The school will not reopen until Dec. 2, but police allowed students entry last Tuesday to retrieve belongings they left behind the day of the shooting. —L.E.

Associated Press/Photo by Carolyn Thompson Associated Press/Photo by Carolyn Thompson Syracuse University

Hostile environment

A recent stream of racist incidents at upstate New York’s Syracuse University have led to one student arrest, four suspensions, the temporary shutdown of an entire fraternity, and a tense standoff between the school’s chancellor and student groups demanding a strong response.

The incidents include verbal assaults as well as dozens of documented instances of slurs against Jews, African Americans, and Asian Americans graffitied on campus or in nearby areas. In one case, sticky notes on a wall displayed racist comments toward Native Americans. Widely publicized accounts of someone disseminating white supremacist material to students’ phones and laptops appear to be a hoax, Chancellor Kent Syverud said.

Outraged students served Syverud a 19-point list of demands last week to address the situation. They demanded the expulsion of students who commit hate crimes, faculty diversity training, and a $1 million dollar investment to create a curriculum “that educates the campus on diversity issues, specifically anti-racism.”

The chancellor responded at a forum last Wednesday night with an emotional description of his mixed-race family and the racism they faced in the early years of his marriage to his wife, who is of Asian descent. Syverud is white.

“That was then. That was the South,” Syverud said. “It was hard for my wife. It was hard for my kids. But this is Syracuse. This is 2019. I do not accept this hatred here and now. This is not who Syracuse is at its best, and this is not who we can let ourselves become.”

Syverud agreed to 16 of the 19 requests but requested clarification on three. Student protesters rejected the chancellor’s response, chanting, “sign or resign,” as they walked out of the forum. —L.E.

Secret agent–ology

Aspiring secret agents can now attend a newly operational spy school in the heart of Berlin. Forged from a partnership between the country’s foreign and domestic spy agencies, the school, which goes by its German acronym, ZNAF, accepts recent high school graduates, as well as those who have earned a bachelor’s degree and want to pursue graduate courses in intelligence and security. It purportedly hosts laboratories, workshops, and state-of-the-art video studios.

Agents-in-training study the gamut of spycraft from covert operations to law, as well as more field-ready topics like foiling cyber attacks, interrupting terrorist plots, and evading hostile agents. Visitors can observe the exterior of ZNAF and even knock on its door, but the facility itself remains strictly off-limits to outsiders. —L.E.

Laura Edghill

Laura Edghill is a freelance writer, church communications director, and public school board member living in Clinton Township, Mich., with her engineer husband and three sons. She is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute's mid-career course. Follow Laura on Twitter @LTEdghill.

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  • Laura W
    Posted: Sat, 11/30/2019 02:10 pm

    Wow, I wish I could say I'm supprised about the Syracuse protesters' lack of willingness to take the time to discuss and clarify those remaining three points, but there don't seem to be a lot of people left who are really willing to listen to people who aren't already in full agreement with them.

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