6 Most Shocking Education News Stories of 2015

Every now and then, when we read a news story, we find ourselves doing a double take because we can hardly believe our eyes. Here are some of the most shocking education news stories of 2015.

Higher college tuition may not correlate with high earnings. Saving a year’s worth of salary for one year of higher education at Harvard may yield great career results for some but that may not be true for all.

According to U.S. News and World Report, a recent Brookings Study showed that “other schools may either not cost as much and yield a similar salary and success of loan repayment, or they may cost about the same but generate higher earnings potential.”

Harvard is a small sample size and represents a limited portion of the zenith of college costs. But, in essence, the study showed that one may earn just as much for the duration of their career by attending a college with cheaper tuition. That’s not a knock against Harvard, as students and their parents are free to choose any school that matches their educational goals.

This is an alternative that students have always taken. Consider Ronald Nelson, a student who was accepted to all eight Ivy League schools. Instead of choosing one of those prestigious schools, and the tuition that came along with it, Nelson went with the University of Alabama.

He said that Alabama “offered him a full scholarship and admittance into their selective honors program.” Nelson also wants to save for medical school and stated that going to an Ivy League institution would not allow him that luxury.

Still—students and parents have to make the decision that’s best for them. Rising costs of higher education will likely force more students to choose cheaper schools over ones with higher tuition rates.

Smoking less dangerous than no education. Studies are a dime a dozen these days, but there are still plenty that force you to pay attention.

Take The Washington Post’s review of a new study published in PLOS ONE, a journal from the Public Library of Science. According to the Post, “more than 145,000 deaths could have been prevented in 2010 if adults who did not finish high school had earned a GED or high school diploma—comparable to the mortality rates of smoking.”

That’s staggering considering smoking and education aren’t necessarily congruent.

For decades, Americans have been warned about the horrors of smoking and the adverse effects it has on one’s health. While having an education has always been synonymous with success, I’m not sure if anyone, or any study for that matter, has ever gone so far as to connect poor health, or deaths related to poor health, to lacking a proper education.

The study, according to the Post, did not directly correlate poor education with death. It counted death as “an estimate of education’s impact on mortality, and do[es] not indicate direct causality.” While this study didn’t directly state that failure to attain an education will result in death, it did portend that death is a consequence of one’s failure to gain an education. Make sense?

This type of information is multi-faceted because of how far it stretches. Personal responsibility plays a role; the government has an act in this play; and the private sector and many other areas are also complicit.

How we move along with this information will be interesting as well. Because, maybe more than anything, this shows just how stark the consequences are for our society if we fail to properly educate our children.

The results may be death.

Marijuana use is on the rise on college campuses. A survey released by the University of Michigan showed that marijuana use among college students is on the rise.

For the first time since 1980, more college students are getting high on a daily basis.

“Daily or near-daily marijuana use was reported by 5.9 percent of college students in 2014 — the highest rate since 1980, the first year that complete data was available in the study. This rate of use is up from 3.5 percent in 2007.”

Even for students who only use it socially or just occasionally, there has been an uptick in the numbers.

“The percent of students using marijuana once or more in the prior 30 days rose from 17 percent in 2006 to 21 percent in 2014.”

Without the study actually saying it, I’d guess this rise in use is an indicator that marijuana is no longer viewed so negatively or as a dangerous drug. But if one views this as bad news, there is a silver lining attached. College students no longer smoke as many cigarettes as they used to. Just 13 percent of college students said that they had smoked a cigarette in the last thirty days.

While this information is certainly good to know, it is not necessarily an indicator of bad behavior with college students, if you put the use aside.

If cities continue to decriminalize the use of marijuana, use of the drug is likely to continue to increase on college campuses. How we view and measure the drug’s impact on academia would certainly serve as a fascinating follow-up study down the road.

Arne Duncan set to leave Obama administration. Arne Duncan, President Obama’s first and only education secretary, announced that he’s leaving the post in December. Duncan said that he’s exiting to spend more time with his family and that it was “time for me to step aside and give a new leader a chance.”

Serving as the country’s top education official since 2009, Duncan helped shape Obama’s approach to education as he led the way to creating “Race to the Top,” the administration’s grant program geared towards creating “significant change in our education system.” He has attempted to overhaul how the government handles for-profit institutions and instituted the much maligned Common Core standards.

Duncan is likely the most famous education secretary since Bill Bennett in the 1980s, and Bennett’s profile rose due to his changeover to political pundit. As of late, Duncan has been in the news due to student loan debt and the “Corinthian 5,” a group of students looking to have their student loans forgiven.

Obama announced that he will appoint John B. King Jr., Duncan’s second in command who specializes in elementary and secondary education. With less than two years left in his tenure as president, Obama isn’t likely looking for a tough battle to confirm a new secretary. For this one, Duncan and Obama will likely ride off into the sunset together.

I, for one, have always liked Duncan and his approachable way of explaining what the country needs in the way of education. It’s a tough job, no doubt, but he always handled it as diplomatically as possible.

11 states spend more on prisons than higher education. According to a report by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 11 states spend more money on correctional facilities than public research universities. The report outlined how many states have cut spending on higher education while increasing budgets for jails and prisons.

Higher education spending didn’t start to fall when the recent recession started. Funding for higher education in many states began toppling back in 1990, falling from 14.6 percent to just 9.4 percent by 2014. Michigan, Oregon, Arizona, Vermont, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Delaware, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Colorado, and Connecticut all failed to make the cut.

Each state has a higher budget for jails and prisons than public research universities.

Adjusted for inflation, spending on elementary and secondary education increased by nearly 70 percent while corrections saw an increase of over 140 percent between 1986 and 2013.

In Michigan, nearly 25 percent of the state’s spending from general fund expenditures went towards corrections compared to just 15 percent on higher education.

The percentages are much closer in other states like Rhode Island and Delaware, but corrections spending still gets a larger percentage. Oregon seems to be the worst defender. Less than 5 percent of general fund expenditures are dedicated to higher education but the state spends nearly 15 percent of that money on correctional facilities.

The bottom line is that too many states invest in faux rehabilitation methods and not on student engagement. Imagine if we invested that money upfront in our troubled youth instead of putting it towards locking them up. A fundamental level of understanding would need to happen though—something that is generally lacking in the U.S. education system.

Higher education doesn’t translate to lower unemployment. Globally, there is an uneven balance between proficient workers and the amount of available jobs matching their skill level and expectations, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO).

The ILO released the 9th edition of the Key Indicators of the Labor Market on November 16, and parts of it aren’t pretty when it comes to the state of higher education around the world. Though the education level of the worldwide workforce is improving, this increase in higher education doesn’t necessarily translate to lower unemployment on a global scale.

Of the 64 participating countries, the report indicated that all but two demonstrated a measurable increase in share of the workforce with a tertiary education over the last 15 years. The largest rises in education were observed in Canada, Luxembourg, and Russia. However, individuals with secondary-level education didn’t necessarily possess an improved chance of locating and securing a job. Tertiary graduates may be less likely to be unemployed in high-income systems, yet they are more likely to be unemployed in low- or middle-income economies.

The report also indicated that workers in high-income countries produce 62 times the yearly output of a worker in a low-income system and 10 times that of an employee in a middle-income economy. Nonetheless, middle-income economies have documented the most productiveness during the last 15 years.

Unfortunately, the average unemployment figures from 112 countries with comparable information increased in 2007-2014, from 6.4 percent to 7.2 percent. Unless the mismatch between competent workers and the number of accessible jobs is addressed, a decline in economic growth and development may be felt internationally.

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