College and Student Debt

I saw the graph below in an article on, obviously, college degrees and debt load, at ZeroHedge.

The article is worth a look – the author points out that “a significant percentage of the 48,000 students who enroll in history programs for their undergrad studies literally believe that they eventually will become a history professor. Less than half of those who enroll in history actually graduate with that degree after 6 years. None become history professors, while about 15% become elementary school teachers. The ambitious are undeterred, and ~1900 enroll in a masters program, specializing in an arcane field of history. Roughly 80% graduate with a masters in history after 3 years. Almost none will become history professors.

Rather than torture you by continuing with this exercise, we’ll cut to the chase. Nationwide, about 300 jobs open up each year for history professors at the university level. All will require a PhD and those who dedicated 10 to 12 years of their lives (and have $200,000 in student debt to prove it) will be the candidates for those jobs. The same dynamics apply to the other soft majors.”

I’m pretty sure I was one of those “other soft majors.” Frankly, a crushed vertebra gave me the push I needed to get into a graduate program, and I got back into college employment before I got back into grad school . . . yet I see fewer opportunities in the academy than existed in the 90’s.  I recall one fellow explaining how easy a Ph.D. was – his research, in history, had been handed to him by an old neighbor who had, as a personal obsession, spent his spare time hunting down poems written by Abraham Lincoln.  Some folks luck into easy research, good topics and publications.

In general, we tried to treat our grad students well – working to get them the assistantships that kept them going – qualifying them beautifully for a world that no longer exists.  Employment in the academy is now a game for administrators – and in a world full of adjunct faculty, the number of ranked and tenured faculty is dropping.  I’m pretty sure we were not doing all of our students  favors by getting them assistantships. offers some data on bachelor’s and graduate degrees. 

“Between 1980 and 2017, the share of adults with at least a four-year college degree doubled, from 17 percent to 34 percent. The Great Recession intensified the trend, since people often choose to return to school to burnish their résumé when finding jobs is tough. From 2010 to 2019, the percentage of people 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher increased by 6 percentage points, to 36 percent, where it sits today.

The more surprising part of the story is that the college degree is declining in status: postgraduate degrees are now where the real action is. The coveted B.A. from all but the most elite schools has become a yawn, a Honda Civic in a Tesla world. It’s not just metaphorical to say that a master’s degree is the new bachelor’s degree: about 13 percent of people aged 25 and older have a master’s, about the same proportion that had a bachelor’s in 1960. Master’s mania began to spread through the higher-education world in the later 1990s, but it picked up steam during the Great Recession, even more than the bachelor’s did. From 2000 to 2012, the number of M.A.s granted annually jumped 63 percent; bachelor’s degrees rose only 45 percent. In 2000, higher-ed institutions granted an already-impressive 457,000 master’s degrees; by last year, the number had grown to 839,000. And while the Ph.D. remains a much rarer prize, its numbers have also been setting records. Some 45,000 new doctoral degrees were awarded in 2000, a number that, by last year, had more than doubled, to 98,000.”

I calculated that it takes a population of 30,000 to create one job for a Ph.D. sociologist.  Years ago, I read how Imperial Japan, strapped for kamikaze pilots, sent draft notices to (among others) sociology and law students.  In a weird way, it makes sense – they had proven they were trainable, and they weren’t on solid career tracks. 

The world needs plumbers, mechanics, machinists, electricians.  Imperial Japan was correct – it takes a rich society to have jobs for Ph.D. sociologists. 


Trego School Enrollment Soars

Enrollment at Trego School continues to rise, in defiance of the historical trend. For the last few decades, school enrollment has been fairly steadily dropping. How low did enrollment actually get? The lowest official ANB (Average Number Belonging -i.e. the official state count of students) that I can find is seven, in the spring of the 2018-2019 school year. Enrollment actually continued to decline after that date, but didn’t make the official state count which is used to determine the district’s funding.

The most recent data, using the spring and fall ANB count provided by the state looks like this:

Time PeriodNumber of Students
Fall 201326
Spring 201428
Fall 201425
Spring 201527
Fall 201522
Spring 201622
Fall 201620
Spring 201720
Fall 201715
Spring 201813
Fall 201810
Spring 20197
Fall 201910
Spring 202014
Official ANB for Trego School, data from Montana Office of Public Instruction
In graph form the trend is somewhat clearer.

This data for this school year (2020-2021) isn’t available from the state yet, so the best way to find out about enrollment is to call the school and ask. Back in November, we reported the exciting news that enrollment was up to 23 students and we shared the following graph which incorporated that data.

Trego School enrollment as of November 2020

This January, enrollment reached 26.

Now, enrollment is up from January’s 26, to a total of 31 students. A 35% increase from November of 2020. This fall, Trego school optimistically began with three teachers. Now, with 31 students the average class size is slightly over 10. The school has been working to improve its enrollment, and has seen an amazing turn around. Even if we use the lowest official ANB number (which is decidedly higher than the lowest number the school reached), the school has more than quadrupled enrollment in the past two years.

Trego School enrollment, by year, as of late February, 2021. We’re going to have to consider changing our trend-line….

Well done, Trego School. Where will you go from here?


Trego School Continues Distance Learning

Trego School has adopted something of a wait-and-see approach to determining the date they will resume in-person learning.

In any school, the requirement that individuals that have been exposed must quarantine themselves for fourteen days can quickly make in-person learning impossible. Substitute teachers are always difficult to find, and finding one that is able to teach two weeks’ worth of classes on short notice is even more difficult. School districts with multiple staff members required to quarantine can quickly exhaust their “sub lists”.

In a smaller school, while there are fewer staff members and students to expose one another, there is also a greater degree of interaction. While in large school districts, kindergartners are seldom exposed to 8th graders, interaction among students is almost guaranteed in smaller schools.

It’s worth remembering, especially as favorite places are closed and much anticipated events are postponed and cancelled, that the school board is not responsible for mandating/enforcing quarantine. Rather, they have the difficult challenge of figuring out how to keep education continuing. For further information on who exactly is responsible, I’ll quote the county health department.

You can read the full text of the County Health Department’s COVID FAQ here.

Updates on the number of active cases of Corona Virus can be found from the county health department, and from the state. Monday’s update has a total of 67 active cases in North Lincoln County, with no current hospitalizations in the county. While the county does break the cases down by location and age, it doesn’t combine the two.. The county had 53 cases in the 0-19 range, but knowing it at the county level isn’t as good as knowing it at the school district level. The requirements of quarantine create a situation that mandates quick decisions. The available data? Never as good as we’d like it to be.

Community, Wildlife

Trego School Annual Fishing Field Trip

As the first chills of autumn hang in the air, and the salmon run, the older students of Trego School spend the day fishing with their teachers and support staff. While this year’s trip was marked by somewhat fewer salmon and smaller fish, students returned grinning and eager to show off their catch.

Photos by Lindy Ziemke-Smith

Field trips are a favorite for students and an opportunity to take the classroom outdoors. The salmon themselves offer a chance to talk about the way nutrients flow through ecosystems, the ecology of our streams, and of course the life cycle of the fish themselves. Of course, it’s also an opportunity for students that have never gone salmon snagging to experience it first-hand.

When the students returned, school board chair, Ken Smith, and school cook, Joe Puryer, cleaned the fish. Cheerful students sat around them, talking about their day and asking questions about the fish.

School Board Chair Ken Smith cleans fish and explains how to tell the difference between male and female salmon

It was, by all accounts, a very good trip, though many of the adults came back rather sodden from wading into the water to rescue tangled fishing lines.

Fish were carefully packaged and chilled before they were taken home.


Filters come to Trego School

Trego School’s Health and Safety Plan includes HEPA filters installed in air purifiers and in the heaters. While the filters for the heaters have not yet arrived (and are not expected to be needed soon, given current temperatures), the others are here.

HEPA filters specialize in filtering out the really small, things measured in microns (a micron, or micrometer, is a thousand times smaller than a millimeter). This means that they aren’t just going to pick up relatively large particles in the air such as dog hair.

These filters are effective at removing dust, pollen, and smoke particles from the air. This particular model will filter a 23 ft by 23 ft room in about 15 minutes.

The filters are plain, discrete, and nearly silent. The biggest risk seems to be that students and staff will wander over to the trashcan-like cylinder and have to redirect, a problem that should surely lessen with time.

While the immediate use of the filters is obvious, it will be interesting to see how well these filters help students with asthma, and allergies. Will they be pressed into service the next time our air is filled with smoke? Will we see less spread of other illnesses this year, as our schools check temperatures, wash hands, and spread out?

School starts on Wednesday, September 2nd. Enrollment information can be found on the school website.


Trego School Board Met Wednesday

The five-member board meets on the second Wednesday each month at 6 PM. However, in-person attendance is no longer necessary. On the agenda, which can be found prior to the meeting in the school or post office, there are instructions on how to attend the meeting via GoToMeeting. Visitors can join with their computer (headset recommended), dial in with their telephone, or join via the GoToMeeting App.

If you join, you’ll see the school board members and board clerk distributed at widely spaced tables. Across from it all is a large television that’s setup to interface with GoToMeeting and allow community members to attend board meetings without needing to be physically present.

During the meeting on Wednesday August 12th, the board discussed the Health and Safety Plan for the 20-21 School Year. The plan is available on the school website and includes details about temperature screening, HEPA filters, and disinfectants. Additionally, the plan addresses the “what if” scenarios for what the school will do in the event of a student or staff member becoming infected with COVID-19.

In the event of a community member becoming infected, the school will adjust recess and PE for social distancing, convert lunch to a “grab and go” eaten at spaced apart desks within the classroom. If a student or staff member becomes infected, the school will shift to distance learning for two weeks. Breakfast and lunch will be delivered to students’ homes via the school bus, and distance learning will use iPads and Chromebooks, avoiding the use of paper packets.

Additionally, the meeting included the Trustee Financial Summary Report and discussion of the 20-21 budget.

New business for the meeting included HVAC system filters and Air Purifiers, as well as a Distance Learning Parent/Student-School Contract.

Finally, Trego’s School Board has a vacant position. Community members interested in joining the school board should contact the school clerk.

The next school board meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, September 9th at 6PM. School starts the week before, on Wednesday, September 2nd.


Reading will be taking off at Trego School

Taking advantage of the tour offered during the school’s start of the year Community Barbecue, I had the chance to visit the library and hear about the programs and changes taking place.

This is the first of the reading program displays. Students move through different levels as they read, ultimately hoping to achieve the status of “Flight Commander”

As students read, they’ll reach new levels, and ultimately the final level of “Flight Commander”. Progress won’t be without material reward, however. Students will earn dollars for books, money they can use to order books of their choosing.

Additionally, some supporting changes are happening in the library proper. The card catalog is out and modern bar code scanners are in! That’s right, Trego’s library is amid a massive digitization progress using the tiny cat program. When finished, each book will be viewable in an online catalog with its cover, summary, publication information, and even reviews! Each book (and movie!) will have its own bar code. The program comes with ridiculously cute little scanners for students to use when checking out their books.

As the library has been systematically organized, each book gone through, the search has been turning up “Antiques”: children’s books so old that they predate the library of congress system. Eventually, some of those treasures will be making their way into a display case.

While nothing I read as a child would qualify as an antique, it did get me thinking about old favorites. Before Nancy Drew, and even before The Magic Treehouse and The Boxcar Children, was If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. What were your favorites when you were young?