MONEY Ask the Expert

Should I Buy Life Insurance for My Child?

Q: Does it make sense to buy a whole life insurance policy for a child? — Michael C., Coatesville, Pa.

A: Hardly ever. Most kids don’t need life insurance, since its chief purpose is to replace income, says Jason Brooks, a financial planner in Berthoud, Colo.

And while whole and variable life policies have a cash value that rises, high fees slow that growth. Breaking even on premiums can take decades.

The only reason to buy is to guarantee insurability later in life, says Cleveland adviser Joe Heider.

Related: Which Comes First: Student Loans or 401(k)?

You can, he notes, lock in a policy — helpful if your child later has an illness, such as cancer or diabetes, that makes insurance expensive or unobtainable.

But such misfortune is rare; only one in 400 children has diabetes before age 20, for example. And the size of most kiddie policies ($50,000 or less) is usually too small to be useful for adults.

A better idea is to save for a more likely need: higher education.

TIME Parenting

Want to Help Your Kid Get a Job? Back Off

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Echo—Getty Images/Cultura RF

A new survey reveals that helicopter parents are overly involved in their children’s job searches

My 21-year-old daughter, Emma, is one of 1.6 million students who will graduate from college this spring with a bachelor’s degree. Like most of them, she is looking for a job.

As parents, it can be a tricky time—trying to be sufficiently supportive of our kids without being too much of a crutch when they’re right on the cusp of independence.

In my house, hardly a day goes by when Emma doesn’t call to seek some kind of advice on the job front: Is it too soon to send a second email to a potential employer? Can you look over my cover letter? Is it OK to do a Skype interview if I’m too busy at school to come into the city?

My husband and I have suggested a few edits to her résumé, calmed her pre-interview jitters and even helped her make a few connections. But where do you draw the line?

A survey released recently by Adecco, a human-resources consultancy, found that more than one-third of 18- to 24-year-olds said their parents are involved with their job search.

Some are arguably way too involved. Adecco, which queried 750 young men and women who are about to enter the workforce, found that 12% of parents research job listings for their child, while 6% write their kid’s résumé or cover letters. Three percent of parents make calls or send emails to prospective employers on their child’s behalf, while the same portion go so far as to write their child’s thank-you notes. Two percent personally follow up with employers after their son or daughter has had an interview.

The numbers aren’t huge, but they’re big enough to have caught experts’ eyes. “I have been in this industry for 16 years, and I’ve never seen this level of parental involvement,” says Christa Shapiro, a vice president in charge of staffing for Adecco.

Actually, one extreme form of parental meddling declined in the latest Adecco survey when compared with the firm’s previous study of the issue: One percent of parents now reportedly sit in on their child’s job interviews, down from 4% in 2012.

Shapiro cautions, however, that the drop may be due to false reporting. After the results of the 2012 survey were released, she says, some in the media “mocked” those who engage in this practice, and so they may be reluctant to be truthful about it when asked. “They might be embarrassed,” she says.

Jeanne Meister, a partner at the firm Future Workplace, believes that something else may be afoot. She says her own surveying has shown that among the most surprising questions that millennials ask these days in job interviews is, “Can my mom follow up with you about the benefits package?” And some companies have taken to accommodating young job applicants with mom or dad in tow—a trend reported upon last year by the Wall Street Journal.

But more and more employers, Meister says, are starting to adopt policies that prohibit parents from calling, emailing or sitting in on interviews. “HR people are putting the brakes on this behavior,” says Meister, who consults with major corporations about managing multiple generations in the workplace.

The reason: HR executives are increasingly worried about the extra burdens that helicopter parents can place on their staff, as well as the potential legal hazards for the company. “HR managers laugh about it,” Meister says, but they feel parental involvement “can put their company at risk.”

In any case, even 1% of parents joining their kids’ job interview seems like 1% too many. What’s more, the most recent Adecco survey indicates that 4% of parents accompany their child to interviews, even if they don’t all sit in.

Having a parent tag along “makes a bad first impression with the employer,” Shapiro says. “So many jobs require you to be motivated, to show initiative, to take charge. When your mom walks you into the interview, it’s cause for concern that you won’t know what to do when she is not there.”

That parents are swooping in this way is a reflection, in large part, of the uncertain job market that their children are entering. On top of that, many soon-to-be graduates will be saddled with college debt. (Emma has some herself.) “Parents are anxious on their kid’s behalf,” Shapiro says. But there is also something else at play: the millennial generation’s particular closeness to—and reliance on—their boomer parents.

I get it. Emma and I are extremely close; we text and talk all the time. But I also know that there are some lines that must be drawn. After all, part of my job as a parent is to make sure she can find a job on her own.

 

TIME Education

Drinking on Campus: University of Kentucky Relaxes Its Alcohol Policy

University of Kentucky fans celebrate on State Street after their team's come from behind victory over the University of Louisville to advance to the Elite 8 in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament on March 28, 2014.
University of Kentucky fans celebrate on State Street after their team's come from behind victory over the University of Louisville to advance to the Elite 8 in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament on March 28, 2014. David Stephenson—Zuma

University of Kentucky officials are drawing up new rules to allow students to drink on campus, as part of an effort to rein in off-campus drinking after a series of student riots. The move is a recognition that the school's dry campus policy isn't working

As the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team marched its way through the NCAA basketball tournament this year, UK students routinely poured into the streets, setting couches on fire and uprooting street signs. Much of it took place off-campus, where students often drink thanks to the university’s dry campus policy.

But on Thursday, UK President Eli Capilouto announced the university would change that policy, in part because of events like the off-campus riots, and allow alcohol to be served on campus under “predetermined guidelines” and conditions.

The move is a recognition that the university’s policy wasn’t restricting alcohol consumption. It merely moved it farther from campus, causing headaches for families living in those areas and pushing students further from the oversight of university officials.

“Off-campus drinking is a major problem at major universities,” says East Carolina University’s Jennifer Cremeens, who studies campus alcohol policies. “And I think many of them are moving to a harm-reduction policy, finding ways to monitor and control students’ drinking rather than trying to stop it altogether.”

Dry campus policies took hold around the U.S. a few decades ago as universities wanted to show that they were providing a healthy environment for their students. Historically, student unions often included bars for those over 21, but many colleges closed them down as officials cracked down on consumption, often believing those policies could influence students’ drinking behavior.

The problem was that students merely got drunk off campus at nearby bars or inside private residences. In a way, the policy backfired, and some universities appear to be changing tactics.

While there’s no single database of how many universities allow alcohol on campus, Cremeens published a study last year in the American Journal of Health Studies finding that 24% of schools surveyed prohibited all possession of alcohol on campus compared with 32% in 2005.

Stuart Usdan, a co-author of the survey, says that when bars were on campus, university officials could oversee the establishment and make sure it didn’t promote outrageous drink specials that could lead to binge drinking.

“The thought was that you could monitor this, that it was a more controlled environment,” Usdan says. “So allowing more drinking on campus may be a way for universities to regain some of that control.”

The university has yet to say under what guidelines drinking will be allowed, but the hope is that the shift will help prevent situations like the off-campus riots this year and especially the ones back in 2012 when UK’s men’s basketball team won the NCAA championship. The off-campus ruckus lead to multiple arrests and property damage.

“This might give off a negative impression that they’re being too care-free about this, but off-campus drinking is a much bigger problem,” Usdan says. “By bringing it on campus, they may be able to minimize some of the problems.”

TIME Education

Obama Thinks He Can Rate Colleges. Can You Do Better? (Interactive)

See how colleges stack up based on what you think is most important in a school

Last year, the Obama Administration announced a plan to assess schools on how well they serve their students, based on metrics like graduation rate, tuition, and the percentage of students who receive Pell Grants, the federally funded scholarships for low-income families. For a system that has yet to be put in place, the White House’s college ratings have created a great deal of panic.

To see how those ratings might play out, TIME gathered data for 2,500 college and universities and ranked them according to the proposed metrics. But we’ve left it to you to adjust how important each of those metrics should be. Adjust the sliders, and watch the the schools reshuffle.

As Haley Sweetland Edwards notes in the most recent issue of TIME, many college presidents are convinced that the ratings proposed by the Obama administration would fail to capture the value of their schools. The White House insists that far too many sub-par schools are cashing in on federal student loans and leaving their students in the lurch.

The White House is proposing to take a bunch a date of data about schools and determine a rank for each. This would produce an algorithm that functions in many ways like Google’s ranking of Web pages. In the case of search engines, the exact nature of this algorithm is a secret. The White House’s algorithm will presumably not be secret, meaning it will be quite easy for schools to game the system.

That sounds like a bad thing, but it doesn’t have to be. When algorithms work well, they reward good behavior. In the same way that the Google algorithm rewards sites that offer clear descriptions of the content and coherent navigation, a good college ranking algorithm could inspire schools to offer better grants to those who can’t afford the tuition and provide help for those at risk of dropping out. A poorly designed algorithm, meanwhile, could incentivize them to shut out students who have lower statistical odds of graduating.

The interactive at the top of this article presents a simplified rating system based on three qualities the White House has mentioned: Graduation rate, accessibility and affordability. For accessibility, the interactive uses the percentage of students who receive Pell Grants. For affordability, we’ve used the net cost paid by families who makes less than $110,000 a year and receive some form of aid.

By rewarding both accessibility and graduation rate, this system corners one of the trickiest problems facing schools looking to climb the rankings: Students from low-income backgrounds are statistically less likely to graduate. The most expedient way for a school to boost its graduate rate would be not to admit students in this cohort. Doing so, however, would theoretically hurt the school in the accessibility category more than it boosted the school in the graduation category, resulting in a drop in the ratings. At least, this is how a good White House algorithm would work. Fine-tuning the formula to work as advertised would require a sophisticated statistical analysis of the data. In the meantime, you can drag the sliders around to see which schools would rise to the top given existing numbers.

Methodology

All data comes from the Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. Each school is evaluated according to its six-year graduation rate, the percentage of full-time, first-time undergraduates receiving Pell grants and the net cost for students receiving any form of aid whose families make less than $110,000 a year. That figure is calculated by TIME as the weighted average net cost for students in each of the Department of Education’s reported income brackets. Where that data is not available, overall net cost (tuition and fees minus grants and scholarships) is used.

These three data points are standardized, so that each school’s score is the number of standard deviations above or below the mean. The app then adjusts these values according to the position of the sliders, sums the square roots of those values, and takes the square of the sum. (A detailed discussion of that method is available here.)

The classifications of schools come from the Carnegie classification system. Schools without a Carnegie class are not included.

Update, May 6, 2014: Several more schools were added to the dataset.

TIME viral

Wheel of Fortune Contestant Mispronounces ‘Achilles,’ Misses Chance at Million Dollar Prize

He also invents a new word: "dicespin"

A contestant named Julian kept getting very close to winning big on Friday’s episode of Wheel of Fortune -- but then he just kept messing up big.

First, the University of Indiana freshman lost his chance to play for $1 million when he bungled the answer “Mythological Hero Achilles.” All the letters were turned over, so it seemed like he had this one in the bag. But when he went to solve the puzzle, he pronounced Achilles like “A-chill-us.”

The three seconds of deafening silence that followed were heartbreaking. Eventually Pat let Julian know that they couldn’t accept that, and the next contestant eagerly swooped in.

Unfortunately, Julian makes a few more blunders as the episode rolls on. For example, he guesses “on-the-spot dicespin” (what?) instead of “on-the-spot decision,” again allowing the contestant to his left to swoop in once more.

Looks like we now know what Julian’s Achilles’ heel is.

TIME Education

It Doesn’t Matter Where You Go to College

Students walk across the campus of Columbia University in New York City
Students walk across the campus of Columbia University in New York City Daniel Barry—Bloomberg / Getty Images

It just matters that you go.

This month, high school seniors across America are receiving college decision letters of acceptance and rejection. Many of these students, and their parents, think that where they go to college will significantly affect their employment future.

They think wrong. Today, whether you go to college retains some importance in your employment options. But where you go to college is of almost no importance. Whether your degree, for example, is from UCLA or from less prestigious Sonoma State matters far less than your academic performance and the skills you can show employers.

Research on the impact of college selection has focused on comparing the earnings of graduates of different colleges. In 1999, economists Alan Krueger and Stacy Berg Dale published a widely read study that compared the earnings of graduates of elite colleges with those of “moderately selective” schools. The latter group was composed of people who had been admitted to an elite college but chose to attend another school.

The economists found that the earnings of the two groups 20 years after graduation differed little or not at all. A larger follow-up study, released in 2011 and covering 19,000 college graduates, reached a similar conclusion: whether you went to Penn or Penn State, Williams College or Miami University of Ohio, job outcomes were unaffected in terms of earnings.

Earnings are only part of the employment picture. Other measures, like job satisfaction and social value, are more difficult to quantify. In a thoughtful 2004 essay, the writer Gregg Easterbrook interviewed college officials throughout the country to assess these impacts. His conclusion: on a range of measures of job satisfaction, attendance at an elite college had little impact.

Forty years ago, elite colleges offered a demonstrably higher level of education. Today, as many as 200 colleges across the U.S. offer a similar level of education and have excellent faculty and facilities.

The minor role that a job candidate’s college plays in hiring becomes even clearer when you talk to California workforce professionals. Kris Stadelman, director of the NOVA Workforce Investment Board in Silicon Valley, is a leader in understanding how hiring criteria changed in California. “Employers are interested in what skills you bring and how these skills can be used in their business,” she says. In one study, NOVA interviewed tech employers and learned that mastery of current technologies is the most critical factor in their hiring decisions. Few employers even mentioned college degrees as a factor. ”Especially in the tech industry, employers want to see skills applications rather than traditional resumes. Show, don’t tell,” says Stadelman.

Over the past three years, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics regional commissioner Richard Holden and I have been researching hiring processes and criteria. We’ve found that this emphasis on skills extends beyond tech to other major employment sectors, including business services, financial services, health care and hospitality. Employers seek people with skills that apply to the particular job—and who have the ability to solve problems and work in a team.

As a volunteer job coach, I encourage every young adult who is at all interested to attend college. Unless the family has a financial need, there is no reason for a young person to rush into the workforce—especially since our work lives now last an estimated 40 years.

I also say: If you have the good fortune to choose among colleges, it is worth taking the process seriously. Obtain as much information as possible to evaluate the location, size and educational specialties of every school. But remember: the particular college degree will be of little consequence, especially after you’ve been in the labor force for more than a few years.

What’s most important is what you will do, at college and in life, to keep improving your skills, to develop your character, to remain persistent. You’ll also need some mazel.

That’s Yiddish for luck.

Bernick is the former director of the California labor department, the Employment Development Department, and has been involved in job training and placement since 1979. He currently is a Milken Institute Fellow and Zocalo contributing editor. This piece originally appeared at Zocalo Public Square.

TIME

Geoffrey Canada and the New Harlem Renaissance

When Geoffrey Canada founded the Harlem Children’s Zone 17 years ago, it was a one-block pilot program of wrap-around services for school children in Harlem. Today it covers 100 city blocks and serves thousands, providing everything from great education to early-childhood programs. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan wrote for the TIME 100 in 2011 that Canada “has shown time and again that education is the surest path out of poverty.

TIME Education

How To Help Low-Income Parents Talk To Their Kids About College

How to pay for college was the top concern for most parents.

A follow up on yesterday’s post on the Brilliant Blog about first generation college students: In newly-presented research, education professor Ronald Hallett shares what he discovered through designing and implementing a program intended to encourage high school students who would be the first in their families to attend university.

Hallett, of the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif., designed the five-week summer program for underserved and underperforming Stockton students in partnership with local school district administrators. Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, said that one of the keys to the success of the program was empowering parents who hadn’t gone to college themselves to talk to their sons and daughters about the importance of higher education. As described on the website ScienceDaily:

“Students attended three-hour sessions three days a week, exploring college websites, visiting college campuses and learning about college entrance requirements. The program also included family information meetings and gave parents weekly themed activity packets to help them lead conversations about preparing for college. At the end of each conversation, parents and students together drafted specific goals. The goals were incorporated into a family action plan at the end of the program.”

Hallett used the program, called Creating Opportunities Via Education, as a laboratory for testing and refining approaches to empower parents to guide their kids on the path to college. Among the lessons learned:

• How to pay for college was the top concern for most parents.
• Parents were reluctant to encourage their children to pursue a goal that might be unattainable; they first needed assurance that college could be financially feasible.
• Large group presentations overwhelmed parents. Individualized attention and guidance better satisfied the complex information needs of low-income families.
•Parents preferred hard-copy written information to emails and blogs, and felt more empowered when information was delivered directly to them rather than sent home via students.
• Parents were more engaged when they helped their student write a college action plan versus reviewing one developed by the student.
•When given effective tools to help underserved and underperforming students prepare for college, parents use them.

“There is a common perception that low-income parents don’t care about college, but it’s not true,” says Hallett. “The parents we worked with really wanted to be engaged in their kids’ educational pursuits.”

Annie Murphy Paul is the author of the forthcoming book Brilliant: The Science of How We Get Smarter. Read more at her blog, where this post first appeared.

TIME Education

Commencement Speeches Are for Suckers

Chuck Hagel Delivers Commencement Address At West Point
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel addresses the United States Military Academy at West Point during the 215 commencement ceremony May 25, 2013 in West Point, New York. Ramin Talaie—Getty Images

Students want rap stars. Parents want astronauts. Donors want publicity. What’s a college president to do?

College presidents — and I was one for 22 years — have few more thankless jobs than procuring (and that’s the right word) commencement speakers.

The expectation of graduates and their families is that a big-time speaker will be there to put the cherry on top of the sundae that was their college experience (and all those tuition dollars). So expectations are high. The ideal commencement speaker is a household name, has landed on the moon, won a Nobel Prize and a few NBA championships, was on the cover of last week’s People magazine … and will bring front-page publicity to the school (like George Marshall’s announcement of the Marshall Plan at Harvard’s 1947 commencement), forever glorifying their graduation day.

This is a fantasy, and the commencement speaker may be a tradition that long ago outlived its usefulness. But the college president, sharing the platform with the speaker, has no choice but to be personally involved. Few mistakes on his or her watch will be more visible, or more challenging to avoid, than the wrong commencement speaker.

Start with the constituents. At many schools, the students are polled every year on their preferred list of speakers. The ones you’ve heard of (probably less than half, e.g., the rap artists) either carry a speaker’s bureau charge of $25,000 to $100,000— or will cost you even more in the support you lose from your biggest donors. And, anyway, you have no money to pay for a commencement speaker. “The honor of the occasion, receiving an honorary degree, it should be enough.” Right! That may work in the Ivy League and at flagship state universities, but not at 3,400 other institutions across the country.

You ask the faculty for their nominations and suggestions. Such input, after all, is a political necessity. But year after year the wish list is a round-up-the-usual-suspects roster of politically correct feminists and black activists and obscure scholars of whom none of the graduates has ever heard. And, not incidentally, these idealists often expect big fees as well (“For you, I’ll discount it to $20,000.”).

You can sometimes get elected and other public officials to speak without payment, but in a politically polarized world, they come at a different kind of cost. You can go for conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans, but there aren’t enough Chuck Hagels to go around.

(And, by the way, your chances of getting even a mention in the local news media, let alone the annual New York Times full-page article on the year’s best commencement speeches, are next to none. They have their own round-up-the-usual-suspects list.)

Throughout the selection process you must never forget your bosses — the trustees, who are also your biggest contributors — who must must sit through the entire commencement ceremony and, unlike the graduates, may actually listen to the speech. They’re sophisticated people, but you do not want to subject them to a 30-minute harangue.

So how do you find someone well-known (if not famous) whom you don’t have to pay, who will say something meaningful (if not memorable) but won’t get anyone angry, whom very different constituencies will applaud and see as a vindication of the university’s prestige … even while the school down the road just spent $100,000 to get Colin Powell!

In 22 years as a procurer of commencement speakers at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois, these were my strategies:

1) Use every single one of your personal and family connections. Both my doctoral thesis advisor and my son’s undergraduate thesis advisor (James Q. Wilson and Henry Louis Gates) were commencement speakers at North Central College during my presidency, as were the “dean of the Washington, D.C. press corps” (David Broder), a friend of my son-in-law’s family, and my son’s old boss at the Children’s Defense Fund (Marian Wright Edelman).

2) Exploit the institutional connection in any way you can. The best commencement speech I ever heard was by a North Central graduate’s husband: Joseph Hartzler, the prosecutor of the Oklahoma City bomber. The speaker at my last commencement was the head of the Peace Corps, Aaron Williams; he accepted our invitation as a favor to an alumna who worked as his deputy.

3) Be the first to ask them, so they still consider it an honor and aren’t blasé about it. This helped me secure the journalist Robin Wright at my first commencement in 1991; Lonnie Bunch, just after he was named head of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History; and Christian Wiman, the editor of Poetry magazine during its 100th anniversary year.

4) Make it easy and fun. A number of out-of-the-box choices were locals to whom we could offer door-to-door service: Mary Schmich, whose faux commencement speech, entitled “Wear Sunscreen,” became a classic, and Marv Levy, a liberal arts Phi Beta Kappa who became a Hall of Fame football coach.

Did I ever write a speech for a speaker? I cannot tell a lie. A couple times they would not have come if I hadn’t. Did I ever find myself without a speaker with just a few weeks to go? Of course. I won’t tell who, but some of my last-minute gets were outstanding.

Any advice for potential speakers? Don’t do it unless you have something to say, and you can say it in under 15 minutes without quoting de Tocqueville. But don’t turn it down if it’s the first time. You may never get another chance.

Harvard University recently announced that multibillionaire and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg will be speaking as part of this year’s festivities. The custom of a commencement speaker is nearly as old as Harvard. Although a few schools have traditions that avoid the hassles and controversies — e.g., only the president or a revered faculty member addresses the graduates — I doubt the commencement speaker will be phased out soon at most institutions.

Lincoln’s words at Gettysburg — “the world will little note nor long remember what we say here” — describe the reality of 99 percent of commencement speeches, as well as the two-hour oration by the principal speaker that day in 1863, Harvard president Edward Everett. But we’re all suckers in hoping that this commencement will be different, and what is said will live forever.

Harold R. Wilde was president of North Central College from 1991 through 2012.

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