This blog is dedicated to the topics of Course materials, Innovation, and Technology in Education. it is intended as an information source for the college store industry, or anyone interested in how course materials are changing. Suggestions for discussion topics or news stories are welcome.

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Friday, April 29, 2016

LinkedIn Targets Students with New App

The business-oriented social media site LinkedIn has launched a new job-search app that targets college students. LinkedIn Students is designed to help college students determine the best career fit for them, according to a report by CNBC.

Users simply input their school, major, and graduation year and the app will list jobs and internship recommendations. Another feature lets users find alumni from their school at companies in what they’re interested.

LinkedIn isn’t planning a subscription model to the app yet and is not trying to sell ads on it other than sponsored content on building student resumes. The goal is to provide a social media site that helps students find a job while attracting them to the main LinkedIn site.

“That means more revenue for LinkedIn, not just in subscriptions, but also from greater exposure for content within a stream of articles, and customers for its Lynda.com professional education,” wrote Julia Boostin, CNBC senior media and entertainment correspondent. “LinkedIn hasn’t yet integrated Lynda courses directly into the Students app, but there seems to be clear potential to market to students looking to beef up their resumes.”

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Making Online Learning Better

Companies are working on ways to make online classes better than the traditional classroom setting, according to a report in eCampus News.

One issue with online learning is it requires a level of self-discipline that many students lack. Blended learning has been found to be an important part of the online experience because it combines online with face-to-face learning.

“We’re definitely seeing a trend over the last three to five years of people moving to these blended, online, hybrid, flipped-classroom models,” said Jennifer Ferralli, math product manager of the online instructional platform WebAssign. “We’re seeing this across the different disciplines, not just in math, but also in physics and chemistry. People are trying to find different ways to connect with students to make classroom time more effective and more efficient.”

Video helped support the flipped classroom concept, but it’s been found that video works best with an interactive element. That is being addressed through mobile apps that allow faculty to drag and drop material and learners to go on their personal devices to access the content.

Other online learning issues being address include identity verification and cheating, auto-grading, and open learning management systems.

“We’re starting to hear a real desire for online learning to turn the corner and be focused on a mode of instruction that is inherently better than what we have today in traditional education,” said Chris Walsh, CEO of the video-learning firm Zaption. “People are starting to look at new tools and new opportunities to create an instructional experience that is different, but hopefully better as well.”

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Site Density May Scare Off College Applicants

Some college and university websites are too complex, use campus jargon, and bury the information students need. As a result, these sites may be damaging the brand of their institutions and prompting prospective applicants to go elsewhere, according to web design consultant Nielsen Norman Group (NNG).

NNG recently tested 57 university websites and found that “users are often frustrated or thwarted by the frequent usability problems on university sites. The best university websites speak clearly, even to yet-to-be students, and make it easy for everybody to find what they want. The rest fail.”

NNG put together a list of its top 10 guidelines for college and university website design. Topping the list is the recommendation to identify the institution clearly on every page. That will ensure that visitors who enter the site on an inner page via search engine will realize where they’ve landed.

Institutions should also test their own sites, without going into a lot of expense. NNG suggested asking just five prospective or current students to perform a variety of small tasks on the site, such as finding information about a major field of study or calculating the cost to attend. The test group should reflect the school’s key audiences.

Other recommendations include using images that accurately reflect the school, creating a powerful summary for the About Us page, highlighting what makes the school different from others, organizing information about academic programs, connecting information about job placements to the alumni section, spelling out the application process and deadlines, avoiding “hip” wording and graphics, and making sure the site has a good internal search engine.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Universities Launch Microcredentials Platform

Six universities have teamed to launch the University Learning Store, a platform that will help job seekers and working professionals earn microcredentials in business and technical fields.

Learners will have to prove their knowledge through verified, hands-on assessments as measures of competencies to earn a microcredential, according to a report in eCampus News. In addition, learners can choose to combine microcredentials to earn larger certification from an institution.

“Although an array of nondegree credentials exist, they can leave employers guessing at their true value,” said David Schejbal, dean of the University of Wisconsin-Extension, one of the founding institutions of the project. “With the University Learning Store, leading institutions have joined forces to introduce credentials that clearly indicate the capabilities of the credential holder.”

Microcredentials, available as a printable certificate or digital badge, can be added to a student’s resume after successfully completing an assessment. Courses on the University Learning Store site cost $50-$150, but are currently being offered at half-price for a limited time. Each credential can be earned in days or weeks.

“This is an innovation in skill credentialing that the workforce, and higher ed, has not seen before,” said Nelson Baker, dean of Georgia Tech Professional Education. “At Georgia Tech, we bring the same rigor and real-world applicability to our nondegree educational opportunities as we do other programs. Industry validation is the final frontier of proving the value of lifelong learning.”

Monday, April 25, 2016

Most Schools Now Use Digital Content

Some college store professionals believe digital content will only become a dominant format when students begin using it in grade school. That day has gotten much closer.

Digital Content Goes to School: Trends in K-12 Classroom e-Learning found that 80% of school and district leaders who responded to the survey said they are using digital content in some way. Of more than 2,000 respondents, 73% had a digital-device strategy and 64% are using digital content with that strategy.

The survey, released by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development and content distributor OverDrive Inc., also reported that most educators use digital content for English and language arts (74%), science (62%), math (61%), and social studies (56%), according to a report in eSchool News. Respondents added that use of digital content will continue to grow as long as teachers receive professional development.

Equity concerns and lack of Internet access top the list of issues educators have with going digital. Teachers also listed not being comfortable with digital learning, not enough devices in the classroom, lack of funding, and content that doesn’t work on every device as other concerns.

“We believe the paradigm of instruction needs to change,” Kahle Charles, executive director of curriculum, St. Vrain Valley School, Longmont, CO, said in response to the survey. “Devices bring more knowledge to students’ fingertips than the teacher can give, so the traditional lecture model is no longer applicable. We want content that will engage students and the ability to introduce flipped classrooms with content that students can access at any time, at any place.”

Friday, April 22, 2016

Tablet Sales Are Falling Flat

On the sixth anniversary of the Apple iPad’s debut, it appears that the tablet revolution predicted has fallen well short of expectations. In 2011, there were estimates that annual tablet shipments would be more than 300 million units by 2015.

Apple has sold more than 300 million iPads, but it’s taken six years to reach that mark. In fact, market research from International Data Corp. (IDC) shows that Apple only sold 50 million of the estimated 207 million units it shipped in 2015.

Bigger smartphones have proven to be a competitor with tablets. More than one billion of the devices were sold last year, many with large enough screens to make the purchase of a tablet unnecessary. In addition, consumers have shown they aren’t as willing to upgrade their tablet devices as often as their smartphones.

“I fit that demographic exactly: I bought an iPad Air in late 2013 that I still use daily and don’t anticipate an upgrade this year,” Arik Hesseldahl wrote in an article for re/code. “I will, however, probably upgrade my iPhone. I bought my last Mac in 2011.”

The other challenge for tablet computers is the popularity of detachables—tablets that are essentially a laptop with a removable touchscreen. One out of every five tables sold in Europe in the fourth quarter of 2015 was a detachable device.

“Detachables are proving so popular that IDC reckons by 2020 they’ll account for about one-fifth of the entire market for what it calls ‘client computing devices,’ which includes both tablets and PCs,” Hesseldahl said. “It may not amount to the radical revolution that the overly eager analysts of 2011 had called for, but it will do.”

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Textbook Data Tells a Varied Story

When it comes to college students and course materials, there are a number of conundrums at work. Consider some of the interesting data that came out of the fall 2015 Student Watch, a survey of 25,000 students from 56 colleges and universities:
  • Approximately 34% of students said they didn’t obtain at least one textbook listed by their school as required reading for a course because the instructor told them it wasn’t actually needed.

  • Only 55% of students thought the reading materials for their classes were very or extremely useful. However, when professors actively utilized the materials within the course—for discussions, homework, quizzes, and so on—then 72% of students gave high marks to their usefulness. That indicates students need the instructor’s help to see how course materials tie in with their class lectures.

  • The average price paid by students per course material was $75.32. However, students are actually amenable to paying quite a bit more than that. Students who felt their course materials had been extremely useful were willing to pay as much as $194.28 per book. Even students who said their materials were not at all useful were willing to fork over up to $143.25 for each.
Student Watch surveys are conducted twice a year by OnCampus Research, the research arm of indiCo, a subsidiary of NACS.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Job Are Top Priority for College Students

Most college students agree that a job after graduation is the most important outcome of a college education. The problem is, too many believe their college and university isn’t doing a very good job of preparing them for that job.

A survey of 770 adults, conducted by Stockton University, Galloway Township, NJ, found that just 35% of recent grads said colleges did “extremely well” in getting them ready for the job market. Nearly 80% viewed internships as the most important factor to success in their career and 84% said an internship was very important in developing a career and finding a job, according to a report in eCampus News.

While 73% said college was worth the cost, 31% added that more hands-on, practical experience would have made the value of their higher education even greater. The group identified problem-solving (84%) as most important skill learned in college, followed by communicating orally (83%), understanding and gathering information (79%), writing clearly (79%), and using technology (77%).

Employers listed problem-solving (32%), teamwork (21%), and writing and speaking skills (19%) as the top skills job-seekers learn in college.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Connecting with Online Learners

There’s no debating the fact that online education is different from the traditional college experience. The online experience will never be able to match the personal interaction and development that is such a big part of campus life.

“It’s true that online learners will not have the same types of interaction as their on-campus peers,” Eric Stoller wrote in a post for Inside Higher Education. “However, we need to stop thinking about what’s ‘missing’ or ‘lacking’ and focus on what we can do to increase connection and build community via digital channels.”

For Stoller, the solution to better student engagement may be social media. Social sites are already being utilized to connect students and expand learner networks, but institutions should be working on programs that use the functionality of social media while the class is in session and as a tool students can rely on for further professional development.

“While online learners might not necessarily be able to meet up at the campus coffee shop with their friends, they can meet up with their peers via WhatsApp groups, Google Hangouts, Twitter hashtag conversations, Periscope live-streams, and LinkedIn group discussion,” Stoller wrote.

Monday, April 18, 2016

'Ban WiFi' Movement Gains Steam

There’s been plenty of discussion about the potential of distractions caused by Wi-Fi usage in the classroom. Now, some are worried, and even going to court, over the possibility of health issues caused by its use.

A lawsuit in England alleged that electromagnetic hypersensitivity syndrome (EHS), a condition in which electromagnetic radiation emitted from wireless technology is alleged to cause a variety of symptoms, caused the suicide of a 15-year-old who suffered from severe allergies supposedly made worse by the radiation. In France, cellphones are banned from nursery schools and day-care facilities because it’s feared the devices will cause cancer, while a French court awarded a 39-year-old woman disability payments for her struggles with electromagnetic hypersensitivity.

The movement is gaining momentum in the United States. The Facebook group Parents Against Wi-Fi in Schools has around 2,300 likes and the city of Berkeley, CA, passed an ordinance in 2015 that mandates cellphone shops post notices about exposure to radio frequency radiation. The parents of a 12-year-old boy sued a private school in Southborough, MA, claiming the strength of the school’s Wi-Fi signal caused his illness.

The problem is, EHS isn’t recognized as a medical condition and it’s never been demonstrated that cellphone radiation causes any health risk. Addressing the concerns with transparent policies about Internet usage is one solution. Making it possible for students to opt out of in-school Wi-Fi is another, according to a report in Education Dive.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Amazon Introduces a New E-Reader

Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, let all his Twitter followers know on April 4 that a new Kindle was in the works. Just over a week later, Amazon started showing off its completely redesigned Kindle Oasis e-reader.

The new device is close to square with a side grip and a 6-in. screen that contains the e-reader’s central processing unit, storage, and battery. By changing the glass covering, Amazon was able to strengthen the glass and cut down the device’s size, according to a report from Mashable.

Amazon claims the battery life of the Oasis will be two weeks, but the leather case that will be shipped with it includes a backup battery that will extend the life by seven additional weeks. However, the device does not include the Alexa app that provides voice services to a number of Amazon products such as the Echo wireless speaker and voice-command device.

The Oasis is available for preorder and will begin shipping on April 27. It will cost $289.99 for the Wi-Fi-only edition that shows advertisements when the reader is turned on. The unit without advertisements costs $309.99, while a 3G device will cost $359.99 with offers and $379 without.

“The device’s funky new aesthetic is a surprise move for the relatively no-frills Kindle category, and yet it packs the longest battery of any e-reader ever made,” Nick Statt wrote in a review of the Oasis for The Verge. “These changes raise interesting questions for book lovers: What do we really need in an e-reader, and how much should those elements cost us?”

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Young Adults See Web Design Differently

Young adults aged 18-25 don’t react the same as teenagers or adults over 35 to website design. That might pose some difficulties for colleges and universities that are trying to use their sites for a mix of purposes aimed at a wide range of ages: recruitment, enrollment management, online courses, advancement, alumni relations, and communications.

A new usability study by Nielsen Norman Group (NNG), a web design consulting practice, confirmed the results of an earlier study with young-adult millennials. When this age group goes online, they generally have a purpose in mind. While teens enjoy finding games and other interactive elements on sites, those features are annoying to young adults unless they have a clear function—a quiz to help the taker determine the best course of action, for instance.

“Young adults are sensitive to tone,” according to NNG’s executive summary of the study report. “They will feel insulted if they suspect the site is talking down to them, and will notice if the site is trying too hard to appear cool.”

Unlike older adults, the younger cohort will open multiple tabs online at the same time in pursuit of the information they seek, a behavior NNG dubbed “page parking.” They also tend to work on more than one task online simultaneously (called “parallel browsing”).

Because they’ve grown up with the Internet, those 18-25 “tend to be extremely confident in their own ability to navigate digital interfaces, even when encountering radically new design patterns,” NNG noted. Whereas older adults will take their time in exploring a new interface and exercise caution before clicking, young adults will plunge right in and click away.

However, if they run into problems as a result, they’re apt to blame the site’s owner and view the online difficulties as representative of that organization. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

CBE Is Not Only About Technology

The competency-based education (CBE) model can provide flexibility and accessibility to personalized learning while allowing some students to complete their studies in much less time than the traditional on-campus model. Technology helps make it possible, but it can’t be the end of the conversation.

Technology makes it easier to engage students, puts content in front of learners at the moment it can be most effective, and measures when they are ready to move to the next level. However, the content and educator are still at the center of the learning experience, according to an article in eCampus News.

A focus on content first enables technology to be used to provide information to the learner. Then, technology can provide the assessment tools necessary to understand how students engage with the material.

“CBE today is redefining the delivery of education, providing new learning opportunities that place value on the skills and knowledge a student has gained through their life experience outside of the classroom, or in prior classrooms throughout their learning journey,” wrote Jade Roth, CEO of Flat World Education. “It can remove some of the roadblocks that have stood in the way of their education. To truly serve those students, we must always remember why they are there: not to try our new technology, but to build the knowledge and skills they need to achieve their professional and personal goals.”

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

E-Sports Find a Home at UC Irvine

The University of California, Irvine, is taking gaming to a new level with its e-sports and gaming initiative, which will include a state-of-the-art arena with high-end gaming computers, a stage for League of Legends events, and live webcasting. The arena is scheduled to be ready for use by the fall.

League of Legends is among the most popular video games in the world, according to a report for Tech Insider. UC Irvine will also offer up to 10 academic scholarships to students on the team, while providing nonteam students with a place to play.

“UCI e-sports will be built on four pillars: competition, academics, entertainment, and community,” Thomas Parham, vice chancellor for student affairs, said in a university release. “We hope to attract the best gamers from around the world, and our academic programs in computer gaming science, digital arts, computer science, engineering, anthropology, law, medicine, neuroscience, and behavior create a strong foundation for research and inquiry related to gaming.”

The 3,500-sq.-ft. arena is scheduled to have 80 custom gaming computers equipped with the most popular video game titles. The space will be made available to classes and research projects, as well as serving as a hub for social and competitive gaming.

“It has been a dream for many of us on campus that UCI recognize the importance of e-sports and create a space and a program that cater to the large community of gamers at the university,” said Jesse Wang, president of The Association of Gamers. “The e-sports team and arena will ensure that UCI continues to be a leader and trendsetter in collegiate e-sports.”

Monday, April 11, 2016

Digital Sales Are No. 1

Some of the largest education publishers say that most of their sales and revenues are from digital products. Both McGraw-Hill Education and Cengage Learning are releasing financial information for 2015 that backs up that claim.

This shift to digital would represent a major milestone for the industry, but there are questions about how publishers define “digital sales.”

According to Carl Straumsheim of Inside HigherEducation, digital sales at Cengage can mean selling access to a digital product, but also selling an e-book, a textbook bundled with online components, or digital supplementary material. McGraw-Hill also counts bundles, but only reports the portion of the sales value of the digital component. Pearson does not differentiate between digital and print sales.

Publishers have even started promoting themselves as providers of digital course material because it sounds better than saying the firms are still driven by print, according to management consultant Joseph J. Esposito. He added that digital course materials give publishers a way to sell directly to students, lowering their costs and subsequently textbook prices.

“No college publisher likes to talk about this because they don’t want to alienate the retail channel, which they need right now,” Esposito wrote in an email to Straumsheim.

Friday, April 8, 2016

There's a Disconnect on Digital Literacy

A February survey of students and faculty members said that neither group thinks much of the other’s digital literacy. The 2016 State of Digital Media in Higher Education Report made the case that learning outcomes would improve if institutions did a better job of providing information and access to digital resources, according to a report in eCampus News.

One of the main findings from the report was 45% of the responding students consider themselves highly digitally literate, while only 14% of the faculty agreed with them. Conversely, 49% of the faculty said they were highly digitally literate, but just 24% of the students agreed.

More than 90% of faculty members and 76% of the students said that multimedia-enhanced lectures were more engaging, but both groups gave low marks to university-provided resources to digital media. Just 20% of faculty and 32% of students said they accessed course-related digital media through university resources.

“Schools are making huge investments in infrastructure, yet they’re cutting at the efficacy of their own institutions by not providing content for students to use in their new digital center or on the cloud,” said TJ Leonard, CEO of VideoBlocks, the digital-resource provider that conducted the online survey. “Schools should be doing everything possible to prepare students for the 21st-century economy, and it’s hard to imagine that without access to digital media. They have to make resources available and give students consistent access to them in the classroom, the library, and off campus to get the full value out of digital media.”

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Understanding Bandwidth Usage Is a Must

Today’s college students arrive on campus expecting fast and reliable Internet connection. At the same time, many institutions have implemented bring-your-own-device policies that make providing the connection even more important.

The mix of educational needs and recreational usage is stretching network capacity to the limit. In order to work efficiently, networks must be able to prioritize what usage is important and even block what isn’t, according to a column for eCampus News.

The first step in addressing the problem is to understand current usage, according to Bruce Miller, vice president, product marketing, for Xirrus Wi-Fi Network. Miller identified streaming media, cloud backups and updates, virtual private networks (VPN), and social media as the applications that are the biggest bandwidth hogs an institution must deal with. Streaming media, such as movies, is the largest problem, but cloud backups can also be an issue because they move gigabytes of data at a time.

“True enterprise Wi-Fi systems must have the ability to identify, prioritize, and limit applications appropriately to ensure a good user experience for those who use the network and approach utility-grade nirvana,” Miller wrote.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Tech's Role in Course Content Strategy

How can technology help improve access to education as well as learning outcomes? At the second annual Textbook Affordability Conference, Vic Vuchic, chief innovation officer and executive director of Digital Promise Global, will explore the ways in which tech innovation and collaboration can be harnessed to drive a campus course-materials strategy.

Vuchic will be the keynote luncheon presenter at the conference, to be held April 27-29 at the University of California, Davis. Digital Promise Global is a nonprofit organization working with education leaders, researchers, and learning technology developers to enhance teaching and learning around the world through technology and research.

Other sessions will offer recommendations from a panel of faculty and instructional designers for the successful adoption and use of free and low-cost materials, how campus libraries and IT factor into reducing the cost of course materials, innovative sales and distribution models for capitalizing on the campus store’s business expertise and connection with students, and options for developing “all-source” models of course content.

Attendees will work in teams to discuss the ideas from session presenters and use that advice to start creating course-materials affordability plans for their campus.

Registration is still open for the conference, organized by the National Association of College Stores in collaboration with the California Association of College Stores (CACS), Association of American Publishers (AAP) Higher Education, NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, California State University, and OpenStax.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

More Malware Attacks on the Horizon

College students love their electronic devices, but that love affair could make them prime candidates for malware attacks. Research from the IT security firm Check Point found mobile malware used against Android devices is now among the most prevalent forms of attacks for the first time, while iOS platforms could soon see a steep increase.

The firm reported that while Android attacks are still more common and will become even harder to detect, the popularity of iPhones and iPads make those devices high-quality targets for cybercriminals. Check Point said it identified more than 1,400 different malware types globally in February, with the Conficker, Sality, and Dorkbot families as the most common variants.

“On top of these risks, we’ll experience a trend of cybercriminals using advanced techniques to not only take over and control individual devices but groups of multiple devices,” David De Laine, regional managing director for Check Point, told the industry newsletter ARNnet. “Controlling one device is fun, but controlling an army of devices is a real moneymaker. Botnets are getting bigger and more well-orchestrated, giving hackers a range of malicious capabilities from massive spamming schemes and heavy DDOS attacks to cryptocurrency mining.”

A denial-of-service (DOS) attack is an attempt to make a device or network unavailable to its user. A distributed denial-of-service (DDOS) is an attack on more than one unique Internet protocol address.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Many Americans Unaware of Online Learning

A new Pew Research Center study found 74% of American adults consider themselves “personal learners.” While that may sound good, the report also noted that only 14% were “very familiar” with the concept of distance learning and just 5% had heard of massive open online courses (MOOCs).

The survey of nearly 3,000 adults also found that 49% of the respondents said they were “not familiar at all” with distance learning in general and 67% said the same of MOOCs.

Access to technology also played a role. More than 80% of the respondents with smartphones or a high-speed Internet connection participated in a personal learning program, compared to 54% who said they didn’t have a home broadband connection or a smartphone.

“It becomes a bit of a double-whammy for less-educated Americans,” John Horrigan, author of the study, said in a report for Quartz. “They are less attuned to seeking out educational opportunities than other segments [of the population], and less skilled at using new technologies that might help them overcome those gaps.”

Help might be on the horizon from the Federal Communications Commission, which recently voted on a plan to modernize a Reagan-era program, known as Lifeline, that provides phone service to low-income individuals. The plan would allow users to apply the monthly support they receive for Lifeline to a broadband service starting at 500 MB.

“It’s taken a lot of work for the agency to get even this fairly modest modernization of Lifeline from a phone-only program in 1985 to one that is broadband-inclusive,” Josh Stager, policy counsel at New America’s Open Technology Institute, said in a report for Diverse Education. “But many Americans clearly still need help affording the tablets and laptops that would get them online.”

Friday, April 1, 2016

U.S. Millennials Don't Have the Skills

The Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) released global data in 2013 on how the U.S. population compared to those of other nations in terms of literacy and reading, numeracy, and problem-solving. The results weren’t pretty, especially for millennials.

The data revealed that the American millennial generation had the highest levels of education attainment of any previous generation, but that they demonstrated relatively weak skills in all the categories under consideration when compared to their international peers, according to a report in eCampus News. The research also found that too many millennials graduated without learning the right skills to enter a technology-based global workforce.

“These findings hold true when looking at millennials overall, our best performing and most educated, those who are native born, and those from the highest socioeconomic background,” wrote Irwin Kirsh, director of the Center for Global Assessments at Educational Testing Service. “Equally troubling is that these findings represent a decrease in literacy and numeracy skills for U.S. adults when compared with the result of previous adult surveys.”

PIAAC surveyed 5,000 people aged 16-65 in 22 countries for the study. U.S. millennials scored lower than 15 of the countries in literacy and ranked last in numeracy and problem-solving skills.

“If we expect to have a better-educated population and a more competitive workforce, policy-makers and other stakeholders will need to shift the conversation from one of educational attainment to one that acknowledges the growing importance of skills and examines these more critically,” Kirsch added. “How are skills distributed in the population and how do they relate to important social and economic outcomes? How can we ensure that students earning a high school diploma and a postsecondary degree acquire the necessary skills to fully participate in our society?”