March 17, 2016


Colleges That Pay You Back: The 200 Schools That Give You the Best Bang for Your Tuition Buck, 2016 Edition. By Robert Franek, David Soto, Kristen O’Toole, and the Staff of The Princeton Review. Penguin Random House. $21.99.

Protein Ninja: Power Through Your Day with 100 Hearty Plant-Based Recipes That Pack a Protein Punch. By Terry Hope Romero. Da Capo. $22.99.

     The increasing tendency to see college as merely a step toward better earning power and more-suitable employment is a view that promotes not only grade inflation (who wants to undermine a student’s lifelong earnings prospects?) but also demands for free tuition (how dare anyone deny students access to appropriate jobs or make them pay for what is essentially job training?). Unfortunate the consequences of seeing college this way may be, but the viewpoint is pervasive enough to make a book such as Colleges That Pay You Back highly useful. Based on Princeton Review and data, this book briefly profiles 200 colleges and creates Return on Investment (ROI) ratings designed to show which schools are the most likely to lead to graduates entering careers whose pay scales (starting and mid-career) more than justify the cost of attending the institutions. Colleges That Pay You Back includes a kind of social-benefit disclaimer: “To cover professions that have high social value but may offer lower salary numbers, such as teaching or non-profit management, we have included the percentage of alumni who feel that their job makes the world a better place.” It is safe to assume, however, that most people interested in this book will be looking at college from a financial-return standpoint. For that purpose, the book represents a very good use of so-called “big data,” which it parses in multiple ways. There is a list of more than 40 high-paying majors, with median starting salary and median mid-career salary for each, and an alphabetical list of schools to consider for students interested in each major. There are lists of the 50 colleges with highest ROI, the 25 with highest ROI for students not qualifying for financial aid, the 25 with best alumni networks, and similar lists for internships, career placement, financial aid and “making an impact” (this last, rather fuzzy category being based on student assessments in areas such as “sustainability efforts” and “on-campus student engagement.”). There is the annual list of nine tuition-free colleges, but as always, it is not very useful, since five of the nine are military academies and a sixth is solely for would-be ship designers (and tuition-free does not necessarily mean free of costs for room and board, books, supplies, and so forth). Within the body of the book, Colleges That Pay You Back is very clearly and simply laid out, with each school getting two pages that include narrative material on student life, “bang for your buck” and other topics, plus columns detailing academic data, freshman profiles, decision deadlines, financial facts and more. The 50 colleges that appear in the primary list of ones that pay students back through post-college careers get banners on their pages showing where they are on that list; however, the information on them is arranged just as it is for the other schools profiled. The top-50 list shows clearly that the University of California offers excellent payback among large public universities: the branches at Berkeley, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and San Diego all make the list. University of Virginia and University of Pennsylvania also appear. The so-called Big Three Ivy League colleges all make the list: Princeton at No. 2 (California Institute of technology is No. 1), Yale at No. 7 and Harvard at No. 10. The Little Three are all here as well: Amherst at No. 16, Williams at No. 26 and Wesleyan at No. 48. And other “usual suspects” colleges are listed as well: MIT, Stanford, Columbia, Duke, Cornell, Swarthmore, Johns Hopkins. So what special value will a prospective student get from Colleges That Pay You Back rather than from a standard list of top schools? Well, for one thing, the top-50 list includes some colleges that many students may not know or may not think of in terms of career prospects, such as Pomona, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, Carleton, Missouri University of Science and Technology, University of Florida and New College of Florida. For another thing, correlations between lists may help narrow a student’s choices appreciably: Claremont McKenna, for example, appears in the top-50 list, the “best schools for internships” list, and the “best alumni network” list. Colleges That Pay You Back is a research tool that uses the printed-book format in ways not readily matchable by online searches: the identical layout of all listings makes side-by-side comparisons very easy, and the up-front lists can help narrow students’ focus to a small number of schools that can then be readily compared as to the types of data included in the book. After that, visits to the schools’ Web sites (and eventually to their campuses) will be all the more worthwhile and considerably easier to target. That’s the ROI of Colleges That Pay You Back itself.

     Once out in the real world and presumably gainfully employed, people start looking for ways to manage their everyday lives in accordance with their beliefs (whether picked up before, at or after college) and in an attempt to maximize their productivity both on the job and at home. For a search of that sort, there are all kinds of recipes for how and where to live, how to behave, how to relate to people personally and professionally, and on and on. There are also just-plain-recipes created for a variety of specific purposes: losing weight, coping with frequent travel, dealing with work-related or family-related time pressures, and enjoying food while adhering to self-imposed dietary restrictions, such as a vegan diet. Terry Hope Romero’s Protein Ninja is strictly for this last group, picking up on the notion that plant-based diets are deficient in protein (sometimes true but not necessarily so) and offering suggestions on how to prepare high-protein food for all times of day and all sorts of meals. Less talky and less of an advocacy book than many aimed at vegans, Protein Ninja is for people already committed to vegan eating and looking for ways to boost their protein consumption within their self-chosen diet. Romero briefly goes through the same vegan basics found in many books like this – beans, quinoa, brown rice, seitan – and then gets right to the recipes. Absent here are the cutesy titles to which some recipe books gravitate: Romero straightforwardly offers Mocha Latte Granola, Pumpkin Power Pancakes, Tempeh Apple Sage Sausage Patties, Olive Rosemary Biscuits, White Bean & Cashew Ricotta Toast, Korean Tofu Taco Salad, Crunchy Nutty Peanut Butter Hemp Cookies, and so forth. The specific foods may not be familiar to all readers, but the recipe names clearly indicate what the instructions will produce, making Protein Ninja easy to follow. Romero also sprinkles the book with “Pro-Tips” such as, “There are many ways to reheat a veggie burger, but the best is still gently searing it on a cast-iron pan over medium heat.” She reserves her amusing commentary for recipe introductions that experienced or time-pressed vegan cooks can skip but that many readers will enjoy: “Flatbread is just pizza that needs a better bra.” “Do you ever find yourself thinking, ‘I want orange! No, wait, I want cranberry! Hrngh, maybe I want chocolate!’ and then feel bad because you can’t decide? You’re in luck because this scone satisfies all...” “Green stuff on toast is here to stay.” “Curry + burger = love.” The recipes here will not be particularly challenging for committed vegans, who will already have the needed ingredients on hand or know where to get them without difficulty. The book is less suitable for people who simply want to try vegan eating without making a full-scale commitment to it, since it requires stocking up on a variety of items that non-vegans are unlikely to have in the kitchen (hemp protein powder, white miso, soft silken tofu, garbanzo bean flour, tamari, and so forth). There are a few specialized techniques needed here, too, such as making “almost frozen oil” for several recipes. This is a (+++) book that delivers to vegans just what its subtitle promises: “a protein punch” with, along the way, some interesting tastes for people who have made the decision to commit to vegan eating.

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