Thursday, November 26, 2015

$1,000,000 To Fix A Nonexistent Hate Crime

By Professor Doom
     A message of hope for today, Thanksgiving. The end of most regimes is marked by astonishing incompetence. Whether it’s the French royalty, the USSR, or take your pick of any banana republic, the revolt happens after it becomes clear that the people in power are truly incapable and unworthy of rule. I believe today’s story shows that, joyfully, the end must be near for higher education.

     I do my best not to pick on a particular college, I do what I can to show that the insanity that has gripped our campuses is not about the microagression loonyness of California, open plundering in New York and Illinois, or spectacular failure in Louisiana, and that’s not even addressing the endless horrid sex scandals.

     Somehow I’ve managed to miss Delaware in all this. Ok, it’s a small state, so perhaps a forgivable error on my part, but being small doesn’t exempt it from the madness. Key as always to the insanity is the oversized and out of control administrative caste, who can get away with just about anything. There are no checks on their power, so there’s nothing to stop the insanity referenced in the previous paragraph, and certainly nothing to stop the madness at University of Delaware:

University Of Delaware Launches $1 Million Diversity Initiative In Response To Hate Crime That Didn’t Happen

     Diversity is such a wonderful topic for an administrator to address. Nobody dares speak out against anything that might promote diversity, no matter how ridiculous. Speaking out against any diversity initiative, no matter how foolish and hypocritical, is only going to put a target on your head.

     So, what was the alleged hate crime? Campus police found nooses hanging from trees. That’s the crime, except they weren’t nooses. No, they were just some leftovers from a party:

Within a few hours, police had concluded the “hate crime” was anything but, as the nooses were really just the remains of paper lanterns from an event held last summer.

     That really should have been the end of it, but no. Despite the instructional video showing exactly how the lantern hangers can turn into “nooses,” people still advanced that there was a hate crime here, and that the police were covering it up. It doesn’t matter that the “nooses” were made of wire, it doesn’t matter that only one noose was actually noose-shaped. It doesn’t matter that nobody says it’s a hate crime, and it doesn’t matter that there hasn’t been a lynching in half a century or more. Because we have way too many administrators on campus looking for something to do, 
administration leaps into action to address the “hate crime.”

     And how to address this non-problem? By making another fiefdom, another inane department on campus filled with grotesquely overpaid administrators. I should emphasize: the million dollars being spent on this non-issue? It will be spent every year from now until the collapse of higher education (soon, one might surmise…).
     A Deanling gets to bloviate, and always, it’s good for a laugh:

“We have such a history of diversity issues,” Watson said. “We’ve come a long way, but diversity has always been a focus.”

     No, sorry, diversity was not “always” a focus of higher education. It’s a shame our “leaders” in higher education don’t understand that education has always been a focus of higher education, either education of students, through teaching, or education of the human race, through research. It’s not called “higher diversity,” after all. These guys are so clueless, they just don’t understand what higher education was about. Instead, our “leaders” just focus on the buzzword du jour, and don’t have enough background in education to think higher education was anything but the latest buzzword.

“It’s always been about diversifying the faculty, having more professors and students of color,” Watson said.

     Why, oh why, is it perfectly acceptable to say this? I’ve been on campuses that give “skin color bonuses” to hire “of color” faculty. Imagine if there was a campus that gave a cash bonus only to white people? I’d find that ridiculous, and I’m sure such a campus would be hit with devastating (and justified) lawsuits and negative news coverage.

     Even simply saying “we want more white professors” would be viewed as far too racist to be acceptable. But the dean can say essentially that the campus needs to get more professors “of color” and that’s fine. “White” (to be more fair, my skin, what isn’t covered in hair, is more pinkish-brown than white) is a color too, right?

     In addition to being totally racist, the Deanling totally sees this as a springboard for more looting:

With the new portion of the budget being set aside to support this new goal, Watson said he wishes to use this as a basis for the college’s next strategic plan to tackle the subject. In the coming years, he said he hopes to see change on the campus through the monetary allowance, though what that change will be he isn’t entirely certain.

--the Deanling’s title, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, is only 2.5 times as long as his name, under my “must get rid of” guideline…

     A million dollars a year for this foolishness. Please, I beg the gentle reader to understand: that money could have been used for scholarships, lots of scholarships, giving students a free higher education. Instead, it’ll be pissed away spent on improving diversity. More accurately, the money will be spent on another floor filled with overpaid administrators, instead of on education. I sure hope the people of Delaware understand this the next time there’s a tuition increase there.

     Diversity is just a wonderful campus fiefdom to be in. You’ll never be successful in having enough diversity, there will never come a day when your fiefdom will be shut down. Even if the campus population matches the population of the state down to a tenth of a percentage point (impossible, since every campus allows for foreign students), you can just move on to saying there’s not enough gender diversity. Even if you somehow match that up exactly (again, impossible, especially in fields where predominantly one gender tends to major), you can just move on to say there’s not enough homosexuals, transgenders, or whatever.

      So, this fiefdom always, always, fails. The price for the failure? More money. The fiefdom just says “hey, we don’t have enough diversity on this campus, we should do something about it” and *bam*, another million a year is committed, because, hey, nobody wants to look to be against diversity.

      Again, this sort of madness occurs across the country, every day…just imagine how much free education could be given if our higher education system were free from the useless administrative caste, and run with even a modicum of responsibility.

     As yet another institution of higher education now promises to spend a million dollars a year, forever, to “fix” a problem we all agree doesn’t exist, a question comes to mind. How much more incompetent can higher education get before it finally collapses under its own weight?


Monday, November 23, 2015

Failures of Public School Mirrored in Higher Ed


By Professor Doom

     Everyone knows that the public schools have been failing, and failing hard, for years. Yes, there are exceptional schools, but we need only look to the children of the rich, or of the politicians (often the same people) to see that people with any choice in the matter don’t send their kids to public schools.

     A recent resignation letter by a teacher in the public school system went viral. She details what’s happening to teaching in the public school system. While I’m in no position to argue with her, I do see some parallels to what’s going on in higher education.


--a special ed student, socially promoted through the public school system, ended at my community college. Although even the middle school material that is typical for community college was wildly beyond his capabilities, after 7 years (and special dispensation from admin desperate to have graduates), he finally managed to get his 2 year degree. One day, in strange circumstances, he got excited and punched me full in the face, with dozens of witnesses, including a sub-Poo Bah. I argued against disciplinary action—the poor kid had enough problems.

      The teacher in question has a graduate degree in “special needs” children, as strange a label as there is. Each child is an individual, and thus each child has special needs, in my opinion. I reckon the teacher would be inclined to agree with my point of view to some extent:

My master’s degree work focused on behavior disorders, so I can say with confidence that it is not the children who are disordered. The disorder is in the system which requires them to attempt curriculum and demonstrate behaviors far beyond what is appropriate for their age. The disorder is in the system which bars teachers from differentiating instruction meaningfully, which threatens disciplinary action if they decide their students need a five minute break from a difficult concept, or to extend a lesson which is exceptionally engaging. The disorder is in a system which has decided that students and teachers must be regimented to the minute and punished if they deviate. The disorder is in the system which values the scores on wildly inappropriate assessments more than teaching students in a meaningful and research based manner.

     The intense regimentation of the public schools has its echo in the “computer courses” that are becoming ever more popular in higher education. Students all read the same pages at the same time, take the same tests (all multiple choice, thanks to the huge class sizes of higher education), and submit the same answers (again, a multiple choice test, which also leads to even “A” students being nearly incapable of writing anything). Even if it’s not all done on the computer, “Scantron Test and PowerPoint” lectures are fairly common, where anyone capable of reading can impersonate a professor, because all the professor does is read the Powerpoint, and grading is automatic. The most popular type of course on campus is the type where the students do absolutely nothing, but the previous types are common enough.

Admin:  “We’ve gathered the data, and we can show that our numbers are a bit higher than before, so we’ve shown improvement.”

Me: “What’s the level of significance?”

Admin: “Huh?”

Me: “The p-value, some indication that the difference between our numbers and whatever standard you are using is meaningful, and not just chance variation.”

Admin: “I have no idea what you’re talking about, and we don’t need to show that to the accreditors.”

Me: “Because they also have absolutely no training in statistics, research, or anything related to legitimate research?”

--I didn’t say that last line, but it was amazing how often I’d deal with an administrator with a Ph.D., a research degree, that not only didn’t know anything about research, but also didn’t believe anyone needed to know anything about research in order to produce useful research.

      What the teacher here has missed is that the reason for the popularity of these strictly regimented courses is the same whether it’s public school or higher education. By converting courses into “one size fits all,” the need for experts, people that actually know the subject, becomes irrelevant. Administrators and their analogous bureaucrats in public education can make the classes infinitely large, because the teacher serves no purpose, to the point that more teachers can be removed. This frees up more money for administrative pay.

The disorder is in the system which values the scores on wildly inappropriate assessments more than teaching students in a meaningful and research based manner.

      I’ve mentioned before that Common Core ignores science and will do great harm to small children as they’re asked to do things beyond their capabilities. There’s a reason why we teach little kids about using songs to learn the alphabet, about using fingers for counting…Common Core abandons the wisdom of thousands of years of teaching small children, abandons the knowledge of modern (real) science, and trades it all in for a very cheap “one size fits all” system determined by (childless?) bureaucrats that will work for almost nobody. The teacher explains:

Developmentally appropriate practice is the bedrock upon which early childhood education best practices are based, and has decades of empirical support behind it. However, the new reforms not only disregard this research, they are actively forcing teachers to engage in practices which are not only ineffective but actively harmful to child development and the learning process.

     The system of being forced to hurt people is a little different in higher education:

Admin: “You need use more group projects with your students.”

Me: “Study after study shows group work hurts education, that the more time spent in group work, the less the student learns on his own. Please don’t force this.”

Admin: “I’m not forcing you, but I’ll deduct from your evaluation for unwillingness to use group work.”

--Group work isn’t “forced,” but faculty that refuse to hurt their students are punished, as faculty with higher evaluations are the ones that get bonuses and can move up the ladder.

     The misery being inflicted on our small children may not last as long as the misery of the student loan scam, which puts our young people into a lifetime of debt…but it’s misery all the same, as the teacher details:

They cry with frustration as they are asked to attempt tasks well out of their zone of proximal development. They cry as their hands shake trying to use an antiquated computer mouse on a ten year old desktop computer which they have little experience with, as the computer lab is always closed for testing. Their shoulders slump with defeat as they are put in front of poorly written tests that they cannot read, but must attempt. Their eyes fill with tears as they hunt for letters they have only recently learned so that they can type in responses with little hands which are too small to span the keyboard.

      Bureaucrats in public schools don’t care about crying children, any more than higher education administration cares about hurting young adults. The latter is all about the money, and I reckon public schools are much the same.

On June 8, 2015 my life changed when I gave birth to my daughter. I remember cradling her in the hospital bed on our first night together and thinking, “In five years you will be in kindergarten and will go to school with me.” That thought should have brought me joy, but instead it brought dread. I will not subject my child to this disordered system, and I can no longer in good conscience be a part of it myself.

    This is the big flag for her, and there was a comparable flag for me, as I noticed that none of my colleagues at the community college would send their kids to the community college…some even showed disgust at the thought.

     It’s all too common for workers at our fast food places to refuse to put the food “made” there in their mouths; seeing as these workers have no control over the quality of the fast food, and know full well how foul most of it is, this is quite understandable. Our educational systems are run the same way, with educators in no control of education. How is it a wonder that what we call “education” is so disgusting now that the workers in them are completely unwilling to put their kids in the system?

Friday, November 20, 2015

Only 9% Of Recent Students With Debt Think College Worth It

By Professor Doom

     So, there’s celebration that more females than males have degrees from higher education…it’s natural to ask if degrees are worthy to have nowadays.

     We’re raised from a very young age to believe education is everything, that, always, the best, most important thing for a human being is school. Ok, we’re told “education” is everything, not that school is, but we’re told school is the way to get an education…pretty much the only way to get that education is to stay in school. And so our kids graduate high school and move on to…more school.

     I believe education is a valuable thing, precious, even, but I want to talk about school, more specifically, higher education, or college, or university, which all refer to the same thing, more or less. As a nation we’re paying a fortune to put our high school graduates into higher education, it’s very fair to ask, “is it worth it?”

     “Worth” is a touchy subject, but ultimately it’s a personal one. I don’t think it’s worth $10,000 or more to get a ticket to the Superbowl, but obviously, people freely pay this…the buyers of such tickets obviously think it’s worth it.

      Higher education isn’t quite like a ticket, of course, since the bill generally doesn’t come until after you’ve made the purchase, and you don’t really know what you’ve purchased until later.

     The sellers of higher education insist with great confidence that higher education is worth it, always. So what do the purchasers of the very expensive higher education say about the value of their product?

      Look at that, half of our college graduates believe that they paid a fair price for whatever it is they got out of college1. Considering that, for many, higher education is a government product, this is pretty stellar. Other government products, like speed traps, don’t get anywhere near 50% satisfaction from the victims citizens, and I bet our soldiers aren’t real wild about another major product of the US government, wars.

     Now, this survey was on around 30,000 people, and they took effort to make sure that the sample was representative of the US population. Well, the population of college graduates, anyway, and moreover graduates over the course of the last few generations. I’ve never claimed that higher education was always a problem, what’s become of it recently is the issue.

     Focus on more recent graduates, and the numbers change for the worse:

    As we get closer to today, the satisfaction drops rather sharply. Focus on the last ten years, and only 38% of recent graduates think they got fair value for today’s version of higher education. The distinction is relevant.

When my father went to the same college I do now, his grade was usually based entirely on the final exam, though sometimes with a midterm counting for something. Attendance was optional and even a required textbook was rare, since Chaucer or quantum physics don't change much based on the book you are reading.
Today, as little as 20% of your grade is based on any exam, and most of your grade is based on hundreds of meaningless assignments that pile up if you don't get to them right away. Often, they're all based on a book that is horribly written to the point of being incomprehensible and useless outside the course, but costs around $200. You're graded on attendance, which combined with the homework makes it hard if not impossible to work to pay for college on your own and do it on time. I even had a professor grade notes, something I have not had to deal with since middle school.

    This is a rather important difference, at least for me, because higher education of 30 or more years ago was a very different creature than what we see today. There are many courses where passing is trivial. A sample course from a nearby university makes 40% of the grade homework from a book where the answers are for sale online for $9 or so, and another 20% of the grade is based on attendance, and sets a grade of C to 50% or better; show up every other day, and you pass. I’m not kidding, and studies show many courses aren’t even this challenging. Higher education today is relatively easy, and very expensive, but it was a very different beast a generation ago, where tuition was far lower and passing was far more difficult, at least on far more campuses than today.

     Part of the reason today’s higher education is a mess is the student loan scam, and the satisfaction numbers drop further for the people suckered into taking on debt:

Among graduates who took out student loans of any amount, 33 percent said they strongly agreed that their education was worth what they spent. As their amount of student debt increased, the graduates were less likely to see the value of their education. About 43 percent of graduates who borrowed $25,000 or less strongly agreed that college was worth what they paid. For those who borrowed between $25,001 and $50,000, 30 percent strongly agreed with the statement.
Among alumni who were in more than $50,000 of debt, only 18 percent said they strongly agreed that college was worth their investment.

     Like every other product, as the price increases, the number of people that think the product is “worth it” drops. We’re now down from 38%, to more like 33% or less of college graduates think their education was worth the cost—it’s almost certainly lower than 33% for the more recent, more indebted, college graduates. Let’s just call this 30% of graduates in the last six years who also took on debt really think their college time was worth it.

     But…wait a second, this study only looked at college graduates. That’s not a fair restriction at all. Everyone that goes to college pays, not just the graduates. So, to really get a fair estimate of people that think college is worth it, we need to consider everyone that’s paying for it, not just the ones that graduate.

     Measuring this sort of thing is hard, as students might leave school, then come back after a few years. That said, we know that around 70% of community college students fail over an infinite timeline, and most students in higher education are in community college. A 2 year program in community college, as one might suspect, is far, far, easier to graduate from than a 4 year degree program…it’s a safe bet that over all of higher education, we’re looking at a similar failure rate, if not much lower. It’s a generous assumption to say, then, that college graduates represent about 30% of those who go to college. 

      I have to make another assumption here, but I trust the gentle reader will concede the point: the people that go to college and fail, receiving nothing from it besides expense and a waste of time, will nearly all agree that college was not worth it. Certainly those that, in addition, are in debt for nothing won’t think they got a good deal.

     Now let’s put the data together, for higher education as it stands today for our students taking on debt. 30%, probably less, of students who go into higher education actually graduate; not all take loans, but that’s an upper limit for the loan takers. Of those graduates who do get loans, 30%, probably less, of college graduates with debt think college is worth it.

     Put those two numbers together and we have an upper estimate of the students that take loans for college, manage to get a degree, and think it’s worth it. 30% of 30% is:


     Seriously, more than nine out of ten students think they’ve made mistake by taking out a loan for higher education. Not to put too fine a point on it, it’s very clear that taking on debt to go to higher education is a decision that the majority of students regret. So now can we get rid of the student loan scam?

     Granted, there are many good schools out there, and in those good schools, I’m sure the percentage of people that think they’re getting fair value is quite high. But, for every MIT, Harvard, Yale, and the like, there are dozens and dozens of colleges that simply take students in, wring them dry of their student loan money, and churn them out…and the vast majority of those students certainly feel that college wasn’t worth it.

      My numbers might be off a bit, I admit…but we’re looking at around a 9% satisfaction rate here for what we’re doing in our higher education system with the student loan scam. It’s time to take a long hard look at all the changes of the last few decades, all of which are paid for and wouldn’t exist except for the student loan scam: the “student as customer” paradigm, the microagression coddling, the perpetual dumbing down of the coursework, the social promotion at the college level, and the huge remediation scam that makes 90% of coursework in college not even college level coursework.

      The previous are all due the idea that getting and keeping more students means more money for the institution because of those loans; in turn, this money has led to the “vision for excellence” foolishness, the bloating of our administrative caste, the skyrocketing administrative pay, the ridiculous real estate building/buying spree, the insane focus on sportsball over academics, the grossly increasing class sizes, the prostitution of our graduates, and all the rest.

      It’s time to ask in all sincerity: are all these changes really helping our citizens get a satisfactory education? 

      Now, much of the dissatisfaction can be attributed to the student loan scam, but please realize that even without restricting to indebted students, we’re only looking at an upper end of 15% satisfaction…and that’s still terrible. Just how many signs that something is very wrong in higher education today do we need?

1.    To be fair, half say “strongly agree” their education was worth the cost, as opposed to lesser levels of agreement, or disagreement, but since this is the standard our rulers of higher education set for themselves, I’m going with the study’s numbers based on this level of agreement.