Higher Education is Corrupted Everywhere
By Professor Doom
Carol J. Spencer, president of San Juan College, in New Mexico, said that regardless of how much federal money is available, the bottom line is that community colleges need to find a way to deliver more graduates.
--report from the Chronicle of Higher Education. Quality is irrelevant. Sheer numbers of degrees is what counts. It’s not about education1. At no point in the article does the Chronicle indicate or imply there is anything outrageous about this comment. It’s about the money, after all.
Now, perhaps some will read these essays and believe that this is only my interpretation, that the system is only this way in my region, or strictly the institutions I’ve personally attended. To this assertion I answer a very simple: “No.” My associates across the country, from Florida to California, from Louisiana to South Dakota, all say the same, and I doubt any of my students were protesting on Wall Street.
Consider a 2009 study, Campus Commons, which addressed the serious issues faculty believe they face on campus. They found “Many faculty members felt that the emphasis on retention, which they believe is coming from the state and college administrations, is misdirected.” Some quotes from faculty in this study2:
It bugs me that retention is the big issue. There seems to be this emphasis on retention as the indicator of success.
I disagree with that. I mean, my sense is that if a student realizes that this is not the place for me and this is where I can do better, maybe that’s success.
I don’t know that that’s a bad thing if a student drops out…
I have students who are really doing well. They’re great, and then tragedy happens in their life, they disappear. Do I get measured for that? (Me: yes, you do, since admin only looks at the bottom line)
This is already part of our issue that they are basing funding partly on our graduation rates. It’s problematic.
Definitely don’t reward schools for having more students. I mean, that puts the teachers under pressure just to pass them.
So what if you graduate more people and hand more people a piece of paper? It doesn’t necessarily mean that piece of paper means anything.
Yep. We’ll be forced to lower standards and graduate more numbers.
Or easier classes. I could graduate a whole mess of students, I just have to, boom, lower my standards, I can get more money, easy, so no on that one.
Those quotes are from faculty at public postsecondary institutions, supposedly those for whom the student loan money is not a concern. The situation at for-profits is crass, for lack of a better word. For-profits, while not necessarily aggressive when it comes to graduating students, are relentless when it comes to having good retention, keeping students in the programs at all costs.
As one example, Kaplan has been in the news a few times, with complaints from faculty about the pressure to pass3. Most of the accusations against Kaplan administration are basically the same as what I’ve witnessed any number of times by administrators at public institutions.
“Lower the bar…we were helping poor people,” from the referenced article, is an example of how Kaplan influenced faculty to pass more students. This is no different from “Yes, they’re weaker students, so grade them more generously. This is their chance to improve themselves.” Remember that line from an earlier essay?
Another quote from the article, that when students failed, faculty were blamed for not motivating them, also sounds familiar, as do the comments about how faculty were encouraged to ignore plagiarism. There are numerous similar complaints at other for-profits, complaints perhaps different in magnitude from public institutions but no different in kind. If mandating 85% retention at a public institution is acceptable, how is it so much worse when a for-profit institution tries to exceed 85%? The final similarity is how for-profit colleges don’t have a tenure system, so faculty have no resistance to administrative shenanigans.
“Tenure? No, we won’t have that here.”
--Administrator explaining the plan for the tenure system at my college.
I’m not that convinced tenure is a good thing, but faculty in the for-profit system, without tenure, had no option but to cave in to administrative greed, and that collapse came quickly. The collapse of the public system has been slower, and in line with this collapse has been the steady deterioration of the tenure system. One state school merits special mention in this regard: University of Maryland University College, also has no tenure system, but endured faculty protests. Faculty members complained administration “lacked interest in academic standards”, and faculty “feel under pressure to pass students regardless of whether they have learned the material,” complaints all but identical to those leveled at for-profit schools. As a result of such protests, over a dozen faculty were terminated for “lapses in loyalty and challenging what they perceived as the administration’s attempts to water down UMUC’s academic rigor.”4
It could be a coincidence, of course, that the death of tenure and the death of standards (and the skyrocketing of tuition) occur at the same time, but was there ever a campus so overpopulated with tenured professors that education became meaningless? That concern seems to be a boogeyman, and it’s a risk worth taking in light of the many tenure-free campuses where education is no longer on the table.
Considering that working at a for-profit institution is a “scarlet letter” that may prevent employment elsewhere, and that such institutions don’t seem to have a track record for probity (despite as solid a record for accreditation as non-profit schools), an honest person probably shouldn’t work for them at all.
--“pressure to raise grades, tolerate plagiarism, and dumb down courses to keep federal student aid flowing”
--Pop quiz: Do you think this is something I, a public institution faculty member would say, or a for-profit, private institution faculty member would say? Hint: trick question.
The suckers in the higher education system were failed by accreditation, failed by remediation, failed by the “masters of Education”, and failed by a myriad of college policies, with administration guiding all these failures. The last chance for the suckers to be protected from receiving a bogus education was the faculty. Any con man will tell you, “never give a sucker an even chance,” and administration, by completely controlling faculty, has seen to it the suckers’ last chance is gone as well, as I’ve shown in detail on these last five essays (more than I’ve spent on any other topic).
A whole culture was in awe of higher education, viewing it as an ultimate goal, a primal need to be satisfied. Vast sums of money were loaned to that culture, to pursue those needs. The accreditation process that would have kept higher education as a noble goal, that would have protected that culture from indebting itself forever just for a worthless slip of paper, failed. Accreditation could do nothing to withstand the lack of integrity by so many of those who ruled and run the system, and the rulers preyed especially on those most vulnerable, those least able to gain from higher education, indebting those most vulnerable more than any other. Those who studied Education as an end saw only the opportunity to advance themselves, and feasted no less than the rulers, assisting the rulers in creating policies to drive the system further into the abyss. Only one barrier remained: the faculty.
The fundamental corruption of the higher education system could have been stopped by a great number of honest and bold faculty, willing to face down the rulers and their often unwitting servants. The faculty could have done honest work despite the failings of accreditation, but the mighty hurdles placed in the system by those rulers assured that honest and bold faculty would be a tiny minority at best.
The only thing stopping administration was their own integrity, and there was none. Avarice exponentially expands into integrity’s absence. Next I will take a look at those consumed by avarice. It can be argued that administrators are no more responsible for what has happened than students, and that they have forgotten the path of enlightenment, of education. Perhaps they’re not truly responsible, but they’ve “forgotten” nothing, college administration was never on any such path, as I’ll show in my next series of essays.
1) Gonzales, Jennifer. “At Community Colleges' Meeting, Officials Debate How to Deliver More Graduates.” Chronicle of Higher Education. April 18, 2010.
2) Immerwahr, John, Johnson, Jean, and Paul, Gasbarra. “Campus Commons? What Faculty, Financial Officers, and Others Think About Controlling College Costs.” Public Agenda. 2009.
3) Field, Kelly. “Faculty at For-Profits Allege Constant Pressure to Keep Students Enrolled.” Chronicle of Higher Education. May 8, 2011.
4) Stratford, Michael. “U. of Maryland University College Is Said to Have Bought Silence of Former Employees.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. March 12, 2012.