Monday, October 28, 2013

What money has done to accreditation, from old schools to new


The last joke of accreditation a century ago

By Professor Doom

So let’s finish this list of what was necessary for accreditation over a century ago:

1. follow respectable entrance requirements

2. offer courses selected from the classics

3. ensure a minimum of eight departments headed by full-time

instructors, each possessing at least a master’s degree

4. provide a good library

5. properly prepare students for post-graduate study

6. have a maximum class size of 30

7. have a productive endowment of at least $200,000.

 

I’ve covered the first six previously, and they all related to education…a real shocker compared to accreditation of today, which has very little, if anything, to do with education. But what of that last rule, which apparently seems to have nothing to do with education?

Let’s focus in on it, because money has much to do with education today.

 

 

7. have a productive endowment of at least $200,000.

 

Nowadays, accreditation doesn’t specify a sum, merely that the institution is fiscally secure, not that accreditors pay much attention. This clause is difficult to interpret in modern terms. About the only way to analyze this is to convert $200,000 in the 19th century into today’s bogus fiat currency. At the time this clause was written, $200,000 was basically 10,000 ounces of gold—a vast sum. In today’s money, that’s around $13,000,000—remember, an institution needed this money to fund EIGHT departments with faculty.

This rule existed because only large, established schools could become accredited. First they became a legitimate institution, with a reputation that could attract students, so many that they could set up a large endowment. Then and only then came accreditation, the independent, outside recognition that the school was dedicated to education and research.

It’s all reversed now, and the second half, the part about being legitimate, is completely ignored optional.

$13,000,000 barely pays a few years’ salary of just the administrators of even a SMALL school nowadays (leaving no money for those eight departments with faculty), but could support a couple dozen faculty for a six year program. Back then, a small school wasn’t concerned about accreditation, since there was no vast federal student loan scam program that could only go to accredited schools. Accreditation was nice to have, but it was more important to be legitimate.

Now, when a school opens, its first, primary, only mission is to satisfy accreditation. I took a school through the whole accreditation process. While seeking accreditation, yes, I could offer legitimate courses, provided I was doing all I could to satisfy and fill out all the forms and documentation necessary for accreditation. This struck me as fair and reasonable, but I was na├»ve, and didn’t realize administration’s plan.

See, the thing was, without accreditation, the school needed revenue and students, and without loan money, the only students we were going to get were those that wanted to learn so much that they were willing to pay with their own money…and that could only happen if we offered legitimate education. A fake student could just go to a fake school, after all.

Once we received accreditation, it all changed. Students (and those sweet loan checks!) poured in, and administration had no interest (or need) of legitimacy. Instead, bogus courses flooded our catalogue, bogus teachers taught courses with legitimate-sounding names, and it no longer mattered if what actually went on in the course was nothing like the catalogue…we were accredited now, and accreditors never actually look to see what goes on in the classroom. I was harassed repeatedly for offering real courses that prepared students (many of whom went on to get real degrees in nursing and engineering…I’m still Facebook friends with many of them), while Educationists offering fake courses received praise, promotions, and rewards for bogus or minimal material in courses with the same name as mine.

We went from an unaccredited institution that the local schools were proud to send students to, to an accredited institution that the local teachers now warn their students to avoid. It was made clear that my “ilk” wasn’t needed any more, and I had no choice but to move on, regretting the years and effort spent on building an accredited school.

In the 19th and early 20th century, accreditation was a legitimate seal of legitimacy, a sign that a school was an established institution dedicated to the teaching and research of higher education. Now, it’s still perceived as a seal of legitimacy, but it means nothing, and my own eyes have shown me it is arguably detrimental to education.

Before going back to tuition, I’m going to reinforce how little accreditation means by following up on a school that’s sort-of losing accreditation, and another school that’s in a tad of trouble.

For now, consider the unintended consequences of tying accreditation to student loan money. It is now impossible for an institution of higher education to survive without accreditation, and being accredited means never having to care in the slightest about the legitimacy of the education at an institution.

 

Think about it.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Still more on old school accreditation


More Howlers from Accreditation

By Professor Doom

Last time, I found a list of what was necessary for accreditation over a century ago:

1. follow respectable entrance requirements

2. offer courses selected from the classics

3. ensure a minimum of eight departments headed by full-time

instructors, each possessing at least a master’s degree

4. provide a good library

5. properly prepare students for post-graduate study

6. have a maximum class size of 30

7. have a productive endowment of at least $200,000.

 

The first four are a joke for modern institutions, which seldom have any requirements (much less “respectable”), have gutted offerings of “classic” knowledge, no longer need to have departments, and yet still have dusty libraries that are seldom used by students (for a variety of reasons, including the simple fact that books are cheap to acquire, and often available in electronic format).

 Maybe the other three requirements are still followed by accredited schools? Let’s look at two more:

 

5. properly prepare students for post-graduate study

 

Me in department head’s office, circa 1988.

Head: “I hear you skipped a section in your course.”

Me: “Yes, I ran out of time, and one class was cancelled because of that storm.”

Head: “Well now the instructor in the next class has students that don’t know what’s going on. You’re impacting the next class when you skip material.”

Me: “Sorry.”

Head: “Just don’t let it happen again.”

 

In times past, preparing students for more was a key part of education. Every course I took as an undergraduate led to another course, and in that course it was assumed I knew the previous material, so that the next course could build on it. This was no accident: accredited schools used to prepare students for more.

Administrative notice, 1999: “In one section of calculus, the instructor didn’t make it out of the first chapter. His section will be excused from the departmental final.”

--I was the chair for the calculus courses that year, so yes, this really happened. Because administrators no longer see the need to hire qualified faculty, instead hiring Education degree holders to teach any subject, this sort of thing happens a lot. A key course that covers 6 chapters of material only covered 1 from this guy…and he received praise for high retention instead of a firing for complete incompetence. I sure wish I didn’t have to keep saying “I can’t make this stuff up.”

 

The days where education means preparing students are long gone.   Now I consistently have students that literally covered nothing in the previous course. I consistently have to sit and watch praise and promotions heaped on Math Education degree holders for taking half or more of the material out of the course, and getting the all-important high passing rate that is the only measure of success administrators comprehend.

 

"That's why they come! As long as we give them good grades and a degree, their parents are happy too! Who cares if they can't reason?"

--President of fictional Walden College—not as fictional as it should be.

 

I emphasize, this is not my imagination. Very serious studies have shown that about half of college graduates have NO improvement in cognitive skills after 6 or so years of study (sic), despite their spiffy degrees and impeccable GPAs.
 
Student: "I have a 3.96 GPA, have taken all courses, but cant pas the Praxix. Can u help?"
--I do much tutoring, preparing students for various tests like the ACT on up. The Praxis is the test Education majors need to take to get their eventual teacher certification. It didn't matter that the student had a great GPA (better than mine ever was) from an accredited, state, brick-and-mortar school...her courses prepared her for nothing. I do my best, usually giving the A student just enough to just barely get a passing grade on what is a fairly straightforward test.
 

Part of the reason there is no learning is because emphasis now isn’t on preparation, it’s on marking time, filling rooms, and keeping students happy. Almost all coursework is an intellectual dead end, as this is what administrators want and are familiar with. Even the most advanced course in administration has no prerequisites. The reasoning is simple: the only students that would take “History 2” are those that took and passed “History 1”…that’s a smaller market. Administration just isn’t motivated to have courses prepare students for anything else, and I’ve seen many students with 100 credit hours of coursework that still have no actual skills, because all they know is introductory material anyone could learn in a few weeks.

Me: “We’re offering this as a 3 credit hour course. It’s a four hour course everywhere else, so students can’t transfer it anywhere.”

Administration: “So?”

Me: “We’re hurting our students by offering it. They take the course, but then are screwed if they go anywhere else, or try to apply their 2 year degree to getting a 4 year degree.”

Administration: “But as a 3 hour course, it makes it easier for them to get a full time load of 12 hours, which is important for their loans.”

Me: “But the course prepares them for nothing.”

Administration: “So?”

--Year after year, I tried to convince Admin to stop screwing students like this, to no avail.

 

Consider the implications here. Almost no institution today could even be accredited if this clause were still followed, because the mission of “prepare students” has been abandoned, replaced by the mission of “drain as much student loan money as possible.” This is not hyperbole, the research documents and supports my claim. But, there really was a time when legitimate institutions honestly thought key to education was preparing the student for more.

If an “educated” person is literally incapable of doing anything more than an “uneducated” person, is not even prepared to do anything more, what is education for?

 

 

6. have a maximum class size of 30

 

Admin: “We had to change the design of the new building, since the classrooms could only hold 27 students. Our fiscal model can’t support classes that small.”

--administrative explanation why only administrators would get offices in the new building.

I’m almost winded from laughing at this one. I’m teaching five classes this semester; every section has over 40 students. Once again, no school of today could be accredited if this clause were still used.

Now, I’ll grant you can totally teach 1,000 students as effectively as 30 students, at least if teaching were merely standing up at the board, going over topics and responding to questions. Unfortunately, there’s far more to teaching than that.

In order for students to gain skills, they need to practice them. The primary way to motivate students to practice skills is to give graded assignments. With a huge class, grading those assignments is grinding, time consuming work. It’s necessary work for a teacher, but when you factor in the administrative pressure to do less and less, simply not giving assignments in the first place is an obvious option.

So faculty, faced with ever larger classes, declining pay, and threats from admin to pass more students, make the easy decision to simply not assign as much work. Students don’t do as much, and hence don’t learn as much. Thus it is that so many of our college graduates have degrees, but no measurable skills.

Note how this is also an important example of how education cannot be simply defined to some specific thing. As soon as clause 5 was destroyed so that it no longer mattered if anyone was learning anything, clause 6 has no reason to exist either, and the reverse would be true as well, even though both clauses look completely unrelated.

The seventh and last clause appears to have nothing about education; I’ll consider it in more detail next time.

Until then, I repeat the question for consideration: these antiquated accreditation rules led to the United States creating a higher education system that’s the envy of the world. The rules have been surreptitiously changed, but do any of the old rules seems so obsolete that they shouldn’t be used anymore?

Think about it.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Accreditation in the Early 20th Century Compared to the Joke of Today


 

By Professor Doom

 

     I was checking some sources while I was following the money in higher education in my last essay, and came upon a few tidbits worth sharing.

     Most awesome was an article that listed requirements for accreditation over 100 years ago. Much as it’s fascinating to see tests from the 19th and early 20th century to see how much schools have changed, I find this list of accreditation requirements from North Central accrediting (there are numerous accrediting bodies, but they are all fairly similar) to be amazing:

1. follow respectable entrance requirements

2. offer courses selected from the classics

3. ensure a minimum of eight departments headed by full-time

instructors, each possessing at least a master’s degree

4. provide a good library

5. properly prepare students for post-graduate study

6. have a maximum class size of 30

7. have a productive endowment of at least $200,000.

 

     Let’s go over this line by line, comparing with the institutions I’m directly and personally familiar with, to see how much has changed in a century. For the bureaucracy wonks, I have a line by line analysis of what accreditation is today…dozens of pages of pure bureaucracy with very little relating to education, unlike the above, which is brief and mostly about education.

1. follow respectable entrance requirements

 

     It’s hard to believe that there was a time when an accredited school had to have entrance requirements. Now, the vast majority of schools have no entrance requirements, and it’s quite common to have coursework appropriate for an 8 year old, as I’ve discussed elsewhere.

     I hate to sound elitist, but entrance exams need to come back. Too many ruthless administrators are taking way too much advantage of people that have no interest in education, and have no understanding of what it means to take on student debt. Too many dubious fields like Education have blossomed, and thrive primarily by scooping up the suckers that are taken in by administrators.

     Imagine if instead people that wanted to learn something, wanted to work hard, and could show that they could study and learn, were the only ones on campus. Bogus courses would be laughed off campus, bogus departments wouldn’t exist, and sniveling sycophant faculty that were created by such might be in smaller quantity. Perhaps I’m wrong…but has the open system of today really created a much more educated populace, or a much more indebted populace?

     What of those that can’t pass the exams? Well, this is just accreditation, there was a time not that long ago that a non-accredited school could still be a good school, and a school that focuses on high school and lower material probably shouldn’t claim to be “higher education” anyway. I imagine with the fat government loan checks out of the picture, such schools would actually be cheaper…and a serious student can always just go the many (thousands?) free sites on the internet that have such information.

 

2. offer courses selected from the classics

 

     I had to laugh reading this, since institutions no longer practice these ideas. This is from such a bygone era. It used to be, students had to learn Latin in higher education (heck, they used to need to learn it in school). I grant that Latin isn’t nearly as critical to the modern world as a few centuries ago, and so it didn’t bother me when students were instead forced to learn any foreign language in lieu of Latin. That’s been removed, too, replaced by a Mickey Mouse “computer skills” course where students “learn” the skills they already know from using a cell phone…that’s been removed, too (computers being so expensive), and now students don’t have to learn anything about any other culture or language.

     There are a few holdout courses, though “classic” math has been reduced to 10th grade math, and most “classic” courses in other departments have similarly minimal requirements, like “Western Civilization”, a course that’s gone from “read a few books” in a semester to “read a few chapters.” The problem, of course, is educators no longer decide what is “classic.” Instead, administrators make such decisions. So, now it’s “classic” to have “Gender Studies” courses and “White People are Evil” courses, and “Home Economics” courses.

     Is it really so elitist to think that scholars should determine what is scholarly, instead of administrators?

 

3. ensure a minimum of eight departments headed by full-time

instructors, each possessing at least a master’s degree

 

     This one is another big laugh for me, as an institution I was at for a decade never did have any departments at all, instead an administrator with no scholarly skills determined what the “departments” did. Those days are gone, at least for newer institutions.

     The first advantage to having departments is it’s much harder for an incoming faculty to be completely bogus, to know nothing, to be a fraud, and operate in a department with legitimate scholars. Administrators honestly seem to prefer frauds, and I would often have to work with ignorant “scholars” that clearly did not know what they were supposedly teaching.

     The second advantage is a department won’t have bogus courses; in that institution with the non-scholar admin, the students got their accredited 2 year degrees…but when they went to a four year school, they learned that it would take another 4 years to get a 4 year degree—nothing in the 2 year degree was of sufficient scholarly merit to apply. A department run by people that are expert in their field (instead of filled with cherry-picked educationists by admin) can stop that from happening.

     The reference to a master’s degree, as opposed to a doctorate, is again from the olden days, where you didn’t have to have a research degree to teach. Nowadays, there are way too many doctorates, in every field, so it’s no surprise that now it’s common to require a doctorate. I totally respect research degrees, but for jobs-based degrees, the requirements should probably allow for people with actual industry experience as well as (if not superior to) pure research.

 

4. provide a good library

 

     This, too, is funny, but only because my school was forced to buy a bunch of books to satisfy the “good library” clause that’s still in accreditation. In days of yore, absolutely, a big collection of books was rather important for learning.

     Nowadays? Not so much. You’re reading this, so you know about the internet, and you can buy a book and have it cheaply delivered to your door in a few days, tops (except for stupid-expensive textbooks, but that’s a scam for another day)…it was a very different world a century ago, and having a big library on campus made much sense back then. It’s hysterical that the only clause that could have been removed from accreditation hasn’t been removed, even as so many of the others are gone now.

     Halfway through the list, and it’s all howlers from the perspective of an educator in the 21st century—alas, not howlers because the ideas from a century ago were so stupid and ignorant, but because they’re generally good ideas that have been abandoned in favor of the stupid and ignorant system of today.

     I’ll address the others next time. Until then, consider that the American higher education system was the envy of the world in the 20th century…are we sure that getting rid of these simple rules and replacing them with massive bureaucratic requirements is such a good idea?

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Following the Money in for-Profit Education


 

By Professor Doom

 

     For the most part, I’ve been referencing public institutions in my discussions, because those are the ones I’m most intimately familiar with. One might think such institutions have an advantage here—public institutions aren’t just trying to make a buck, so perhaps they’re in it to provide an education, and it’s just an illusion that administration seems to be plundering all the student loan loot. Do private institutions do any better?

     America is still mostly a capitalist country, and with the huge demand by students, and the huge money offered by government sitting on the table, it’s only natural that new private institutions would form, and established private institutions would grow, to soak up all that money. It’s reasonable to suspect that these institutions, without burdensome government regulation, would form and grow more quickly than public institutions. Indeed, they have done so, with enrollment at for-profit institutions more than quadrupling over the last decade…that’s some serious growth1. Much like with the public institutions the rules are the same: students take out loans, guaranteed by the government against the slight chance that the student will get an education that can be monetized well enough to pay the inflated tuition costs, and the institution gets that money regardless of student outcome.

     Private institutions naturally aren’t funded directly with government funds, and thus the vast bulk of their revenue, those institutions that focus on teaching, must come from tuition money (no chance of floating a public bond to construct a new campus!). In reading the literature, it’s interesting how often for-profit institutions are criticized for getting the bulk of their income from student loan money…even as every public institution constantly grubs to get this same money. The only difference is private institutions have no public till to loot in addition to the student loan money; they’re forced to get by just on what students are able to “pay.”

     Past this point, there’s a sharp division between “private, non-profit” and “private, for profit” institutions. Private, non-profit institutions have significantly higher graduation rates and spending on instruction over public institutions. Surprisingly for those that believe the most in capitalism, the for-profit institutions are generally worse than non-profit, with about half the graduation rate and 2/3rds the relative spending on instruction2.

 

(phone rings, I pick up)

Phone: “…”

Me: “Hello?”

(A few seconds while a computer transfers me to a salesman, after determining a human being answered the phone.)

Phone: “Hello, this is Raul. This is a recorded line. I see that you are interested in higher education. Let me recommend a college to you…”

--Upon making it known that I wished to enroll in a graduate degree program, I received one or two calls like this every day for weeks.

 

     The for-profit institutions are criticized for low graduation rates, but this is backwards thinking. These institutions even more aggressively target anyone who can apply for a student loan, and these are often not the best students, probably not the ones most likely to graduate from a program.  Around 30% of operating costs of private institutions goes towards marketing to get new students, far above other types of institutions. Instead of being praised for not giving away degrees to everyone, the low graduation rates are taken as evidence of inferiority. In light of the obvious difficulty in actually getting a degree from a for-profit institution, shouldn’t such degrees be held in higher regard? Employers certainly think not, but one wonders if these for-profit institutions had 100% graduation, if they would be criticized for that, also, or would other institutions be pressured to increase their graduation rate to match? I suspect the latter. As a reminder, these institutions are just as legitimately accredited as public institutions.

 

…An investigator posing as a student in a class on learning strategies consistently submitted inadequate work, such as photos of celebrities and political figures for a written exam that required detailed answers. The student, however, received a passing grade of C- in the class…In one case an instructor appeared to show a student how to cheat on a multiple-choice quiz, noting that the same test, with the same answers, could be retaken. “It’s not hard to get a 100 percent on the second try,” the instructor said, “just jot down the correct answers and take the quiz again.”



--some findings of a GAO secret investigation of accredited, for-profit, colleges. It’s a shame the Federal government doesn’t take such an interest in what’s going on at public institutions3. How is there a class on “learning strategies”, anyway? Passing grades for courses where the student does basically nothing and a multiple choice quiz that you can just keep retaking until you get it right? I’m shocked, shocked that such things happen at for-profit institutions. Such would never happen at a public institu…oh, wait, nevermind, I’ve seen the same in public, non-profit institutions as well.



     With much less spending on instruction, for-profits clearly don’t spend their money on faculty, and are motivated to keep other expenses low as well. They’ve determined that the big money is simply in grabbing students in the first place, and so their tuition money goes into recruitment.

     With less of a profit motive, the private non-profits are not nearly as eager to sweep up all possible students, and often have restrictions on admission to go with their higher tuition, probably why they have better graduation. Overall, faculty growth has been slightly higher than administrative growth at private non-profit institutions4.

     Despite the growth in the student base, institutions of all sorts seem to constantly face budget issues, or at least to claim to have such issues. Curiously, administrators feel that the most obvious response to budget issues is to increase the teaching loads5—despite the relatively stable student to faculty ratios that were sufficient years ago, before the administrative bloat (caught in their own web with that!). Ideas such as not having such a heavy reliance on support staff, reducing the number of administrators, and/or bringing administrative pay in line with administrative responsibility are not on the table. Go figure, again.

 

“George Warshington was the furst presdent of the United States. He wun the revolutionary war against British and disgnied the flag…”

--Sample from an alleged student paper when I interviewed for a position with University of Phoenix. I and the other applicants were encouraged not to fail this level of work. Failing a student requires faculty to fill out a form justifying the failure, rather subtle pressure not to fail students.

 

     I’ve never taught at a for-profit institution, so I have no direct observations of my own to add here beyond my experience above. While one can cast scorn on for-profit private institutions for their low graduation rates, it’s actually illustrative of the difference between these institutions and the public institutions. In for-profit, it’s all about the check. With no government bureaucracy to answer to, for-profit institutions don’t need to try to inflate their graduation rates to look good…they just need to gather and keep those students, with graduation actually counter-productive to that goal. On the other hand, low graduation rates are a slur against public institutions, and thus administration is motivated to increase it.

     Either way, education is not a high priority.

     The worse graduation and instructional spending results at for-profit institutions might lead one to conclude that for-profit institutions should be avoided, and that might be the case, but this conclusion is tangential to education. Nevertheless, it’s clear for-profit institutions are a bit of a land mine for the student when it comes to getting an education, at least if an education is all about getting a degree. Considering that degrees from many for-profit institutions are held in such low regard, it seems going there is a lose-lose proposition. These institutions are justified in spending so much money in marketing, as it must be challenging finding students foolish or desperate enough to go to such places.

 

Me: “Ok, suppose we know the chance of tossing a single head on one coin toss is 0.5. What would be the chance of getting a single head on 10 coin tosses?”

Student, with confidence: “The chance would be 5!”

Me: “5, you say. Are you sure the probability will be 5?

Student: “Yes, it is.”

Me: “How do you get that number?”

Student: “You just multiply the chance by 10.”

--exchange in an Open University statistics course at top tier school I taught at.

 

    

     When I taught at a top school (a non-profit), I presented courses both for the “usual” students (the ones with admission requirements) during the day and for “Open University” students (the ones for anyone that can get a check)—the latter are generally night classes, filled with people willing to pay to get a piece of “good school” reputation on their transcript. According to the catalogue, I was teaching the same course to both, although my open university course had less content and far less challenging material (and more student complaints, despite that). While to the school’s credit, I wasn’t pressured to pass students, I still had little choice but to simplify the course, as the students were so inadequately prepared for the “second year statistics” course I gave during the day that had I not reduced content, I would have lost almost the entire class.

    The aggressive recruiting policies at for-profit institutions lead to lower graduation rates, and those institutions have very little prestige. Public and non-profit institutions should probably be grateful to for-profit institutions for keeping their graduation rates down. It may do little for their prestige, but it does preserve the value of the degrees they, and other types of institutions, give.

      But what of the degrees billowing out of other types of institutions? When a non-profit plays the “Open University” game with their prestige, they’re literally cashing in the prestige for more tuition revenue, and it’s hardly any better at public institutions.

 

“Our goal is to graduate more students than ever before!”

--Administrator at commencement address I attended, discussing plans for improved education in future years.

 

     The huge influx of students into colleges, paid for by government backed loans, might very well lead to more people with college degrees. It certainly leads to more people in debt and more money for administrators. Unfortunately, these degrees are cheapened and almost meaningless…even as the loans increase year after year from the rising tuition costs.

     It’s strange how institutions can assert the value of a degree as justification for charging so much for it, even as they expand the number of degree programs to the point that it devalues the degrees and even the institution. Should there be loans for programs offering four year degrees in Dance? Women’s Studies? Golf Management? Queer Musicology? I could list more questionable academic degrees, but it’s clear these sorts of programs are more about padding the graduation numbers than advanced study. Do none of the bright and very educated people that run our institutions see a problem with this? Money poured into such “fields” is money that’s being taken away from actual education and learning, the education other people are also being loaned money to receive. It’s often described as some sort of national priority to have more college graduates, but it seems doubtful that America will be improved if we issue 300,000,000 degrees in Queer Musicology (for those that are curious, this is a degree investigating the musical preferences of practicing homosexuals…I can’t make this stuff up).

     To summarize, we have non-profit schools giving openly bogus degrees in great quantity, because administrators only want graduates, and education is not an issue. For-profit schools don’t hand out degrees, because they only want the money, and education is not an issue. Neither let educators anywhere near the decision making process. Would that make a difference?

Think about it.

 

 

 

1)      Smith, Charles. “For-Profit Education: Milking Students and the Taxpayers for Corporate Profits.” Truthout. May 2012.

2)      Ibid

3)      Fain, Paul. “GAO Takes Another Crack.” Inside Higher Ed. November 23, 2011.


5)      ACT.   “The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2010.” 

 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

More Following of the money in Higher Education


More Following the Money in Higher Education

By Professor Doom

 

 

Me: “The two new trailers in the back are filthy, and haven’t been cleaned even once this semester.”

Administrator: “The janitor’s contract doesn’t cover those two rooms. Don’t worry, we’re hiring another janitor soon.”

--the trash in that room was extreme to the point that even the students complained.

 

     Last time around, I documented how the massive influx in the student base didn’t lead to an increase in faculty, but did lead to a vast increase in very high paid administration. This is no surprise, since administration gets more power by hiring administrators than faculty, and to a considerable extent sets its own well as faculty salary.

     Administrators also hire support staff (janitor, secretary, and the like). Like adjuncts, these too are cheap, with no constraints against hiring them in large numbers. In 1975, the ratio was 50 students for each support staff member. By 2005, the ratio was 21 students per staffer, a huge increase1 relative to the increase in size of the student base, comparable to some official faculty to student ratios.   While decades ago there were much more faculty than administrators and staff, now the faculty are outnumbered.

     Where’s the economy of scale in all this? Maybe it’s wrong to think a dean can service twenty faculty nearly as easily as ten. But if one janitor can clean ten rooms, shouldn’t it only take two janitors to clean twenty rooms? To put this in perspective, these numbers, or more accurately administrators, are saying “Yes, it used to take one janitor to clean everything, but now that we’ve doubled in size it takes five janitors to clean up.”

     Tuition rises and rises, and it takes no effort to see that the money isn’t being spent on education. The incredible bloat in support staff is sometimes justified by saying how necessary an on-campus clinic, job advisors, stress counselors, and such are. This may be, but one staffer very much absent on campuses is a financial advisor. A financial advisor would doubtless tell students that taking on massive debt for degrees leading to insufficiently paying jobs (and that’s most degrees, considering the debt involved) would cut into revenue. While it would be acting with integrity to hire such a critically helpful person, administrators would never do such a thing. Obviously.

 

“Please make allowances for students not showing up or being late on the first day. We don’t have the parking to accommodate all the new students.”

--administrative notice. Much like shopping malls, institutions of higher education see no need to have parking sufficient for peak hours. Again just like malls, institutions of higher education charge exorbitant fees for parking, even if no space is available. Also like malls, institutions charge their customers tens of thousands of dollars a year go to there. Oh wait, it’s not like that at all. So why is there no parking for customers that pay for the privilege and pay so much more than a mall shopper?

 

     The weird counter-intuitive thinking of administrators is rather disturbing, especially since administration has no difficulty inflicting the usual rules of economy of scale on faculty when it comes to dealing with a great increase in the number of students. Quite often when my institutions had an influx of students, my rooms would be filled to overflowing, sometimes with more students registered than desks in the room. Administration gives me an “attaboy” to assist with the extra load...then hires more support to handle the extra paperwork from the students, and then gets a pay raise for ruling over a larger institution. My “attaboy” of course doesn’t mean anything for my paycheck.

 

Me, in E-mail:

 

To: Administrator1

Hi. I’m trying to figure out when a meeting with faculty took place last June. Was it June 4, or June 11?

 

Response:

From: Administrator1

CC: Administrator2

I have that information, but cannot tell you without permission from Administrator2.

 

Response from Administrator2, a day later:

From Administrator2

CC: Administrator1, Administrator3

Why do you want to know that information?

 

--It is really is amazing how many of these people are around, and how tight they can be with information. I did get the question answered, eventually, although I probably should not have wasted time going through three administrators when I could have just tracked down a faculty member on the committee.

 

     Key to advancement as an administrator is to have and hire people under you, so it’s no real surprise that the expansion in support staff growth is so large—an administrator’s goal is always to advance, after all. Support staff is much easier to find and hire, for much lower pay, just as it is with adjuncts. For a teaching faculty member, when the student base doubles, the work of the faculty member doubles (but not his pay). For administrators, when the student base doubles, the work increases a little in theory, but this is offset by higher pay (larger institutions command higher pay) and the ability to hire more support staff to help with the load, to the point that such hires are out of scale with the increase in workload. The end result? As the student base increases, administrative work gets easier, with more pay. Could this be where much of the tuition money goes? Could this be why the goal of every institution seems only to grow, grow at any cost, grow?

     The numbers above are over a thirty or more year period, but there’s evidence that the rate of administrative bloat is increasing. Between 1993 and 2007 at the leading universities in the country, the number of administrators per 100 students grew by 39%, with inflation adjusted spending going up by 61% during the same period2—inflation adjusted! Higher educational institutions have more administrators, and have more money going to each administrator as well, a trend that indeed seems to be accelerating.

     Certainly, some of the new money coming in can go to new computers, new buildings, new laboratory equipment, and the like, but it’s clear that the bulk of the money is not being spent on education, instead it’s being spent on administrative and support costs. And yet, the mission statement of no institution says anything about supporting massive administrative bloat. If faculty, instead of administrator types, were in control of accreditation, they might well have issued warnings to institutions for going so far off their mission. Well functioning institutions can lose accreditation if they do not support administrative bloat.

      One institution I worked at consistently lost classrooms to administrative and support offices over every semester, even as our student base more than doubled. At the time I left, about half of floor space at my institution was devoted to administrative and support staff offices (I shared my office/classroom with five other full time faculty, while administrators get far more private offices), as opposed to classrooms and laboratories, which is what one might guess would be most everything at a teaching institution. This amount of devotion to administration and support was similar at other institutions I’ve worked at, and I suspect it’s the same elsewhere.

     Students are seldom told this when it’s time for yet another tuition hike, instead being told how the money is important to provide them with a “quality education.” Of course, students want a quality education, and are willing to pay for it, especially with government (or someone else’s) money…too bad it just goes to administrative support.

     It’s also worthwhile to take a look at private, for-profit institutions, to see how they’ve handled their federal loan loot. Next time.

    


 

1)      Ginsberg, Benjamin. “Administrators Ate My Tuition.” Washington Monthly. September/October 2011.

 

2)      Green, Jay P.”Administrative Bloat at American Universities: The Real Reason for High Costs in Higher Education”.

 

 

 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Following the money in higher education


Following the Money in Higher Education

By Professor Doom

 

     Congratulation to our two new vice chancellors!

--announcement at a institution that failed to make payroll a few months earlier, not that such would prevent filling  two more $100,000 a year positions, as well as have two other administrators retire with golden parachutes.

     Last time around, I looked at the money going to the educators in higher education, in an attempt to explain where all the money from increased tuition and increased student base might be going. Alas, the money can’t be going there, since faculty pay has barely moved in the last decade, and the rise of minimally paid adjuncts has further lowered the costs of hiring educators.

     The gushing money clearly isn’t going to the faculty, the institutional servants that actually do the teaching work, so it must be time to look at administrative pay. Presidential salaries top out at $1.8 million a year, not counting often amazing perks like limos, free houses, travel budgets, and chefs. The top is not a fair place to look, any more than it is for faculty. A simple look at median salaries of administrators shows that even a dean, among lowest of rungs for an administrator, commonly makes more than twice as much as permanent faculty. It’s more like six times as much when you consider the more representative “faculty” pay that adjuncts receive. The median for many types of dean is over $100,000, and even assistant deans regularly make over $100,0001—even a “Dean of Home Economics” (wish I were making up that title..and since when did balancing checkbooks and baking cookies become “higher education”?) makes $150,000!; virtually no administrator gets paid as minimally as a faculty member. Assistant dean…it’s curious that adjuncts get so little while even assistant administrators get so much. There’s no such thing as an “adjunct administrator,” although there should be. As you move up the administrative ladder, pay skyrockets, with medians commonly above $200,000 for a wide range of administrative positions—these are medians, so top tier pay of above $1,000,000 a year (and that’s not necessarily chief officers), while not as rare as it should be, doesn’t much affect this number.

     One might justify high administrative pay due to the requirements these positions have for advanced degrees. Unfortunately, this argument fails on three levels. Faculty positions also require advanced degrees, and yet don’t get that kind of pay. Additionally, faculty actually need those degrees to demonstrate they know what they’re doing, whereas administrative degrees have no real application to the job, as I showed in detail earlier. Finally, those faculty degrees are desired by the students as they prefer to be trained by people that know what they’re doing.  On the other hand, the students, the customers of the institution, have no interest whatsoever in whatever kinds of degrees possessed by the person helping them to fill out a few forms and hand them a check.

     Now, perhaps these jobs are critically important to education and research (these being, supposedly, what colleges are for), and if there were only a few such administrators with vast responsibilities, these extraordinary sums for low level management positions might be reasonable. Maybe.

     With administrators in control of salary levels, even if the student population doesn’t rise, administrators still manage to funnel extra money to themselves. For example, administrative spending in Michigan went up 30% in from 2005-20102. This is awesome, considering enrollments and even budgets were flat in Michigan for this period. This is one of the few places where enrollment has been flat for the last few years, but the state population dropped from the peak state population in 2004—a greater percentage of the population is going to school, but there’s less population, evening it out. In any event, the same amount of money going into the system, but more of it going to the managers.

    

 

Number of full time faculty: 43

Number of administration: 44

Number of students: 2400.

--numbers from a nearby institution, recently. This doesn’t count administrators above the institution, who are nevertheless overseeing it. If we switched the pay between faculty and the rest, the total expenses would be the same, and the institution would be run exactly as well as before. The education would be the same, too. The only difference is the educators at the educational institution would be getting the money instead of the administrators. Would that be a bad thing?

 

     Between inflation, differing tuition costs, and varying state economies, the significance and size of administrative pay can be a little deceptive, so perhaps it’s better to look at ratios, which give a better understanding of how much more is proportionally going towards administrators as opposed to the educators at the institution.

     Before looking at administration, we again first consider faculty. Faculty to student ratio has been roughly flat for decades, although I have to concede this ratio is suspect. Since this ratio is considered part of what makes an institution good (a better institution supposedly should have a lower ratio), it is heavily manipulated to make it look much lower than what it is as far as the students would be concerned. This manipulation is done in a variety of ways, from the simple (a librarian might count as faculty, lowering the ratio even if the librarian never steps foot in a classroom) to the not very subtle (all graduate students, whether they’re teaching or not, might be forced to spend time in a “study room” where they could theoretically help undergraduates, and are thus counted as faculty for this ratio), to the blatantly crass (hiring each adjunct to teach exactly one course, even more viable now with Obamacare), with too many other tricks to list here.

     That said, the official statistics say it is basically flat, even though faculty hiring hasn’t jumped up much and student population has greatly increased. Go figure...yet another obvious question about higher education that never gets asked. The ratio varies from school to school, of course, and nationwide it was in the area of 14 students to 1 faculty in 20073, essentially unchanged for decades. My direct observations from my teaching and when I was in undergraduate school would put that ratio somewhat higher, and I suspect the vast majority of students in college would also say it is higher, as well. Student to faculty ratio is not the same thing as average classroom size, a statistic that is similarly misleading and manipulated.

     On the other hand, administrative and support staff ratios aren’t manipulated, or at least not as much, because there’s no real benefit to doing so—it’s not considered a measure of what makes a school good, although perhaps it should be. The huge administrative pay would be far more tolerable if administrators were a rare breed. Let’s take a look and see if perhaps administrators are getting such pay because there are less of them, taking on more responsibilities:

     Administrator to student ratio in 1975 was 84 students to 1 administrator…you basically needed one administrator for every four classes of that era filled with students. One might think it would be higher, considering  how little of what the typical administrator does relates to students. The ratio in 2005 was even lower: 68 students per administrator. So now it’s more like there’s an administrator per every two classes of this era. To put those in easier to visualize terms, a college with 5,000 students in 1975 had 60 administrators. In 2005, that same college, assuming it only had 5,000 students, would have 74 administrators4. Same students, same material, same institution, larger classes….14 more administrators getting paid $100,000 or more a year, effectively tacking at least an extra $280 a year in tuition per student just to break even (more like $500 per student when you consider administrative benefit programs that the institution also pays for), assuming they’re only getting minimal administrative pay. Note that the increase in tuition is just for the additional administrators that weren’t necessary years ago; tuition can easily not even cover administrative pay at smaller public institutions. Have college students truly become that much more unruly, or is it the faculty? It appears there are more administrators, taking on fewer responsibilities…not exactly reasons for high pay, even with the basically bogus advanced administrative degree.

     Administrators hire faculty. They do so when need be, and aren’t that reluctant—having many faculty under you is a way to advance as an administrator. It’s easier and cheaper to hire adjuncts, and so this option is taken far more often—why hire one faculty when you can hire six adjuncts for the same amount of money, getting more administrative clout and a lower student to faculty ratio too? Administrators also hire other administrators, a good idea when it comes time to lighten the administrative work load, although certainly expensive. Both the hiring of adjuncts and the hiring of extra administrators are represented in the above numbers, but there’s one more category of institutional employee to be considered: support.

    Next time around, we’ll look at support, the numbers there are even more surprising.

 

 

 

 

1)      http://www.higheredjobs.com/salary/salaryDisplay.cfm?SurveyID=1; it’s fun to visit this site every year to see how amazing the pay raises are.

2)      Jesse, David. “Database: Compare salary increases for administrators at 15 state universities.”

3)      Mark Mongomery’s posting at http://greatcollegeadvice.com/student-to-faculty-ratios-what-do-these-statistics-mean-part-i/ discusses, from an administrator’s point of view, how these ratios are manipulated.

4)      Ginsberg, Benjamin. “Administrators Ate My Tuition.” Washington Monthly. September/October 2011.