By Professor Doom
In times past, getting into an institution of higher education was no freebie—there were entrance exams, standardized tests to take, possibly even community service the would-be student must perform before, possibly, getting an acceptance letter (for the young reading this, an “acceptance letter” is an antiquated concept, where the university would send the would-be student a letter saying that, yes, he would welcome to come to the university).
Student: “You have to pass me. I’ve failed all my other courses, and if I fail any more I won’t get my scholarship money!”
--it used to be “scholarships” were awarded to good students, or students that performed well. Now “scholarship” has been defined down to merely having a pulse.
A good student could often get grants and scholarships, but now, Federal Pell Grants (up to $5,500) are available to just about anyone that can show some sort of minimal economic need…in these bizarre economic times, that’s all but the 1%.
Now, such money only goes to schools with accreditation, a fairly bogus form of regulation. When a school opens, the first thing it does is hire legitimate faculty to look good for accreditation purposes. Once it gets accredited, such faculty are flushed away (much like I was)—accredited institutions self-report their legitimacy, which is why utterly bogus institutions have little difficulty keeping it no matter how outrageous their violations.
Mainstream news doesn’t touch the incestuous relationship between institutions, accreditation, and the fat loan/grant checks. Occasionally, however, it sort of glances at what’s going on. For example, let’s see what it has to say about the Pell grant scam:
Thousands of Michigan residents have collected Pell Grants without attending classes in the past year…
--from USAToday, the nation’s newspaper, as mainstream as it gets.
While the USAToday article is focused on Michigan, the problem is actually country-wide.
I’ve heard of some campuses where over half the students are bogus, just there for the check, never to return, and I’ve taught a few classes where it was clear 30%, perhaps more, of the names on the roll had no intention of learning anything. While a few students never show up, most are clever enough to at least attend the bare minimum of classes so that they can claim they at least tried to learn (and thus it was the professor’s fault for failing them), so they won’t someday have to give the money back.
For cheaper institutions, to its credit the article points out how these grants are really just a form of income for the more desperate among us:
“…fraud is particularly pronounced at community colleges because of their lower tuition rates. A student can sign up for a full load of classes for as little as $700 per semester at some Michigan community colleges and then pocket the leftovers from the $2,750 maximum grant.”
--that’s an extra $500 a month, just for clicking a box that admin will hand anyone a pen to click. Weird, it seems like an obvious loophole to me. Wonder why admin never noticed a problem here? At least a student can only get away with such robbery once, since our highly paid and numerous administrators are more than competent enough to keep records, right? Read on…
The article focuses merely on the few students that never show up at all, with no mention how it’s quite possible the majority of the students are actually scammers just there for the money. A student that attends but a few weeks of classes, even if he does no assignments or anything isn’t a “scammer” as far as the institutions are concerned. Again, it’s strange how the article doesn’t hint that there’s more to the scam than just not coming to class, because bogus students represent a very significant proportion of students in higher education today…the scam is much bigger than the article implies.
If that were the only thing missing from this news piece, it would just be run-of-the mill weak journalism, but there are so many missed details here I feel the need to fill things in.
The article at least bothers to hint that the scam is probably pretty big:
“No one knows exactly how much these Pell scammers are costing taxpayers because central record-keeping is spotty at best and often out of date.”
--Seriously? You need a central planner to add up the reports of fraud from, what, 20 institutions in a state? Actually, I guessed at 20. The real number for Michigan is 43; it took me 30 seconds to find that information, and this still doesn’t strike me as too many phone calls to make to see just how many billions are being thrown away. Administrators get $100,000 or more a year, minimum, which I guess just isn’t enough money to spend an afternoon making phone calls. Oh wait, that assumes admin actually cares about billions being stolen...
That’s right, folks, the Pell Grant money is being tossed away, and, well, gee, there are just no records, and ain’t nobody got time to make a few dozen phone calls. I’ve been on campuses with a full-time accountant for every 100 students, where faculty expenditures of $40 need to be signed off on by four different administrators on forms filled out in quintuplicate…but the Pell money that pours into administrative pockets? Nah, no record keeping on that. It really seems like a journalist would ask “How is it that you guys with your huge staffs and massive salaries aren’t competent enough to know where the Pell grant money goes?”
Now comes the real incredible (as in “not believable) zinger for how ridiculous this scam is:
Students who take off with the grants can't register at the same college for more classes later, but that doesn't stop them from going to a different college and pulling the same trick.
Think about how positively unbelievable this line is; the reporter was clearly not using any critical thinking here, but let’s go with the flow: we now have “student nomads” wandering from campus to campus, registering for, and grabbing, Pell grants semester after semester. A dedicated “student” can clear $6,000 a year this way, more than that if he thinks to register at two (or more!) campuses a semester.
Admin: “Please make allowances for students that haven’t purchased their books and lab materials yet, as the checks will be delayed for at least two more weeks.”
--I’ve had students need to wait a month to get their books because they won’t dare spend their own money on education. In the interim, they use their very expensive phones to just take pictures of the relevant pages in my book. My classes only need a book, but how can lab courses be legitimate when students literally can do nothing for the first month?
Aren’t these Federal Pell grants associated with a student’s name? Social Security number? Address? Nothing at all? Seriously, no records at all of who is getting these checks? These checks aren’t stamped in a matter of seconds, it takes weeks for them to get printed, distributed to the college, and then after the college takes their cut, the remainder passed to the student. There’s plenty of time there, if administration gave a damn about the legitimacy of these grants, to check the student’s info. If I buy a handgun, my name and records can be checked nationally in far less time than it takes to get these checks to the students. But nobody has time to make the 43 calls so a student can’t repeat the scam in the same state.
Why does the reader think there just happens to be no records here?
Think about it….but next time I’ll discuss the easy answer to shut down this scam in no time at all.