Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Where’s the Media in Higher Education?





By Professor Doom

     I know it sounds a bit vain to ask “why isn’t anyone paying attention to me?”, but it really seems like higher education is ignored by the major media, at least for the most part. Only the UNC scandal gets coverage of late, and it’s already fading fast.

     Should it be? Around 2/3rds of high school graduates go on to college. Is that not a large enough percentage of the population for higher education to merit some constant attention from the media? I’m writing this mid-October, but let’s take a look at the stories major media think are more important than what’s affecting 2/3rds of high school graduates this year, and the over 20,000,000 students enrolled this year.

     I go over to CNN.com, and I see they have front page articles on baseball news regularly. Does anything like 20,000,000 citizens even care about baseball anymore? I find it hard to believe, but perhaps I’m just in a part of the country that cares nothing for it.

     Another article talks about Wal-Mart cutting health benefits for 30,000 of its employees. Hey, Wal-Mart is pretty mean, and those people having their meagre pay reduced another $1,000 a year is bad news…but college tuition is going up thousands a year, and that affects millions of students.

     CNN has a whole section devoted to entertainment, with articles on Clooney’s wife taking his name, and on who’s going to host the Oscars. Does 2/3rds of the country really care about such things? Am I really out of touch? Maybe it’s CNN? Why not a section devoted to higher education?

     Wandering over to MSN.com, and I still see nothing on higher education. MSN does have a nice little piece on McDonald’s skipping the National McRib rollout…perhaps that affects more of the country than higher education? In other news, Halle Berry’s child support payments were severely reduced. Also, it turns out ‘real’ clowns are offended about their depiction in American Horror Story. Seriously, are these things of greater import to this country than what’s going on in higher education? Put those three stories together and I still don’t see it by a longshot.

     MSN does have a link to one article relating to higher education: a Yale student might have Ebola. Ok, that’s more of an Ebola story than a higher education story, but I have to scrape the bottom of the barrel here.

      Keep in mind, basically every community college violates Federal law by offering coursework that is below the 9th grade. They were violating the law last year, and years before that. They’re doing it this year, and have already published their course offerings, showing they’re planning on breaking the law next year, too.

    This is an ongoing scandal of huge proportions. Why isn’t this front page news? Why hasn’t some mainstream reporter, somewhere, enrolled in a local community college and taken some courses to show exactly what’s going on there? It’s not like it would cost him any money, since at the very least a Pell grant would pay his tuition.

    For that matter, colleges, especially community colleges, are running Pell grant scams. A ‘student’ can enroll in a college, get a check through a Pell grant, and never come to class. Then the ‘student’ can enroll in a different college, one not even ten miles away or across a state line, and do it again. This scam is very well known, and exists because administrators are highly motivated not to keep records (getting rid of the scammers would cut into growth, after all). After the mainstream reporter enrolls in community college to show how much of the ‘work’ there is below the 9th grade level, he can do it all over again at another community college, and show how the Pell scam works. Pell runner scams are quite common, but why do only education-specific news sites discuss them? It’s a billion dollar fraud that can be trivially stopped any time by putting in background checks that can be completed within a month.

      Student loan debt is over 1.2 trillion dollars, and at least articles on that hit the mainstream news from time to time. Still, it’s an ongoing, growing, problem. Every single day, there should be a mainstream news article asking how the debt got so huge, how so many students got enrolled in bogus courses, got handed bogus degrees, and now are stuck with massive debts with no means to pay them off. Why isn’t some reporter asking a question how this happened? Why isn’t some mainstream news site willing to do the five minutes or so of investigation necessary to understand what happened?

     Most teachers in higher education are minimally paid adjuncts, that have neither benefits nor job security. There are plenty of mainstream articles about minimum wage and why it’s so important to raise it  (not saying I agree, just saying such articles seem pretty common)…but adjunct professors, the most common position for a teacher of college coursework, get paid less than minimum wage, why isn’t this front page news, day after day?

     Occasionally there are articles about how college tuition is rising, rising fast, always rising. But why hasn’t University of the People made it to the front page of CNN.com? UoPeople offers fully accredited, jobs-related, degrees for 5% of the cost of a degree at most other institutions…seems like a 95% reduction in tuition would be newsworthy.  Best I could find regarding University of the People is one tech-related piece on CNN—not even presented as an education piece!

     It really seems like the only time mainstream media pays attention to higher education is when it’s sportsball related. I’ll grant the scandals involving violent college players or Penn State are of news merit…but do they really dominate the relevance of other scandals that affect virtually every student in higher education?

    Recently I addressed an article that presented the possibility that the destruction of higher education is part of a big conspiracy. I disagreed, of course, but the silence of mainstream media of the many, ongoing, incredibly newsworthy stories about the widespread corruption in higher education is deafening.

     I don’t want to say there’s a conspiracy here, but can anyone suggest why none of the big mainstream news sites are so unwilling to investigate the obvious issues in higher education? My imagination fails to help me come up with a satisfactory answer.