Friday, February 6, 2015

Community College as Haven for Liberal Arts?

By Professor Doom

     It’s amazing how the little the general public, and even those in higher education, know about what’s going on in community college. Even higher education-specialized sites just don’t seem to understand the reality of the immense fraud of a typical community college. A recent article at Inside Higher Education really highlights the ignorance, so let me add some important information that everyone, not just education wonks, should know. 

“From 1987 to 2013, the average annual growth rate for liberal arts or liberal studies degrees at community colleges was 4.3 percent…”

     This is absolutely true, but let’s put a dose of reality in here. First, at least 25%, probably quite a bit more, of community college students are fraudsters just raking in Pell Grant loot, with the assistance of “strangely” incompetent administration. Considering that most of the Pell Grant money goes to for-profit institutions (i.e., obvious scammers, for the most part), this is not the sort of “growth” anyone should brag about. University of Phoenix is the largest recipient, closing in on a billion a year (it’s nearly the same amount of money that they pay to Google for advertising—your taxpayer funding for education is just going to advertising!).

     A bit more reality while we’re here. University of Phoenix, the industry leader, has around a 9% graduation rate. Most community colleges would be thrilled to have such success, and generally run around a 5% or less graduation rate.

     So, yeah, there’s plenty of growth…but it’s just straight up looting, with no real benefits. Cram the students into the school, fleece them of the loot, then 95% get ejected 3 to 5 years later, without even a questionable community college degree to show for it. That’s the reality of this “growth.”
      Another quote from the article needs a dose of reality:

“Those were years when many community colleges reported increased enrollments from students planning to transfer later to four-year institutions.”

      Lots of students say they’re planning to transfer to four-year institutions. But, so what? The students MUST say this, in order to qualify for even larger student loans. Put yourself in the average clueless just-out-of-high-school kids shoes: the recruiter tells you “check this box saying you’re seeking a degree so you can get an extra $10,000 a year. Or don’t check this box, and get nothing.” So, yeah, students are going to check that box saying they intend to transfer.

     The reality, of course, is that most of the credit hours at community college are bogus, and 80% of community college students are victims, with much of their credits not even transferring, making their community college experience a waste of time…at least if you believe the student’s good intentions about planning to transfer. If community colleges were legitimate, they wouldn’t offer so many bogus courses that don’t transfer; both students and community colleges are complicit here…although the primary burden is on the “adult” college.

      One line in the article at least gives a hint of the truth:

“…the programs at community colleges are largely ignored by those outside the two-year-college sector…”

     This is correct: these 2 year liberal arts programs are largely ignored outside of community college. Of course, the article doesn’t address why the programs are ignored…but they are ignored for good reasons. The biggest reason, of course, is what goes on at community college isn’t college. A 2nd year community college course is roughly equivalent to 10th grade high school.

     So, yeah, of course this stuff is being ignored: the people that write actual checks realize community colleges are now being primarily being set up as tax-sucking scams, not as educational institutions. It’s perfectly rational to look at a student with a high school diploma, and view that student as no different than someone with a high school diploma and community college. Community college is just a pure waste for most students.

      Another line in the article is certainly true, but fails to discuss how reality fits into the picture:
As a share of all associate degrees, those with a significant humanities component rose from 25.8 percent in 1987 to 38.9 percent in 2013. During the same time period, the share of degrees classified here as awarded in professional fields fell from 57.5 percent to 49.2 percent.

     I totally accept that liberal arts degrees are growing at community colleges, while professional degrees are dropping. But, let’s talk about the reality of WHY this is the case.

     First, a community college administrator wants to provide the cheapest education possible. Hiring a computer science teacher is expensive—those guys can make money with their real skills, in the real world. Even if you can hire one, filling a room with computers so the students can learn is also expensive. Similarly, if you want hire a someone with professional laboratory skills, and build a student lab, you again will have to spend lots of money…and the same is true for many other professional programs (keep in mind, the reason those professions make money is BECAUSE it’s hard to find and train people to can do them).

      On the other hand, suppose you want to hire a Women’s Studies teacher. Or an Urban Studies teacher. Or a Childhood Education teacher. Or an African-American Studies teacher, or quite a few other of the “new” humanities liberal arts subjects that have sprung up these last few years. Well, gee, those guys don’t exactly have industry knocking at their door, so you can hire them easily enough. And, say, what do you need for the classroom? Something to allow them to give their PowerPoint (bogus) lectures, and something to grade their Scantron tests, which they’ll need to use because classes might have hundreds of students…and large classes mean more profits (also, for example, there’s absolutely no way to run a laboratory classroom with hundreds of students, simultaneously; like every other refined skill, it just doesn’t mass produce well).

     As an added bonus, courses in these liberal arts subjects are notoriously content-free, which means students pass them—better retention and growth, which are the only things administrators care about.

      So, yeah, the article is correct that are lots of liberal arts classes and degrees coming out of community college…but if you scratch beneath the surface, you’ll understand why, as the article says, this “college work” is largely ignored.