Saturday, November 30, 2013

Fix Accreditation to Fix Higher Education


By Professor Doom


After months of detailing the thorough corruption of higher education, it’s time to give some easy ideas on how it can all be fixed. Last time I addressed the main reason why there are so many suckers willing to indebt themselves perpetually for a higher education: the myths. The suckers can be much reduced simply by telling the truth about higher education: it’s not a path to riches. Those who become successful after getting an education are generally hard workers, and it is the capacity for hard work, not the slip of paper, that is the real determinant of success.

Still, there is much that is bogus in higher education today, and this must be addressed. The next fix isn’t so easy as “tell the truth,”, but it is still achievable:


Make Accreditation Meaningful


    “[My school] is accredited, and I have my two year degree. Every place I want to go to has a four year degree program. They’ll accept my degree, no problem. After I transfer my two year degree, it will take me at least three more years to get the four year degree, and that’s if I take 16 hours a semester. How does it all transfer, but not add up to only two more years to finish?”

--Common complaint from my students that graduate, and move on to a university. I explain that administrators don’t understand why 4  - 2 should equal 2, especially since it’s more profitable if 4 – 2 = 3 or 4. It’s queer how it can be viewed as acting with integrity to tell students their 2-year degrees are fully transferrable when administration knows students will only get about half credit if they’re lucky.


     So much of the accreditation process has so little do with education that it’s puzzling that anyone could believe being accredited legitimizes the institution. Part of this misdirection, no doubt, is that the same college administrators that have failed higher education are generally the same people who influence what comprises accreditation today. Having the watchers also be the watched is a recipe for corruption, and this alone makes it no surprise that accreditation as it stands now is meaningless at best and a complete fraud at worst.

     The entire concept of accreditation began well over a century ago with educators at various institutions getting together to help each other understand how best to run an educational institution and to standardize, at least a little, what it meant to be such an institution. Accreditation was never intended to have the responsibility for the disposition of hundreds of billions of dollars of loan money; it was a huge mistake of the Federal government to indirectly assign such a massive responsibility to accrediting agencies. While administrators have their influence, many of the requirements for accrediting agencies come from the Department of Education. This is perfectly understandable, as only accredited institutions are eligible to get student loans and other money from the government: it is government money (well, after it has been “forcibly donated” by citizens), the government is entitled to set the terms under which they’ll hand it away. Thus, accrediting agencies should at the minimum do what they’re already doing as a matter of necessity.

     This doesn’t change the fact that accreditation never looks to see if there is much going on that really relates to education. Almost always, accrediting agencies allow the institution to self-report, making accreditation practically, if not completely, alone among all other forms of regulation. This made sense in the distant past when education wasn’t about big money and wasn’t controlled by administrators with no real interest in education, but now that accrediting is responsible for so much more than it was originally intended, it needs to be valid for the purpose of education. There are a few easy ways to make accreditation relevant to education, but I’ll start with the easiest.

     The most blatantly obvious is, of course, to have evaluators, people working as faculty/teachers at accredited institutions, actually take courses at the institution wishing accreditation. I’m quite comfortable taking any undergraduate course in the math curriculum, and I would be stunned if any graduate degree holder in another field would have difficulty in courses that he is qualified to teach (a faculty member who can’t do so probably has a bogus degree, and identifying these people would further help return legitimacy to higher education). The evaluators need not show up every day (students can generally miss weeks), need not submit original work (courses with writing can be time-consuming, and plagiarized papers should probably be used a few times anyway), could even try to cheat, need not even do enough work to pass the course (the better to see if grades are being given honestly), and not all courses need to be evaluated or attended for the entirety of the semester. The point is to at least have the slightest idea what goes on in actual courses at the institution.


Registrar, at a policy change meeting: “Due to a glitch, a number of students in various courses were enrolled in courses accidentally. They didn’t know they were in the course, so never showed up for class or did assignments, and didn’t know what was going on until they received their report card. We need to change the policy to allow students to drop late, for this reason.”

Me: “Of these students that did absolutely nothing, about how many failed?”

Registrar: “2/3rds failed. The rest got A’s, but complained because it cut into their loan disbursements.”

Me: “To be clear, 1/3 of the students that literally did absolutely nothing still got an A for their coursework?”

Registrar: “Yes.”

--No, administration didn’t decide to look into pretty clear evidence that around 1/3 of the coursework on campus was utterly and completely bogus. Of course.


Right now, this doesn’t happen, an instructor can literally give no reading assignments, no writing assignments, no tests, manufacture bogus attendance records, assign all A’s at the end of the semester…and receive kudos from administration for doing such good work. I really wish I weren’t joking, but there’s a reason why the average college grade is A- (the last chart in that link says it all). At the bare minimum, an institution with integrity would look at a class with all A’s, think “well, this material is so easy everyone masters it, so there’s no reason to charge thousands of dollars to teach it.”  That’s not how it works, but it needs to work that way again.


Administration e-mail: “For night instructors, please use your class time wisely, these courses are supposed to meet for 3 contact hours a week.”

--I often taught night classes, meeting once a week from 6 to 8:45. When my class takes a five minute break around 7:30, typically the parking lot has as many cars as I have students, plus my own vehicle…even when many classrooms have a class registered to it for those hours. Since it doesn’t matter if anyone’s learning anything, and giving assignments is counter-productive to job security, I rather see the point of just letting students go early. I had integrity, thought I should adhere to my contract and legitimately try to help my students, and was punished for it repeatedly.


     Having faculty evaluators is important, and puts the burden on the accrediting agency to do its job, as it should be. The regulators at the accrediting agency need to see with their own eyes what is actually going on. There is so much bogus crap on accredited campuses, courses that absolutely are a waste of time and money for students, courses with minimal reading, minimal writing, laughable testing, and dubious lecturing, passing very happy students but accomplishing no real improvement in skills or gains in knowledge, and this is not even addressing “elective” courses that might well be of some value if minimal content. All of these shenanigans are covered up by institutions being allowed to self-report how great they are at what they do, not just in math classes or gender studies classes, but in all subjects.

     Accreditation is broken on many levels, and having educators, not administrators, determine if education is even being attempted is merely the start of it. Of course, this needs to be done carefully, but I’ll address that in more detail next time.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Failing in College?

What to do if you’re failing in college

By Professor Doom

What's below is just an overview. To fail at the end of a semester, a student needs to make mistakes starting not just at the beginning of the semester, but before he signs up for classes.

My book, "What to do if you are failing in College" says many things (like how to find the easy courses) that no guidance counselor will tell you. There's a whole chapter there on things to do if you're failing in college, right now...and lots of information to keep from failing again. Save that won't find that book (or the advice in it) in any university bookstore.. It makes more sense to admin to sell you $20,000 a year tuition than a $25 book that tells you how to get your degree as easily as possible, after all.

Looking to save yourself tens of thousands of dollars, but want to do it for even cheaper than 25 bucks? You can read below for some quick tips:

This is the time of year when students that have blown off the semester realize they're probably going to fail...and it's also the time when parents of such students, tired of getting vague responses to questions of "how's school going?", get answers they don't like much.

So, happy Thanksgiving and all, and here's some advice.

Student: “Hi.”

Me: “Hi. Do I know you?”

Student: “Yeah, I’m in your class.”

Me: “I don’t think I’ve seen you before.”

Student: “I know, I’ve had a real problem with attendance, but I want to know what I can do to pass this class?”

Me: “The final exam is in ten minutes. Have you taken even one of the four tests?”

Students: “No. But can I do something for extra credit? Professor [well known fraud and administrative darling] is giving me credit.”

--I get students like this every year or so.

     Only a few weeks remain in the semester. This is the time of year I get graduate students offering to pay any hourly fee I ask for help with their assignments. It’s also the time of year that students that have blown off the semester realize that they’re likely to fail the course, and start thinking about what they can do to pass. The main reasons students fail is they don’t come to class, so I’ll talk about what to do in that case first.

“I had stuff to do.”

--one student’s excuse for missing classes. The sheer chutzpah of it made me give him a break.

     First off, do you have an excuse?  If you do, it helps to have a good one. Please, don’t do the grandparent dying thing…that works for missing a day, maybe two days. I’m sorry for your loss, but you’re not going to get a break for a whole semester based on that.

Student: “The reason I missed the whole semester was because my brother murdered his wife, my sister in law, in Mississippi, so my whole family had to go to Mississippi for the trial, you know, for support.”

--this is the kind of excuse that has a chance. I gave the poor girl a break, and told her if she could just pass the exam and last test, I’d pass her. It didn’t work out.

     A really good excuse really has to have some reason to explain why you missed a few months of coursework. Even if you do have the excuse, realize this is the modern world: you could have e-mailed at any time to let the professor know what’s up with you, and you need to have an answer for that.


--Stuff-to-do guy took the final, and scored far better than students that had come to class regularly. It would have just been wrong to fail him. To me, a demonstration of skill is far more relevant than sitting at a desk for a few hours.

     Even if you have a great excuse, realize that ultimately you’ll need to demonstrate to the professor that you really have a passing knowledge of the course material. If you haven’t learned anything, then you need a different reason for not failing.

Student: “I have mercury poisoning. Here’s my documentation.”

--In over 20 years of teaching in higher education, I’ve given one “I” grade. This was his excuse, and he did look awful. It didn’t work out.

     If you’ve missed a few months, know that you don’t know enough to justify passing, and can document a serious reason (typically medical, like a serious auto accident putting you into a coma for weeks), you can get an “I” grade, for Incomplete. This will let you have a few more months to learn the material. It’s very rare, and not one time have I observed a student getting an Incomplete and actually passing the course (because typically, students with severe problems like this really have better things to do than college coursework). But this is one way to avoid an F grade…you’ll just most likely get one a few months later, and faculty really hate dealing with Incomplete students.

Student: “Sniffle.”

--about every semester a girl comes at the end and tries to use tears to get a passing grade. I’ve known a few females that can turn it off and on at will, so this generally goes nowhere, and other faculty tell me they’re seldom moved by mere tears. Despite my constant enforced gender training given by pompous buffoons that insist males and females are the same, I’ve never had a male student try this.

     So, you don’t know anything, have crap for an excuse, but still want a break?

Student: “The reason I missed the test two weeks ago is I went out on Saturday night and got hit with a roofie that put me in a coma for almost twelve hours.”

Me: “So you recovered on Sunday?”

Student: “Yeah.”

Me: “The test was on Friday. If you’d told me, you know, a few weeks ago I’d be inclined to give you a few extra days or something, but why did you wait until after the drop date? There’s not much I can do now.”

Student: “So you’re not going to pass me.”

Me: “You missed three weeks before that.”


---she stormed away, and I was thankful.

     You have no legitimate reason for passing, but want to pass, and the faculty won’t help you? Try going to admin. As I’ve discussed before, administrators are generally the biggest academic frauds. At the minimum, they’ll politely listen to your complaint. Bring the syllabus, and try to lawyer how the syllabus was unclear what would happen if you’ve missed a test or three…administrators are very easily confused, and you can often confuse them with words.

     To be fair, many syllabi do not explicitly say what is meant by “missing a test.” If the professor gives any make-up, then “missing a test” means more than not showing up on test day, obviously. Even if you were absent, you can claim you were there, but the test was lost…or that you attended class but the professor just didn’t mark you down. This puts the professor in the impossible position of trying to prove you were not there, or prove you didn’t take the test…rather than try to deal with admin, the professor will usually just buckle, claim to have found the test and give the student an A.

    By the way, I’ve directly observed the previous, so yeah, as corrupt and evil advice as it is, I give it because I’ve seen it work…more often than not (actually, “not” was just one time).

Administration: “I’ve spoken with the student. She was in tears. Please, for the sake of publicity, give this victim of sexual assault an opportunity to make up lost work.”

--roofie girl went to admin. So now I look like a bastard, and I must pass her or make an enemy of admin. She didn’t tell me she was raped, but she did have weeks to just drop the course. I wonder if one can get through med school by claiming to be raped every semester…

     So, if all else fails, go to admin. I’m not saying it’s a sure thing, but depending on the quality of school (the lower the better) and where the admin comes from (for example, admin that has never been faculty, and only has degrees in administration is best).

     Now, if you have integrity, and you’re legitimately in college for an education, seriously consider why you’re getting an F. Honest, some professors are jerks—I’ve never known one to give arbitrary F’s, but I’m sure it can happen. It’s not the end of the world. One professor I know has a transcript littered with F’s, D’s, and C’s, barely getting all his degrees with 2.01 GPAs. He’s great and really knows what he’s doing. The only C I got in my college career was in a mathematics course (the professor was a beautiful lecturer, but his tests were insane)…a single bad grade doesn’t mean much.

     Still, that F could be a message.  If you really come to class every day, do all the work, and actually get an F? Ask yourself if you’re in the right place. Ask yourself if college is the only way you can learn whatever it is, and if you really need to learn it in a college setting. Most college degrees are worthless anyway, and if you’re not going to get college credit, you could just get the books and read on your own time. It makes no sense to pay a fortune in tuition and waste months of your time for no credit at all.

     This is all just my advice, of course, but in decades of teaching, I’ve seen many failing students come near the end of the semester and ask for something. The later you go, the worse it will be; don’t even try to get a break 15 minutes before the final exam, trust me on that. Even some administrators don’t have time for that.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The first of many things to do to fix to higher education

By Professor Doom


Administrator: To address the problem of students failing College Algebra, we now have an Explorations in College Algebra course which can be substituted for the original course. It doesn’t have the material the students have no use for.

Faculty: What differentiates this new course from College Algebra?

Administrator (without shame): It’s algebra without the algebra.

--another year, another administrative plan to improve retention.


For months now, I’ve laid out the extraordinarily thorough corruption of higher education, explaining how it can be that a college degree no longer is a guarantee a person can read, write, or do ‘rithmetic at anything like an educated level. It is time to address each aspect of the corruption, and offer some suggestions that can allow education to return to its status of just a few decades ago. Many of these concepts are interrelated, but will be addressed as sequentially as possible.


Tell the Myths, But Tell the Truth, Too


 “If I get a B, I will die.”

--student complaint, in all seriousness, from early in my career. While this used to be an “every semester”-type complaint, I haven’t heard the like from a college student in at least a decade.


 “You need to pass me. If I fail another course, I might lose my scholarship for being a good student.”

--the most common student complaint at a CC.


     Earlier, I detailed myth after myth after myth after myth of higher education, and if the reader isn’t familiar with these myths, please, click on the links. Without the myths of college and higher education, the corrupted higher education system would not have had nearly as many victims to exploit. There is nothing wrong with a mythology that inspires a people to aspire to higher things, but the myths of college, spread so liberally in primary and secondary school, need to be corrected and clarified, instead of ruthlessly exploited.

     Higher education, particularly liberal arts education, needs to no longer be identified as a source of great wealth. The posters of “college graduates make a million more dollars” need to be ripped down and replaced with “people that work hard to get degrees in engineering, accounting, and some sciences make a million more dollars over a lifetime.” It’s the hard work and acquisition of in-demand technical skills that are responsible for the money, not the degree. Some may argue that such posters may not be much more accurate, but the current situation of students pouring into campus, indebting themselves for tens of thousands of dollars getting degrees in poetry, art, psychology, or “general studies” (yes, there’s a degree in that) and then being puzzled that they are not being showered with money after graduation, while administrators laugh hysterically, needs to stop.

      For the sake of those that believe life choices should be about money, and I’m not making any judgment on that, then high school counselors need to stop instilling awe into students about the financial glories of higher education. The high school graduate who fixes my car makes more money than I do with my high falutin’ degree, as does my plumber, my roofer, and many other workers. Instead of the nebulous “over a lifetime,” students should be told in high school what the facts are regarding annual salaries, should be told that fixing cars, for example, is good and honorable work…and pays better than reading essays written a century or more ago. Someone who can recite a poem in 17th-century French is not, as a matter of fact, a better person than someone who can “only” repair a carburetor. Both skills have their uses, and both should be respected.

     There will always be a certain minority of humanity that pursues various types of knowledge as an end, with money not a particular concern; at least, there always has been in the past. They are unlikely to be dissuaded by a high school counselor’s discussion of facts, and even if they are, they can always go to college after a few years of pursuing a fortune. This is a risk this country should be willing to take, in exchange for not pulling so many people into the college system, and tricking them into wasting years of their lives trying to acquire hideously expensive degrees pursued for the wrong reasons. Without the crowds of students blinded by the dollar signs in their eyes, these few seekers of knowledge as an end will have an easier time reaching their life goals, and those many that are there seeking nonexistent fat checks won’t be cheated and spend the rest of their lives in poverty.

      There are many jobs or fields of knowledge where degrees are necessary. These are the degrees where money is to be made, but this money comes from supply and demand—there are relatively few people that can master the technical skills of aeronautics or medical equipment design. Money thrown at such fields must be done carefully—a massive glut of even engineering degrees can lead to a glut of degree-holding waiters, much like today. It may be a national priority to support these people, but it should be done through targeted scholarship, not blanket provision of loans and “scholarships” for anyone that wants to poke their nose on campus to “study” any topic they wish for years on end in support of vague promises that “you’ll make more money with a degree.”

     Outside of the sciences, it doesn’t actually take degrees to achieve greatness. The great novels of the 20th century, for example, have not been written by Ph.D.s, and only a few doctorate holders have been candidates for sainthood. It’s a big world, liberal arts education is not the only way to succeed in life, and students need to be told as much. Often.

     In short, the myths don’t really need fixing, they just need to be supplemented with a heavy dose of truth. Additionally, higher education needs to do what it takes to make the myths true again, through the fixes relating to the other issues. Doing so will reduce the number of souls willing to sacrifice everything they have for college degrees of questionable value. We’ll discuss those other issues soon.


Thursday, November 21, 2013

The other big lie of community college

By Professor Doom


     Allow me to finish my overview of the community college scam, explaining why these abominations keep springing up like mushrooms.

     In previous essays I’ve shown how the CC’s offer minimal education. My examples of the CCs that don’t offer marketable skills aren’t exceptional, and the explanation is simple. CC’s pay little for faculty (“We’re not a university, so we don’t pay those wages”, or so the excuse goes). People with marketable skills, say, computer skills, can generally make double the salary of a typical CC faculty member. So, CC’s can’t get people with marketable skills. On the other hand, people with skills in Gender Studies, or Sexual Deviancy (yes, that’s a course) are hard pressed to find well-paying jobs, and thus gladly work for the low wages of a CC, which offers great quantities of courses in non-marketable, non-rigorous courses.

    Thus is it that there isn’t a lot of job training going on at a CC either.

    “We bring education to your community!” cries the CC admin, but I’ve shown over 90% of that education is the same as is offered in the high schools. It would be vastly cheaper just to pay the high school teachers to offer some night courses covering the same material they do for the children. Still, there is a tiny amount of actual college material at a CC. Now it’s time for our second lie:

The Second Lie of Community Colleges:

“Community Colleges are cheaper than universities.”

     “We’re cheaper than the university!” screams the CC admin…but I’ve shown that the bulk of students waste years of their lives and thousands of dollars of tuition money learning bogus material for bogus degrees. It’s not cheaper for the students, most of them.  For the few remaining students that get some benefit by playing the game I described earlier, it might be cheaper, but let’s look at the big picture.

     Most of the population of the United States is within an hour drive of a university (heck, I’m within an hour drive of half a dozen), so in terms of geography, there’s generally no need for a CC. Due to quirks of university funding that I’ve only lightly touched on, most universities are massively overbuilt, with many empty rooms, if not open land; I know, I don’t have a study to back that up, but every university I’ve taught at has plenty of unused space, literally whole buildings that could be used for classrooms, either as-is or with a little remodeling. Hold that thought: there’s plenty of room at even fast growing universities.

     When a community college opens up, the student base comes from two sources. The first source is the suckers, the ones that spend years there bouncing from one remedial course to the next, accomplishing nothing but getting older and deeper in debt—that’s most of them. The remainder could just as easily have gone to a university.

     Those “remainder” at the CC are simply taking students away from the university. The admin of the university responds in the obvious way: cut back faculty, many of whom either use marketable skills to get other jobs, or go to the CC, taking the pay cut.

The point: a city with a university, and a city with both university and CC, employ about the same number of faculty, and have the same number of real students getting an education.

“Congratulations to our two new vice-chancellors!”

--in the previous years, a local CC managed to screw up the calendar (so that the semesters were much shorter than what they legally can be), mess up the tuition calculation (a 10% increase turned into a 1% increase…admin just don’t have the skills to tell the difference),  and fail to budget properly causing failure to make payroll by $100k, among other goofy mistakes. The people most responsible got promotions, however. Meanwhile, faculty promotions and pay are locked…budget problems, you see.


     So it’s all a wash, right? Nope. Same number of faculty, same number of real students…but the CC gets a bonus legion of administrators. Even a tiny college, with a campus holding less than 2,000 students, can expect to have (in addition to the minimum 5 member board of trustees): a chancellor, two vice-chancellors, at least one dean, a registrar, a head librarian, assistants to each one of those, half a dozen HR people, half a dozen accountants, a PR department, an executive secretary, an IT department, and more…each making between three and ten times as much as the faculty. For some reason, they don’t get minimal pay like faculty, because “best practices” determines their pay. It’s really weird, the justification admin uses for their high pay is that they are paid highly.

--Administrative pay really is so insane that they’re actually passing laws to cap pay raises for administrators to a “mere” 10% a year.

     There is no real savings to the community with those “cheaper” classes, those few that are actually college courses. The money is just extracted from the community via taxes, to pay for a boatload of administrators that would not even exist but for the community college. It would be vastly cheaper to just use that administrative pay to fund scholarships for the real students to go to the university; the administrative caste as a single small school could support dozens of scholarships via their salary.

     After months of detailing so many problems in higher education, I reckon it’s time I talk about solutions. Most are trivial to implement, but they are deeply unlikely to be implemented all the same.



Monday, November 18, 2013

The Community College Secret


By Professor Doom


“Take your first courses here. We’re much cheaper than the local university.”

--typical promotional line to get students to come to the community college first.

So there’s no real higher education in community college, but that’s not the only false promise made by these faux institutions of faux higher learning. They also promise “cheap” education, or at least cheaper than at the local university. Many are sucked in by such promises, but only a few really come out ahead.

For a small percentage of very focused students, community college does represent a real opportunity. In decades of education, these students are the only ones I’ve seen to come out ahead from community college, and they do so using a strategy that no community college advisor would give them. Allow me to share the secret:

These students first go to the university. Once they’re established there, they enter a real degree program. Then, they find out what courses specifically transfer to the university from a specific community college, and take those courses at the community college.

Seriously, the only people I’ve known to actually “save money” via a community college have gone the route in the previous paragraph. Now let me explain how and why this is the only way to do it.

Universities know full well what’s going on at a typical CC, and thus don’t transfer credit willy-nilly, claims of “accreditation makes it legit” notwithstanding. Typically a student that wants to transfer in, say, a credit for “College Algebra” has to take a placement test at the university—with my own eyes I’ve seen these tests are well past the College Algebra taught at a CC, and I doubt I could have passed them when I was 18. The student will invariably have to take the course again at the university ; if this sounds unfair, well, the university wants that tuition dollar every bit as much as the CC. Additionally, faculty at the university are entitled not to have students from bogus courses  making things difficult in their classes.

So, if it’s just one course, it makes more sense to get the university’s permission first, then take it at the CC. Take the course without permission, and it probably won’t transfer.

“2 year degree + 2 more years = 6 years for a 4 year degree”

---most students think if they get a 2 year degree from a community college, it’ll only take 2 more years at a university to get a 4 year degree. Sadly, university administrators use a different sort of mathematics for that, as the 2 year degree is generally useless.

If it’s a bunch of courses, well, most all institutions have a hard cap on how many hours can transfer (12 hours, four courses, is the most common, and accreditation even mandates that most of the coursework has to be done on the campus awarding the degree). So, a student that takes many courses at the CC, but has no 2-year degree, will likely lose most, if not all, of it when he goes to the institution.


“I find it frustrating that our students can get 2 year degrees, but it still takes them 4 more years to get a 4 year degree when they transfer to [nearby university].”

--CC administrator, trying to change things, 8 years ago. Nothing’s changed. I should note here that no CC warns the students about the very limited transferability of most coursework. I again remind that accredited institutions promise to “act with integrity.”


But what of the student that specifically gets some sort of associate’s degree? Surely he can transfer that to the university? Not really. Again, what matters is the coursework, so it’ll only transfer if the coursework in the associate’s degree directly applies to the degree the student is trying for at the university. Typically, much of it doesn’t, so the hours might transfer, but ultimately, the student will still need to take at least 3 years (and, more likely, more, since the coursework at the CC didn’t prepare the student for university coursework) to get that 4 year degree.

So, once again, the only way for a student to come out ahead by going to CC is to first go to the university and find out what they’ll let him get away with taking at the CC.

Most students don’t know any better, and certainly won’t be warned by any CC administrator or advisor (there was a time when faculty advised students, but that’s not so common anymore, “for some reason”). The student will merrily take his “cheap” courses for a few years, thinking he’s getting a good deal. Only after priceless years of his youth and tens of thousands of dollars of loan money and lost wages are squandered will the student find out how he’s been tricked into wasting his time and money on bogus pseudo-courses that won’t apply to any real degree, or to any job.

Don’t get me wrong, if you want to learn about cupcake decorating or karate or how to speak in public and don’t mind paying a fortune, then community college is a decent enough way to go…but anyone serious about education should be extremely wary of community college.

So, for the students, at least those looking for an education, community college does not represent any savings, only a great opportunity to waste time and money.

Hmm, “money” and “opportunity”…those words have great appeal, especially if “integrity” isn’t part of the picture. It turns out community college is a great opportunity for a certain group of folks to make money, exploiting the opportunity. Long time readers of my humble blog can probably guess, but newcomers are encouraged to read older posts.

Or, think about it. As a hint, realize that community colleges mostly just take students away from the university, which has to let go of faculty…which get hired at the CC. Who else does the CC need to employ, and won’t be taken from the pool of faculty let go at the university?


Friday, November 15, 2013

Continuing to look at the community college scam


By Professor Doom


A couple of posts back around I was searching through the course offerings of a large, well established community college to see if there was any college coursework. Alas, there were many, many, sections of openly remedial courses of no college content, a few high school courses deceptively labeled as college, and several openly bogus courses just to give “cheap and easy” credits to students that don’t know how they’re being cheated into turning over those sweet student loan checks.

Let’s continue to wade through all the crud to see if there’s any higher education going on here.


--With College Algebra so watered down now, it’s all but impossible to address even a very simplified version of calculus. The above is the number of students that, with the opportunity to copy down the definition of the word “derivative” on their formula sheet for the final exam, elected to do so, despite being explicitly told they would need to provide that definition for the exam. It’s also the number of students that elected to simply memorize the definition of the word, and were able to write it down on the final. Performance on the other questions was likewise minimal, but I still had to pass half the class, to lessen somewhat the condemnation from admin. Honest, lowering the standards to this point doesn’t do any good for anyone.


Only after well  over a hundred sections of openly dubious courses do we come to a course that, sort of, is college material, “Calculus for Non-Science Majors”, Math 201. Seven sections, no less. The material in this course is far inferior to the “AP Calculus” taught in the high schools, and a bit lighter than the less demanding (non AP) high school calculus. The numbering makes one think this is a second year course, but in a university setting, this is a “first year math for very weak math students” course, with extra watering down. I remember a friend of mine that took (non AP) calculus in high school, laughing about how stupid this course was when she took it in college. A course that is offered for non-college credit in high school just shouldn’t count as college credit in college.

Then comes 9 statistics courses, but nothing like the statistics courses that used to be offered, or even the 2000 level courses I taught over a decade ago. BRCC makes no illusion about how watered down the material is. Some courses are called “Basic Statistics”, some are called “Elementary Statistics”…I imagine someday there will be courses called “Basic Elementary Statistics.” For the sake of argument, we’ll call these college level since not every high school offers this material, although many advanced students would have access to it in high school.

Finally, there are 8 courses on (real) calculus and differential equations. I could quibble some of these, since some is taught in the AP courses in high school, but that’s hardly fair—the whole point of AP is for college credit, after all. Let’s call all 8 of these college courses. Two of these courses, multivariate calculus and differential equations, require a year of college material (i.e., calculus 1 and calculus 2) before they could be taken. Thus, we finally come to some second year courses, a single section each.

Again to emphasize, amongst all the offerings, there are 2 sections of second year material offered.

So, let’s tally up here.  BRCC teaches 198 sections of math classes. A mere 17 of those courses, many arguably, are beyond the high school level, or not offered in many high schools.  Even more stunning, there are 2 (!) courses out of those 198 that are 2nd year courses. A 2-year college where 99% of the material is first year or lower, even after 10 YEARS?  What does that say about the percent of students that are getting a real education?

A high school where only 1% of the students actually make it to the 12th grade would be shut down immediately as totally ineffective; heck, it would be a national embarrassment!  A community college that performs similarly is quite common, and will be considered successful merely based on its size.

Outside of these 17 courses, all the rest of the material has been paid for already by the community, for their children to learn before they go to the community college. Then those children get to pay again, via student loans. Then they pay again, and again, and again, via interest on those loans…why am I the only one that thinks there’s something unfair about this?

While CUNY could be forgiven for not having “advanced” courses on account of only being a year old, BRCC is a mature school. After 10 years, BRCC has basically done nothing with 99% of their students. More than 90% of what BRCC does is at the remedial, high school or lower, level. How is it a wonder that more than 90% of these students get nothing out of college but debt? BRCC has been offering “higher education” for 10 years, but still is hard pressed to bring even 10% of their students up to the “first year of college” level.

It is a damn lie to claim that community colleges are about higher education. When over 99% of students in a 2 year college are not in second year courses, over 90% aren’t even in college courses after ten freakin’ years, how much progress could they be making? On the other hand, all of those students are spending a great deal of time and considerable (borrowed) money in “higher education.” How did it happen that these schools ended up being 90% fraudulent? Hint: if accreditation had any academics looking at course offerings, it wouldn’t be possible for schools of “higher education” to offer almost all high school material…and nobody is making any claims that high school material is particularly advanced nowadays.

Think about it.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A few student stories....

A recent post where I talk about how insane it is to teach calculus to students that refuse to learn how to add fractions reminded me of a few other stories, which I thought I'd share.

I’m not feeling so bad after the other math teacher said what happened in his calculus class. He told them that they, the students, were going to make up the final exam: each student was to write down 5 problems and answers, and turn them in. He had 9 students, and he told them he would take 15 out of the 45 questions to use on the final. Out of 9 students, zero turned in problems. It’s brutally hard to teach much when so little effort is being put forward.

     I taught three sections of algebra one semester, but for some reason all the problem children were in the Tuesday/Thursday course (which tends to do worse, since the class only meets—coming to class is the bulk of student effort—twice a week, as opposed to the three times of the MWF class). The top student scored an F+ on the final (unlike the many A’s and B’s of the other two classes), to give an idea of the “good” students there. Four students in the problem class showed up over an hour late to take the final exam, a new record.

     The bad students were over-the-top. One student took the trouble to write me a hate letter after failing the third test. “you dont teach to good” was the first statement, and every single line had at least one grammatical error in it. The gist of it was, of course, that her inability to learn was my fault. She really needed to pass the course, and was “dong great” in her other courses. She needed math so that she could eventually become a nurse.

     Since she bothered to hand write a letter, I wrote back. I gave her the chance to prove me wrong, by learning the material from 8 pages in the book, over the course of three weeks. If she could learn 8 pages on her own, that would give me reason to believe she was right, that I can’t teach. I told her if she could answer questions about those 8 pages, I’d pass her in this course she so desperately needed to pass. Three weeks came and went, but she didn’t take me up on the offer: she never bought the book. I actually had several students not bother to get the book even though they get plenty of loan money for it. One complained she wanted her $400 back for the course; at least she won’t have to resell her book (doubtless it would have been in “like new” condition if she had bought it in the first place).

     Thanks to administrative pressure, I took another chapter out of the course material (I’m was barely covering half of what we tell accreditation we glad to be gone from that place). The A students still get A’s, but it doesn’t really seem to help the F students any. I always get the student with the F, F, F, and F on the tests, then turns in a blank sheet of paper for the final, and then hopefully asks if he/she passed…but this semester had at least five such students. I did what I could to not have them complain to the Dean about what a monster I was, because invariably I’m asked to not be such a meanie. An evil part of me wishes some of these students succeed in becoming nurses and take care of the Dean’s children when they need real medical help.

     Most of these “all F” students wanted to know what they could do to pass, hoping for extra credit on the last day of the course. This doesn’t happen in a vacuum, I know at least one teacher here gives about 50% of the grade via extra credit. A few other students just wanted flat out a better grade. “I know my average is  45, but can’t you just round that to a 70 so I get a C?” Yoiks.

     I did have a great highlight in statistics. One student was really annoying with the questions, flurries of them, and always basic stuff that the rest of the class knew and learned weeks earlier. “What’s that x with a bar over it mean again?” “What’s that u looking thing?” “How do you know where the = sign goes?” “What’s the x thing mean again?” “How do you know .02 is lower than .05?” “How can you tell when the numbers are negative?” “Wait, what’s that x thing?”

     Just an endless barrage, and it slowed the class down to a crawl. Finally, another student snapped, and snarled at her:

     “Why don’t you just study?!”

     The class laughed uproariously, and the student chilled out a bit, at least for one class. It was all I could do not to laugh as well. I wish I could catch the oceans of annoyance in the inflection on “study”, it was quite remarkable.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Community College Scam, Part 2

 The Community College Scam, part 2

By Professor Doom


So, last time I looked at a new community college, and saw that it was a joke, with no intention of helping students get an education or a job…any such claim by this community college would be a lie. I assert that this lie applies to most all community colleges, but it’s fair to say that the reason the new community college has no higher education is because they’re currently bringing their (far behind) students up to speed. A new school can hardly be expected to have advanced coursework, I concede.

Let’s demonstrate the lie by looking at a mature institution, say Baton Rouge Community College, BRCC, which has been around a decade and has thousands of students. It is, of course, fully accredited.

Surely, a decade-old 2-year college that’s seriously educating students would offer a great number of 2nd year courses, right? Even if it might take an extra year to bring students up to speed, there still should be plenty of 2nd year offerings after ten years. Let’s check the course offerings—a legitimate educational institution would have lots of definitely college material, and quite a bit of it should be appropriate for a 2nd year student.

I’ve never set foot on the campus, but it’s easy enough to see their course offerings, since they list them online (You can see for yourself the Fall 2013 offerings here, although that might change at some point). I’ll concede I’m only qualified to judge the math courses, so that’s what I’ll make my determination by. My standard will be “if a high school offers it, it’s not college material.” Nobody’s ever made any claims that what’s going on the high schools is particularly advanced, so this is hardly a tough standard.

First, we have 40 sections of their 092 mathematics course, the pre-sub-remedial course I’ve discussed before, covering 3rd to 5th grade material. Yes, 40 sections, and each could hold 30 or more students. I’ve mentioned before that the”0” in “092” makes the course explicitly not college material.  While in general if you know someone taking a course with a 0 in front of it, you take them out of college, immediately (not that administrators will give such honest advice), this particular course, to judge by the description, is roughly 3rd grade material, so a strong “get out, now” applies.

Next we have 37 sections of 093 math, sub-remedial, covering 6th to 8th grade material…again, a student in this math has no business being in college. He’s just going to waste years of his life and get deep into debt taking and retaking the material he didn’t learn in the 6th, 7th, 8th,9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th grade. Anyone who’s serious about learning this level of material should just go to the library and learn it for free.

Next, we have another 33 sections of 094 math, the first remedial course to prepare a student for even pseudo-college material, covering 7th to 9th grade. I can’t make this stuff up, three levels of explicitly remedial math.

Next there are 25 sections of Math 101; this is high school level math offered in the 10th grade, re-packaged as “college” material, as “College Algebra.” With my own eyes, I have seen that the high schools really do cover the same material, with the same depth, as this course, which is, of course, somewhat behind what I took when I was in high school, nigh thirty years ago.

Then comes another 20 sections of college algebra, but with a different number, Math 110; BRCC apparently teaches the algebra in two formats. This latter format has classes start in June and end in September, and thus is listed as a Fall offering. But, we’re still in high school here.

Next are 11 sections of trigonometry; I took this in my senior year in high school, but quite a number of my friends took it in their junior year. The high schools around here still offer it for 11th grade students.

BRCC also offers a single section of precalculus; there’s no listing of what’s in this course, but I imagine it’s basically a refresher course of algebra and trig (since those are the precalculus courses). Twenty years ago, this was the only “remedial” course, intended for students that have been out of school for ten years or more, and just wanted a review. It wasn’t for college credit, then, and there were only a few sections, instead of remedial courses being the bulk of “college” work in community colleges.


It covers a variety of topics, that include problems of growth, size, measurement, handling of qualified data, and optimization using basic concepts form (sic) algebra,…

--from the course description of Math 130.  Even though it has a higher number than algebra (101), it’s clear the material is a watered down version of the course, described with very big words to make it sound more challenging.


Then there are 4 sections of “Introduction to Contemporary Mathematics”—Math 130. The course description makes it clear this is a bogus math course, intended as math credit for students that can’t otherwise get math credit, and are going into degrees where knowledge is irrelevant. A degree in Urban Studies, for example.

There’s a single section of something called “Transitional Mathematics”—Math 131. Again, it’s presented as a bogus course meant for students that need two math credits but have no chance of actually passing a college math course. The course outline makes it clear that it covers the material of college algebra, just at a lighter level. Colleges offer this sort of stuff to make students feel good, but in terms of preparation for more advanced study, or preparation for a professional job, these courses are a massive waste of time and money.


“If a 12 foot ladder is broken into 3 equal parts, how long is each part?”

--final exam material in a “Math for Education Majors” course, with other questions comparable, and no question much more difficult than this. I proctored the test. I’m not joking.


Two more courses, Math 167 and Math 168, are “Math for Education Majors” courses. I’ve written extensively how bogus these types of courses are, and, again, not college material.

Let’s summarize where we are right now. The catalogue features 198 course offerings. 110 of these, a clear majority, are offering 9th grade or lower material. Another 57 are at the high school level. Seven are sham courses that exist simply to fill up the credit hours of students that are never going to make it.

How much room is there for actual college material when 174 of 198 courses are high school level, lower, or bogus courses? Now, don’t get me wrong, there have always been bogus courses in schools, even in major schools. Bogus courses have their place, and there should be a crack or two for slackers to fake their way into a degree, I suppose.

One example of a tolerable bogus course is  “Geology of our National Parks”, AKA “Rocks for Jocks,” an important course for many athletes that were nonetheless forced to take college classes, and this course satisfied the science requirement—a discussion of the immense fraud in collegiate athletic programs is for another day. A fraud course for fraud students seemed fair enough, and it was tough for “real” students to register for this course, which, like the bogus courses above, was only offered a section or two a semester--athletes were given first priority to register for all courses, filling up the seats in this course long before “normal” students could get to it. Folks that graduated from this course had no illusions about what they were doing…and a real student that somehow got in, figured out real quick the nature of the course.

Now, of course, nearly the whole campus is bogus, and there’s simply no way a real accreditation review can’t notice what anyone with access to a computer and the course offerings can see. There’s also no way a student can tell the legitimate from the fake, since so much is fake.  Still, we’ll look at the rest of the courses next time to get another interesting revelation.

Until then, consider all the students being swept into CC programs, with the lie that they’re saving time and money by taking these types of classes. Years later when/if they graduate, they learn that they’ve been duped from start to finish. How is this not fraud?

Think about it.




Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Community College Scam



     Ah, community college, the “great opportunity” for a student to get higher education, right in this own community instead of going off to some expensive university. What community wouldn’t want a college, giving its citizens access to all that great knowledge that, supposedly, is only otherwise available at a university?

In August 2012 The New Community College at CUNY opened with 300 students and a mission to rethink community college education. We and our students are now midway through NCC’s first year, and I’m delighted that the fall-to-spring persistence rate of this first cohort is 92 percent. This is not only beyond our initial expectations, but is also 20 percentage points ahead of most community colleges. While “92” is our new favorite number, we will continue to strive for “100” as our retention goal.

--from an article about a college that opened last year. I point out, once again, that “retention” is the sole measure of success, it’s never high enough for an administrator. He knows 90% of those students will leave college with nothing in three years…but doesn’t care. He’d prefer a mother have her child starve rather than she leave college to care for the child.

    Following closely behind “retention” as the goal of an institution is graduation rate—get those degrees churned out as quickly as possible, no matter how useless they are! In the case of New Community College, they’re going to increase the graduation rate by limiting their degree programs. Requirements to get into this college, of course, are laughable:

”they must be college-ready, meaning that they don’t need more than two remedial courses.”

--and now, a pause for laughter, at least for those gentle readers that find humor in “college ready” being defined as “ need two non-college courses before being ready for college.” I’ve written before how insane these remedial courses are.


Realistically, the kind of students that are years behind don’t all catch up, and the high retention is just a lie—the students stay in college because it’s not really college, just a holding pen for students while their loan money is sucked away. Once the loan money is drained, the poor suckers are turned out into the world, to figure out some way to pay off the debt.

     However, some CUNY faculty remain skeptical of a curriculum whose main goal, they say, is to produce quick diplomas.

--if only faculty could actually make decisions about what goes on in a degree program. Accreditation rules say they do, but administrators control faculty and control accreditation, making such rules meaningless.


 As a public institution, there’s considerable pressure for degrees, so CUNY is focusing on just having a few degree programs, forcing students into programs requiring little effort: business administration, information technology, energy services management, environmental science, health information technology, human services, liberal arts and sciences, and urban studies.  I know, I’m cynical, but I can’t help but suspect the degree of “urban studies” is a bit of a dumping ground for the students that can’t handle the rigor (sic) of those other degree programs.

 Ultimately these community “institutions of higher education” promise some higher education, and that leads to our first big lie of the community college scam:

The First Big Lie of Community College:

There’s higher education in community colleges.


“The core curriculum for the new college barely reflects any…standards,” she says. “We don’t want to mislead students into thinking that when they finish a two-year degree, they are qualified to move on to a senior college, unless they are. I call that fraud. We worry that what’s going to be offered these students, while it may be wonderful in terms of support services, is pretty thin in terms of content.”

--a faculty member commenting on what’s going on at the new community college. It doesn’t matter that faculty say the “education” at a school is fraudulent, since administrators determine that sort of thing.


Now, some would say a community college shouldn’t be about higher education, it’s about servicing the community, but that means jobs. Open up the want ads of your local newspaper, and see with your own eyes how many positions advertised are for Urban Studies degree holders.

So, no, this college at least isn’t in it to help people get jobs. The above comment shows clearly it’s not about education, either.

It’s about the money, the huge flowing gobs of student loan money. Until states start opening up community colleges with the tag line of “we don’t let our students take student loan money,” there’s no reason to believe there’s any other factor involved, and most every community college opened in the last 20 years sure looks like a scam to indebt students and support massive administrative salaries.


Granted, I’m being a bit unfair to CUNY. They’re a year old, and, by their own admission standards, their students could easily need a year before they’re even ready for college. Thus, it’s no surprise that most of the courses offered at CUNY are just remedial courses and the most advanced coursework offered is barely appropriate for a first year college student.

So, next time I’ll take a look at a mature community college, to see if maybe after a few years, education and jobs become priorities.