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.


  1. It's interesting to learn how the community college system works in the United States.

    Here in Canada, we have community colleges too. Most of them offer two-year programmes of study, but there are quite a few that offer three-year programmes, and an increasing number are actually offering BA degrees as well.

    Most students who attend community college do so because they don't have the marks (i.e. grades) to get into university or the intellectual capacity to handle university-level courses. Or they want to get into the trades or some other vocational field where some sort of higher learning after high school is required as a pre-requisite for entry into their chosen field.

    Virtually all of the community colleges in Canada offer very practical courses (i.e. nursing, chemical engineering technology, etc.) that generally translate into employment after graduation.

    The softer, basket-weaving type of courses are also offered, but usually as night courses to adults already in the work force who want to learn new skills. The same holds true of the short certificate courses that act as 'bolt-ons' to a working adult's existing professional qualifications.

    The colleges in Canada are funded by provincial governments, which also have a considerable degree of oversight - in effect they are public, not private, institutions that operate on a non-profit basis.

    One of the really interesting things about the educational system in Canada is that university students often find themselves going to community college after graduation in order to pick up the hard, marketable skills they didn't get while in university.

    Depending on the field of study, community college grads can make as much, or more than university grads do.

  2. I taught 12th grade government and economics for years, and when my high school courses were more difficult than the college credit classes being offered, I knew we were in trouble.

  3. @Steve: We do have technical schools here, too (although sometimes the CC and the technical schools merge or are otherwise 2 schools in one). I don't mind super-expensive training for a might be expensive but at least there's an actual product being sold.

    CCs that offer 4 year degrees are starting to pop up...much like the 2 year CCs, they're mostly fraudulent, too.

    Either way, I'm mostly talking about "public" institutions, most of the "technical schools" are private, though.

    @Govteach: That's the thing, if any educator looked at what's going on, or had any power, much of the fraud going on would not be possible. The "real" faculty know who the bogus faculty are, as do the administrators. Unfortunately, the bogus faculty get better retention, and so those are the only faculty administration likes.

  4. "I taught 12th grade government and economics for years, and when my high school courses were more difficult than the college credit classes being offered, I knew we were in trouble."

    I suspect your class is for the better students. In the same manner as high school AP calculus classes are likely to have better students, more rigor, and a faster pace than the weak CC calculus classes that Professor Doom describes. We should compare like with like.

    The root of the problem, in my exceedingly humble opinion, is attempting to educate the ineducable. No matter how hard you try you're not going to succeed in explaining integration by parts or the chain rule to a majority of the student population -- maybe 25% of the population can pick these things up. The tragedy lies in insisting that everyone else pick it up as well as a route to the few (or no) jobs out there. The good thing about countries like Germany is that there exist separate vocational tracks -- they don't try to make everyone "college ready" os assume everyone can with enough effort.

  5. I too, thought that perhaps it was just the "good" high school students that were taking the good high school classes...but it's not. I took the trouble to look carefully at what goes on in many college courses, and to use any verb at all in describing that activity is misleading.

    By this I mean, "nothing" goes on. The instructor talks...the students sit and text...and A grades are issued after 3 months. This is what administrators *want* and reward instructors that give courses in this manner.

    In a similar vein, "attempting to educate the ineducable" isn't quite the issue. The ineducable come due to the myths of college, but they're paid for by the insane student loan scheme. There is in most cases no attempt to educate them, however.

    Now granted, sometimes there is an attempt, and often these efforts are hysterical. On one campus, the students were *forced* to log into computers and study at the computer for 3 hours a week, in a room proctored by faculty (in addition to standard class time). Some students would come, log in...and sit there and stare enragedly at the screen for three hours. Then leave (and, most likely, give the teacher of the course massive negative reviews). They'd fail, but still get their share of the check.

  6. Here in Northern Florida I am barraged with TV ads for "colleges"
    that will get you a "degree for a health care job" in 9 months!

  7. Oh yeah, there are plenty of those. Most (all?) are terrible, and at the root is the "Federal loan money only goes to degree seeking students" law. It would be more fair to call those types of degrees, "certifications", but that law won't spew out tons of sweet checks for certifications, so there we are.