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.





  1. What would you have a CC do? It's a system-wide failure -- or alternatively, mass education is doomed to fail since most of the population is ineducable. There is political pressure to make "higher education" -- or rather, academic credentials -- accessible (albeit within a capitalist framework that involves debilitating debt). There is the economic pressure an individual institution -- top-heavy with worthless administrators -- faces. There's pressure from anxious and desperate "students" who want to improve their prospects in a dead-end and declining economy, where blue-collar jobs not requiring schooling have largely disappeared (that the credentials they pursue won't improve their lot is another matter).

    If a CC had the curriculum of seventy years ago, it would promptly lost the majority of its customers (er, students). I don't really see a panacea to the spiral of declining standards. School education would need to be improved, the lies of politicians and CC bureaucrats curtailed, and job opportunities for those with no academic bent (probably 80% of the population) established. I see no prospect for this on the horizon.

  2. Well, I'm going to address fixes soon (long overdue, I know), but what would I have a CC do?

    Act with integrity. That is, after all, what accredited institutions are supposed to do. Failing that, shut down, at least the publicly funded ones.

    See, a public institution is supposed to HELP the public...instead, these things entrap citizens of the community into perpetual debt, in exchange for, well, less than a handful of beans.

    Now, I'm not talking all CCs, as there are legitimate ones around. That said, most of the ones opened in the last 20 years are just scamming the local community.

    Political pressure? Irrelevant in the face of integrity, or at least it should be. You acknowledge CCs are top-heavy with worthless admin, so I trust you agree is a CC cut back admin to sane levels (instead of the 1+ admin for each faculty we have today), that would go a long way to making CC's fiscally viable AND honest.

    I certainty can't address the entire economy in a reply, as you are correct there are some serious economic issues right now. But putting a bunch of people in perpetual debt in exchange for worthless slips of paper isn't remotely helping, and is almost certainly making things worse...and that's not what community institutions are supposed to do.

  3. Of course you are spot-on here about the community college "scam," but what's even sadder and more shocking is that 4-year, even accredited universities, are little better. It's sad but there is little such thing as a legitimately "higher education" anymore. It's all about money

  4. The institution I used to teach at was a 2-year technical college, though it ran programs in areas such as business and trade apprenticeships. Much of what I taught wasn't much more advanced than what I took in high school.

    But, before I quit more than a decade ago, a new wrinkle was added. It started offering 3-year "applied" degrees. One reason was because the president at the time was busy competing with the university on the other side of the city. But, if one looked closely, much of what went into those "degrees" wasn't a whole lot different than material that was already taught at the institution.

    It didn't take me long to conclude that those "degrees" were little more than a fancy cash grab using, as a way of luring people into signing up for those programs, the image of increased marketability of those who received them.

  5. I am a community college student in Casper, Wyoming. Wyoming has only one university, in Laramie. I started at this community college because it meant I could save money while living at home. I don't pretend this school doesn't have its share of remedial classes and nondemanding "college" classes, but I try to steer toward more challenging classes and put in time on my own to learn the material to the depth I think I will need to succeed at the university. I am about to graduate with my two year degree and am already enrolled at the University of Wyoming for a bachelor's in geology with a minor in mathematics.
    Moral--just because a student is forced to be at a community college by finances does not mean they are an automatic failure. A student who is bound and determined to learn will learn in spite of low standards and low expectations. I have done it with a combination of self-teaching and seeking out the more challenging classes/faculty. And I have no student loan debt at this point.

  6. Congratulations on navigating the minefield of higher education. For it's worth, your area of the country is noteworthy for it's quality education--your remedial students are the average students most elsewhere in the country (I'm not joking, when one studies remedial education, we have to eliminate certain states because remedial hasn't been redefined there).

  7. Any advice on how to determine the quality of the CC instruction one is receiving?

    In my case, I have a social science bachelor's, developed an interest in statistics late in college/through post-grad employment, and am hoping to re-align/build my technical skill set. This will, then, require I take additional math courses, and the local CCs are considerably cheaper and easier navigate while working full time.

    So, any advice on how to see whether the quality of instruction/depth of material covered would actually be worth the time and cost?

  8. That's a hard question to answer, since quality very much depends on the school, and the instructor.

    For the school, find out "for real" how well the courses transfer to the local university--ask the university, since the cc will lie to you to make a sale. This is especially true if you're planning on getting a degree; a cheaper CC course is only a good deal if the credits transfer, otherwise it's a waste of money.

    For the instructor, check experience (it takes about 5 years to become a good teacher) and credentials (avoid "Math Education Master's" holders at all costs).

    Statistics is an odd subject. A 2000 level course I taught at Tulane was more advanced than a 6000 level course (grad school) taught at another nearby university. Another university had a 2000 level statistics course that was nearly identical to the statistics taught in a local high school (I saw with my own eyes).

    Bottom line, if money is an issue, check transferability first. If it doesn't transfer as the course you need it to be (not "as an elective", but "as the course you need for a degree"), you're wasting time and money.