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.





  1. In the last 30 or so years here in Canada, there's been a proliferation in the number of universities. The catch is that many of them started as junior or community colleges. That came as a result of changes in legislation as to what defined what a university was and, thereby, its eligibility for government funding.

    Many of those colleges were quite popular and the number of students attending them increased rapidly, particularly during hard economic times when people believe they make themselves more marketable through "retraining". (That's worth a whole discussion by itself.)

    In some cases, they re-named themselves as "universities" rather than colleges (one local establishment which started as a community did so several years ago). Others, such as the college I attended as a freshman (because it had a university transfer program in my discipline), became "university" colleges, thereby maintaining the illusion of high standards while still accepting anybody with a pulse.

    Meanwhile, in order to maintain sizeable student populations, the conventional universities had to change their tactics either by dropping standards to the point that they would accept anybody with a pulse and who could also fog a mirror by breathing on it or by offering something different than the other establishments. (Climbing walls in the phys ed centre, anyone?)

    The advertising campaigns began after that, along with the doctrine of "students are customers". The imagination that went into those was on the level of what's used to sell laundry detergent or potato chips, falling short of stating how much brighter their degrees were than those from other institutions or how many calories each exam had.

  2. What about students training to be police officers, mechanics, and fire fighters? These classes are heavily available at local community colleges.

    I did a couple classes on automotives and was able to earn a job a toyota right after.

    I also did statistics in a community college under a part-time university professor. Same quality, cheaper price.

    A farmer has more experience sewing up an open wound or giving birth to any mammal than any doctor that came from med school for 9 years of studying.

    Your article sounds more like why non-university grads are inferior creatures. Stop brainwashing people into debt!

  3. I remember having a whole class full of police officers in College Algebra...what of it?

    Absolutely, it's possible to get a good education at a community college; the point is, the college is NOT on your side, and empirically, the college is there to suck as much money out of young people as possible.

    It's kind of like McDonald's. I claim much of the food there is quite unhealthy. You pointing out that you CAN get a salad at McDonald's, while true, doesn't really counter the fact that much of the food at McDonald's is unhealthy.