Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Libertarianism Fails In For-Profit Education?

By Professor Doom
      Last time around I discussed how a degree from a for-profit institution is worthless, and how getting a degree from such a place is usually a big mistake. And someone asked me a question:

“If you’re Libertarian, you  believe that capital, for-profit, enterprises are always better than government enterprise. So how can you call for-profit schools worse than the other schools that aren’t in it for the money?”
      That’s a good question. My Libertarian leanings mean I generally believe doing things for profit leads to better results than when there’s no profit involved…but there’s no way to look at those expensive-but-worthless for-profit school degrees and claim they are an improvement over those cheaper-and-still-mostly-worthless degrees from state schools.

     And, of course, the situation at for-profits is even worse the more you look at it.

     ---I’m all for jobs training, at least if you’re going to tell students that you’re training them for jobs.

     Now, we’ve already established that, for many for-profits, their degrees are basically worthless in the real world. This is mostly because the actual training in the degree is minimal. Instead, students just swirl around in irrelevant activity until all that loan money is drained away.

      But, at least they get that worthless slip of paper at the end, right? Actually, those are the lucky ones:

The University of Phoenix, for example, is the industry leader, yet it graduates less than 9 percent of its bachelor's degree candidates within six years.

     Isn’t that amazing? All those commercials for University of Phoenix, talking about the awesome success of their graduates, how useful it is to go there, are rubbish. Their degrees are worthless, and 91% of their students don’t even manage such a degree. But they rake in lots of student loan money, to pay for those commercials. And, not to put too fine a point on it, University of Phoenix is the INDUSTRY LEADER.

     The state school systems catch grief for their low graduation rates (in the area of 20 percent within 6  years for many state schools), but it’s clear they’re doing a superior job to the for-profits. And yet state schools are always being threatened with shutdown if they don’t improve graduation…

     One might think that the accredited for-profit students, even if they don’t get a degree, can just transfer over to the accredited non-profit schools. I mean, accreditation was to assure some legitimacy to institutions of higher education, and to allow students to transfer to different schools if they have to. Now, this blog has pretty thoroughly shown that accreditation fails miserably in the “assures some legitimacy” department, and the simple fact that these for-profit schools are all fully accredited demonstrates that failure once again.

     Accreditation is a fraud when it comes to legitimacy, but it helps with the whole “transfer” thing, right?


Former students of for-profit colleges now account for about half of all student-loan defaults. "I don't think I learned anything at the Art Institute [of Philadelphia], other than how to get scammed by somebody," said Taryn Zychal, who accumulated $150,000 in loans, only to find that no other institution would recognize her academic credits. Legions of other students tell similar stories.

     I just give a small chuckle, but I assure you administrators in higher education laugh uproariously with amusement at students that actually think their credits are going to transfer. They totally could, mind you, there’s no law against it, such transfers are completely subject to administrative whim. I’ve seen transfer policies violated many times for those favored by admin, not that any random student will be the beneficiary of such whims.

     To summarize for-profit education: worthless degrees, 91% failure rate, and coursework “recognized” as worthless and thus non-transferrable. Failure at every level, then.

      So, confronted with the clear evidence that for-profit education is inferior, do I concede that libertarianism is wrong?


     See, the thing is, there’s a government involvement here that distorts things greatly. Now, I grant, blaming government is something of a cop-out for libertarianism. Government is involved in every single aspect of my life, so any time anything goes wrong, it’s pretty easy to go with the libertarian explanation of “government always fails”. 

     Just to give one example of how pervasive government involvement is, I had five scallops with my meal a few nights back, instead of the eight I had with my meals last year. Why? Because government involvement in the monetary system means the money that could buy eight scallops last year, can only buy five today. So, yeah, government tells me how many scallops I may eat with a meal. Government is also heavily involved in the wine the scallops were cooked with, as well as the butter, the beans, the soap used to wash the dishes, and so on. But I digress...

Let’s get back to talking about what for-profits are actually selling, first by talking about what government is actually paying for.

Who pays the colleges' tuitions?

Mostly the taxpayers. For-profit colleges receive an average of three quarters of their revenue from federal grants and loans. "Some for-profit schools are efficient government-subsidy collectors first and educational institutions second,"

     So, back to today’s discussion. Government subsidizes education right now, via student loans. Actually, it’s not education that government subsidizes, instead, it subsidizes credit hours at accredited institutions. That’s the distortion here: credits at accredited institutions, not education.

    It doesn’t matter what those credit hours are for, which is why accredited state institutions have college coursework on Lady Gaga or The Walking Dead, paying faculty to teach, well, crap, with massive overhead that goes to legions of administrators. (For what it’s worth, I really enjoy The Walking Dead…but I just don’t see 4 months’ worth of college-level study there, except for perhaps technical training in make-up work and other aspects of making things, which is not even remotely what goes on in the linked course).

      Libertarianism says for-profits will do it better, and indeed, they do, once you understand what the student loan money is truly going for. Since it is credit hours, and not education, that the federal government is paying for, for-profit education offers completely empty credit hours, quite comparable to the paper courses at UNC.

      Naturally, getting accredited is a slow and expensive process (it took years to bring my state institution through the accreditation process) and only then can the deluge of tax loot come flowing in. Of course, for-profits get accreditation with much more efficiency:

In 2005, California-based Bridgepoint Education bought Franciscan University of the Prairies, a failing religious college with 332 students in Clinton, Iowa. Six years later, the school, renamed Ashford University, has been transformed into one of the biggest online colleges in the country, with 78,000 students. Bridgepoint posted $216 million in profits last year, while collecting nearly 87 percent of its revenue from federal aid. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) says the college is "an absolute scam"

   Once you take integrity out of higher education, and throw in endless student loan loot, the sky really is the limit on what you can do. For-profits may be quicker about it, but I assure you state schools are little different, in many cases.

     The improved efficiency in plundering isn’t just about growth, of course. The guy at the top must get his share:

In 2009, the CEO of Strayer, a chain of for-profits with more than 60,000 students, took home nearly $42 million... 

     WOW, that’s some sweet loot there. The Poo-Bah at a state school with 60,000 students only rakes in a couple million at most of the tax plunder—admittedly, he splits the loot with legions of other administrators, while for-profits don’t waste time with irrelevant bureaucracy.

     And so, my faith in Libertarianism is not shaken: for-profits are indeed better at providing what the government is truly paying for.

      Just because government gets what it pays for, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea for human beings (in fact, it usually isn’t). For-profits are scams, and a waste of time for most students. The scam is not the result of them being for-profit, but rather the result of the student loan scam, which, combined with bogus accreditation, pays for accredited courses, and not education.

     Thus, I do not advocate, as many do, for the shut-down of for-profit schools. Instead, SHUT DOWN THE STUDENT LOAN SCAM. Do so, and I have considerable optimism this will take care of the for-profits quite nicely, and allow for integrity to seep back into the higher education system.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

For-Profit College Degrees Are Worthless

By Professor Doom

     I’ve often said for-profit colleges generally offer worthless degrees at an extreme price, but I hate simply expecting the reader to trust my word on such things. A recent article, mainstream news even, gave some nice examples of the over-the-top uselessness of these degrees.

     Students across the country are shelling out tens of thousands of dollars for degrees that end up being completely worthless.

     I do want to point out, however, that non-profit schools, while cheaper, also offer a great number of degrees that are, in terms of the marketplace, completely worthless. Back when higher education was cheap, this was not a problem…tuition was low enough that “work your way through college” at a fast food place was quite possible. But now that campuses are overrun with 6- and 7-figure salaried administrators (and 4-figure paid adjuncts teaching the actual courses), there are huge disconnects between the cost of education that students pay, the cost that is actually paid to the educators, and, most importantly, the quality of the education that the students receive. For-profits may be the worst, but a great many state institutions are only a few shades better.

…So at age 23, she enrolled in a two-year criminal justice program at for-profit Everest College in Chesapeake, Va.
But the wealth of job opportunities the school had touted never transpired, and all she ended up with was more than $22,000 in student loan debt. She said classes were terrible, she didn't receive any of the training she needed, …

     Criminal Justice is a popular field, because it can provide entry into the incredibly lucrative “law enforcement” industry (law enforcement, health care, and education are really the big job producers in last few decades of extreme government growth…do note government is now in the process of wrapping more of its tentacles around health care even as you read this). I had the pleasure of teaching an entire class full of police officers when one of my institutions set up a Criminal Justice outreach program. I know the police are often (and often justifiably) vilified, but, for what it’s worth, they are better than average as students (they are also slightly older, which may well be the important factor).

     Back to the point, the above poor student shelled out over $20,000 for coursework, supposedly job-related coursework, which provided none of the training or education she needed to get an actual job. Of course, the student didn’t actually pay that money. Instead, it was provided via a student loan.

     This is quite common, and so, for the sake of new readers, allow me to explain the game being played. The first thing a school does when it opens its doors is work to get accredited. Only accredited schools can qualify their students for the various Federal student aid programs, including those all-important student loans.

     Before the school becomes accredited, the school keeps tuition low, because it needs to attract students, and being affordable helps with that. The school also tries to be reasonably legitimate, as far as the education it provides. It needs this because accreditors need to have some reason to believe the school is legitimate before they will award full accreditation.

     Once the school becomes accredited, it all changes. First, the school jacks up the tuition to as much as they can get away with, which usually means whatever the student loan money available is. Then, the school sacrifices all integrity, annihilating all educational standards, the better to draw in, and keep, students that think that merely because they’re getting good grades, they’re actually learning something relevant.

      While the article focuses on for-profit schools, it’s the same pattern at many state and non-profit schools. I totally grant that there are many exceptions, but they are exceptions. Having worked to bring a school through the accreditation process and seen what happens once accreditation is awarded, my own eyes tell me that this pattern is the reality of higher education today…state schools often have a harder time increasing tuition, and that’s the ONLY reason they’re cheaper than the for-profit schools. But, otherwise, the pattern is the same.

      You might be wondering how the bogus schools can keep accreditation, but the reason behind this is simple: accredited schools generally self-report their legitimacy, and only need do so every 5 to 10 years. So, the bogus school self-reports that their students are getting good grades, self-reports that their students are getting good jobs, self-reports that their coursework is of the highest standards, and so on…and accreditors are perfectly happy with this.

      Of course, the rubber meets the road when it comes time to actually pay off those student loans, and that’s where problems become visible in a way that self-reporting won’t work. There’s a big difference between words on paper and checks for actual money, after all.

“…student loan default rate (of up to 27% for its Everest College campuses) is lower than other community colleges and its graduation and job placement rates are higher…”

     So, at this school, the self-reported graduation and job placement rates are (supposedly) as good as any community college (that’s a low, low, bar, since many community colleges “boast” a lower than 10% graduation rate). The student loan default rate, however, is not so easily buried, since someone has to write an actual check.

     Despite what’s said here, for-profit schools generally have a worse default rate than state schools. While it is claimed that this is due to the bogus nature of the for-profit coursework, I find this assertion dubious, as I’ve shown and seen many times that the coursework in state schools to be comparably bogus. No, the reason for the higher default rate is very simple: students at for-profit schools are charged more for tuition, and thus get deeper into debt. It is simply the larger debts that explain the higher default rates.

     But, back to the article:

“…the school spent six months convincing him to enroll -- promising to provide all the training and help he needed to find a high-paying computer science job…
But upon enrolling in the computer science program, he said the quality of education "was a complete joke" and job assistance was nonexistent…”

     The main expense of for-profit schools isn’t on education (like state schools, they pay the highly educated teachers very little), it’s on recruiting suckers/students to enroll. Google’s biggest customer, for example, is the for-profit University of Phoenix, which spends $200,000 a day on Google advertising. My own research on for-profits rather backfired on me—much like the luckless student involved, I too endured (and still endure) many phone calls from for-profits hoping to make a sale with me.

     This is how the for-profits overcome their well-deserved reputation for worthlessness—extensive advertising for suckers that don’t know what they’re getting into. 

     And, again, accreditation totally doesn’t care how fraudulent these schools are. Even if it did care, accreditation can do nothing about it. For example, accreditation’s response to UNC’s 18 year scam of fake courses was to “make” UNC offer courses to all the students that felt they might be cheated by the fake courses

     “…after accumulating more than $20,000 in debt to attend the one-year program, he wasn't able to find a single job in computer science. He's still unemployed, is now homeless -- and he is convinced he'd be better off without the degree even listed on his resume. 

He says multiple employers have told him that they don't view his degree as credible because of the for-profit industry's reputation and because other people they've hired from the school haven't had the necessary skills for the job…”

      The Federal government knows these schools are scams (for the most part) but has no choice in the matter, as the law is written so that all accredited schools, no matter how corrupt, must play by the same rules when it comes time to doling out the student loan loot. It’s possible that the law might be changed at some point, of course.

      I agree, accreditation as it stands today is utterly useless and should have nothing to do with student loan money. But a better solution by far would be to take student loan money out of education. If University of the People can offer fully accredited 4 year degrees for $4,000 or so without taking student loan money, there’s simply no excuse for for-profits offering the same degrees for $100,000, after all.


Friday, December 26, 2014

College Workshop On Anal Sex?

By Professor Doom

     I can’t believe I have the phrase “anal sex” in a title of a blog posting about higher education, especially since I’m not talking about Penn State…but this is seriously what’s going on at college now.

      College isn’t all classes, there are quite a few opportunities to learn in “short courses” called seminars or workshops. Seminars are usually research oriented, where like-minded individuals would gather to learn and discuss the results of a recent paper or result. 

     Workshops, on the other hand, are, well, more administratively-inspired, and unfortunates can go to workshops to learn the latest new definitions of sexual harassment, or new techniques in stress management, or the like.

      I don’t know what the minimum standard is for the subject matter of a workshop, but, surely, this falls below it:

     I’m no prude, and I try to keep an open mind about things, I really do, but…this is Harvard. One would think that Harvard, at least, would try to keep some decorum to higher education. Harvard acknowledges that this isn’t a serious topic, to judge by the title “What What in the Butt: Anal Sex 101″…but I’m not sure such low humor is becoming of one of our supposedly top tier institutions.

     ““after looking at the schedule of events, though, I do question the amount of time and resources that went into planning and funding these events, some of which are downright vulgar, at a place like Harvard.”

      I’m glad I’m not alone, and I totally respect that Harvard is a private institution (although they nevertheless get plenty of moolah from the government) so they can do whatever they want, but this is just wrong.

     Even if “how to best have anal sex” was a legitimate research topic, a workshop on such a topic, at a place like Harvard, should be done by legitimate researchers. Who is going to run this workshop?

     “So-called sex experts from a local adult store will lead the Tuesday talk, which seeks to “dispel myths about anal sex and give you insight into why people do it and how to do it well,”

     What’s next? Local fast food managers come in and run workshops on “how to dip French fries in boiling oil”? Actually, that’s the kind of talk that SHOULD be given, at least at the local community college. Well, it should if community colleges were even a little serious about giving their students relevant job skills, but I digress.

      Back to the point, higher education has travelled way too far away from being even remotely relevant to what’s going on in the world today. I’ve qualified my rants about how “most” higher education is a joke today, and by “most” I meant that top schools like Harvard were still generally legit, at least with respect to the money they charge. Tuition at Harvard runs over $40,000 a year, and if the workshops are any indication of what that money is buying for students, I may have to reconsider using the word “most” in front of “higher education is a joke”.

      So, apologies for the short post, but I’m simply at a loss for words when it comes to top schools now giving workshops on optimizing anal sex practices.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Report: Teacher Training is Ridiculously Easy

By Professor Doom

     Anyone in higher education can tell you there’s something very fishy about the Education departments on campus. Courses with parties instead of final exams, assignments that are laughably easy, and Education majors that act shocked when they take other courses and find out that the material listed on the syllabus is actually covered in the course are dead giveaways.

     Education departments have responded to such observations by cloistering their students, offering “Math for Education Majors”, “Music for Education Majors”, and well, “Whatever for Education Majors” courses for their students, insulating them from the reality of higher education. Such insulation does them no favors, since year after year, Education majors score low on the GRE (Graduate Record Exams)…this latter statistic is probably inflated (!), since many Education graduate programs also insulate their students by not requiring them to take the GRE. The worst Education students know not to take such a test.

    “If the Education department can have a 95% retention rate, we see no reason the mathematics department cannot do the same!”

--one of many chastisements from Admin. Administration only cares about retention, after all, whether students are learning anything or gaining any skills at all is immaterial.

     But why should the gentle reader rely on my direct observations or the GRE scores? Yet another report sums up what everyone in higher education knows (via Huffington Post):

      While hardly the first report to say what everyone knows, I feel the need to comment on what’s become of higher education, implicit in the report:

“…At 58 percent of 509 schools, "teacher preparation programs are much more likely to confer high grades than are other majors on the same campus," the report says. While an average of 30 percent of all students graduated "cum laude," 44 percent of teacher preparation students received the honor. The report calls the results "a wake-up call for higher education."

     Years ago, graduating Cum Laude was a big deal, it means you were a top student, the best of the best, and required a GPA of around 3.65. Since the average grade on campus today hovers around A- (i.e., around 3.67), Cum Laude has translated into “an average graduate,” as the below average students probably don’t graduate. At least, that’s what it means to people inside of higher education.  

     When it comes to Education majors, we’re closing in on half of the students there are Cum Laude, a major increase of the already ridiculously high 30% of graduates in other departments who are “best of the best students.” Don’t get me wrong, I like students to succeed, but when half the class is “the best of the best”, I can’t help but think something’s wrong here.

     In this case, I know what’s wrong. Educationists defined “good teaching” as “pass lots of students” and “great teaching” as “lots of students get A’s”. With this the definition of good teaching, and Educationists naturally highly motivated to make themselves look good, it’s only natural that it would be pretty easy to get an A in this class.

     “If a 12 foot ladder is divided into 3 equal parts, how long is each part?”
--final exam question from a Math for Education Majors class, college level. I proctored the test, and saw this, and other very comparable questions, with my own eyes. Good thing that now there’s a study, so you don’t have to just trust me on this.

     The ridiculously easy Education coursework continues on into graduate school. I took the liberty of buying a graduate level Education course to verify, although today’s study doesn’t look at grad school. That course, by the way, qualifies as teacher continuing education.

     The report also found that assignments in teacher preparation classes that were the basis of 71 percent of course grades were "criterion-deficient," asking for opinions or viewpoints rather than facts.

     Much like I’d seen with my own eyes, the report agrees that what’s going on in Education courses is, well, nothing. You don’t take tests, write papers, calculate, or anything like that (and, gee, didn’t UNC get in trouble for doing this? There’s a reason why I keep saying UNC is not alone…), based on what I’ve seen. Much as the report says, at most there are some assignments where you write about your feelings and opinions and such. It’s hard to fail such assignments, you see, and “not failing students” is a definition of “good teaching”, so giving such assignments qualifies as quality work, in an Educationist’s eyes.

    The fact that any yahoo can write about his feelings, there nothing to teach there, and thus it’s wrong to charge people $5,000 or more a semester to do it, simply doesn’t occur to an educationist. Accreditation and administration, of course, don’t care.

     Of course, there’s little actual education going on in these courses, which is why the GRE scores are so low—the GRE is an objective measure, outside, for now, the hands of Educationists. The lack of education is also why (among other reasons, I admit) many teachers don’t last but a few years in the “profession.” They learn pretty quickly they have nothing to offer students, so go somewhere else to figure out how to pay off the loans they incurred in all those easy Education courses.

     The report suggests a change of metrics for Education, putting in some real standards in, but such efforts will be pointless. Much as Educationists can only understand teaching to be “give out lots of A’s”, any imposed standards will be likewise corrupted. Even graduation rates are meaningless, after all…with sufficient manipulation, it can be shown that athletes have a higher graduation rate than the general student population, though UNC has taught us how little it would mean if it were true.

     I’ll skip the usual dig about how if accreditation were legitimate, all the bogus Education courses would be flushed away. Oh, wait, I just precisely didn’t skip it. Oh well.

     Usually I find the posts in the Comments section fairly agreeable, but the comments this time around basically view the report as an attack on teachers. I think it’s more fair to view the report as an attack on Education departments on campus but a few comments are worth commenting on:

Just another strategy in the privatizers handbook for bashing teachers. With the oppressive environment ramped up to the point that the profession's ridiculous demands from anti-teacher editorials written to appease billionaire advertisers, to education policy overseen by a Secretary of Education whose sole skills are that he let the President play in his semi-pro level pickup basketball games, to the arbitrary test, test, test environment that leaves no time for teaching,

     I totally agree what’s going on in the government schools is ridiculous, as the government tries and fails repeatedly to impose a one-size-fits-all standard for everyone. It’s long past the time to get government out of school, but discussion of the extensive “public” school scam is for another post, or another blog.

Yes, I worked hard for my degree as well. I guess it never occurred to them that maybe good students who love their majors, studying, and school would choose to study

     This is a good theory, and it does seem like good students would become good teachers. But if this were true, then GRE scores would be higher, and Educationists wouldn’t have a (very earned) vile reputation on campuses across the nation (and in other countries). Personally, I’ve met one bright Educationist…and dozens of, well, “not bright” ones that nevertheless have Ph.D.s.

     Yeah, let's make it even more difficult to become a teacher…

     This is another good point—I just don’t see the need for four year theoretical degrees to become a teacher. A century ago (97 years, to be exact), my grandmother, an 8th grade graduate, passed the test to become a teacher, and I bet she’d have been just as good as anyone with a high falutin’ degree. 

     Education departments have failed on every level, every time…let’s just go back to basic skills test, and realize, when it comes to teaching 10 year olds, that years of theoretical training really isn’t all that important compared to just being an adult, and that when students get past around that age, what you need is to know the material (which you don’t learn in Educationist programs anyway).

     Back to the point, the “outside world” is finally starting to notice that what’s going on in Education departments is risible…and no, I’ve nothing against teachers at all, even if the commenters view revealing what’s going on as an attack. Oh well, at least one blogger agrees with me.