Wednesday, July 23, 2014

25% of Community College Is 6th Grade Level

By Professor Doom

     Good ol’ community college. If you can’t get into, or can’t afford, university, then community college is the place to be. It’s also cheap, cheap, cheap…or at least, that’s what community college administrators tell you.

     Thing is, it’s only cheap if you’re actually getting what you think you’re getting in the way of education. It doesn’t matter if tuition is only 20% of university if the coursework isn’t college level or prepare you for anything, and you’ll be wasting your precious time as well.

     Late July is the time when students, seeing that university isn’t an option or looking to save a few bucks, decide to enroll in community college at nearly the last minute. If you’re one of those students, you must follow your heart in that regard, but I feel I must warn you all the same.

     In the past, I discussed a community college in New York that was clearly a joke when it came to offering legitimate education. It clearly existed just to separate the ignorant from their money, grants, and student loans, and the faculty there made it clear that the coursework was not college level. That said, I granted it was a new college, and since they focused on non-college ready students. I gave them a pass for having mostly fake courses, but thought perhaps a more established community college would do better.

     So, I decided to look at a college that’s been around decade or so. Unfortunately, when I looked at a community college in Louisiana, there was a big problem: at least 90% of the coursework was still at the high school level or lower (much lower, as in 3rd grade material, like adding whole numbers). Even more distressing is that only 1% of the coursework was 2nd year college material, a bit of a problem in a 2 year college more than ten years old. If all the money poured into higher education is going to make a difference, it has to bring a high school graduate to the college level in a decade…or so I think.

     Again, maybe I’m still being unfair. Louisiana hardly has a stellar reputation when it comes to academia and knowledge. So, to be fair about calling community colleges a scam, I should look elsewhere.

     Next up is Los Angeles, specifically Los Angeles City College. I’ve never set foot on the campus, but I’ve been to Los Angeles many times. I’m always struck by the vast disparity in wealth in this mighty city. So many people there are just barely getting by on the streets, while the big shiny buildings, mere footsteps away, seem filled with the wealthy.

     Surely, a cheap community college here would be eager to help the poor people get an education to improve their lives. Would such a school load up on bogus, non college coursework, keeping students on campus long enough to fleece them out of their government supplied loans and grants?

     In times past, I’d have to go on campus to see for myself. This is the modern world, it’s a simple matter to see what, exactly, is going on there, because all LACC course offerings for the Fall semester are posted online. Once again, I’ll simply look at the math classes—mathematics is key to much of modern technology. L.A. is close enough to the famed Silicon Valley area that any school even remotely interested in helping students move up would have to offer courses necessary for understanding of technology.

     I emphasize: anyone willing to take a few minutes can see the fraud of these institutions by checking course offerings online. Accreditation, which supposedly legitimizes a school, never bothers to check to see if the school has much in the way of real courses, offering a real chance at education for the students.

      Instead, most (all?) community colleges simply load students up on junk, or pre-high school level material, and act like the students are really getting “higher education.” 

     Looking at the offerings of LACC:

2 sections of “Math as a Second Language” (NDA). The numbering system for coursework at LACC is a bit different than what I’m used to, but “NDA” means “Non Degree Applicable”, i.e., a non college credit course. Community colleges have to serve their community, and L.A. has many non-English speakers. I’m going to give LACC a pass on these two courses, because I’ve seen a few non-English speakers struggle in a class taught in English. So let’s just forget about these two sections, and see when the college courses start.

Mathematics Workshop (NDA). This is a 3 hour lab that’s linked to just about every math course. Students must enroll here, and they can come to the lab, where tutors will help. It’s a good idea, although having been a part of, and administered, such workshops, I know lots of students just get the tutors to do the work. Most students don’t even bother going to the lab…but they’re still charged for it. Because most math courses have this workshop attached to it, about half the time spent in classrooms at LACC is non college credit. I have to count the labs as coursework, since students register and pay for it.

Arithmetic (NDA). This non college course is, well, arithmetic, the stuff you learned from 3rd to 5th grade, more or less. As near as I can tell, there are 18 sections (some are online, some are taught by the same instructor at the same time in two different rooms, somehow…). It’s hard to tell enrollments, but there could be a thousand students tossing their money down this rathole. People enrolling in this course are documented as having the mental capacity of an 8 year old. How can such people understand the enormity of the student loan debt they’re taking on? It really seems integrity should be a factor in this, but it doesn’t stop administration from offering 18 sections.

Pre-Algebra (NDA). This non-college course is the material most readers learned in the 6th grade. There are 16 sections of this course. Again, I find myself wondering: can someone with the mental capacity of an 11 year old really understand what it means to take on tens of thousands of dollars of debt that cannot be removed via bankruptcy?

By merely looking at the first two courses, and their huge number of sections, we have a problem. LACC has an enrollment of around 20,000 students. These classes are taught in huge lecture halls, capable of holding a couple hundred students. We’re talking thousands of students, at least 10%, perhaps 40%, are caught in this remedial education trap. Combine this with the labs, and this part of LACC is sucking up resources in a way that has nothing, nothing to do with higher education.

As an added bonus, these students are all learning material that their parents paid exorbitantly for their kids to learn in public school. Now, the kids are learning it again, and going into debt for the rest of their lives for the privilege.

This is, of course, par for the course for community college—communities are told that community colleges are all about “higher education”, but when you look closely, like at LACC, you see that most of the money just goes to stuff that’s far below “higher education.” The above courses and labs represent perhaps 25% of the resources being used at the community college…and it’s at the 6th grade level.

I’ll grant that some students taking these courses are, well, “not gifted”, but many of them, probably most, are in those classes because there’s no challenge, and they can drift through “college.” And, of course, because they get fat checks from the government for enrolling, even in non-college coursework…these students are just scamming the taxpayer, as I’ve written about before.

If administration thought scamming was a problem, they’d probably only have a section or two, and they’d keep class sizes small, so that the students that honestly needed help to function as a 9 year old could get the help they need.

Instead, there are many sections, and class sizes are huge. Why can’t accreditation connect the dots? Oh yeah, accreditation is in on the scam.

Still, so far, this is all typical of community college. It actually gets worse, as we’ll see next time.


  1. Such colleges can be useful when the piece of paper or the satisfaction of a false accomplishment is all that is needed. Examples: mentally disabled students, mentally ill people who need structure, socialization and a regular sleeping pattern but not too much stress, lazy members of a rich family, low-level but experienced employee who wants a promotion and was told that a degree is required, the criminal who wants to impress his or her judge or parole/probation officer, the individual who wants to leave an abusive family situation but can't find a job paying a living wage in the immediate term, the individual looking for a spouse, people who want to party or to otherwise enjoy the status of a student but not the work, the successful relatives who are embarrassed to have someone without a degree in the family, etc. Since you can see how the courses are, it is not as if the students or their family couldn't do the same.

    1. What you're describing is just as fraudulent as what Prof. Doom wrote about. It offers the facade of an educational environment but delivers nothing tangible.

    2. If, hypothetically, you had a mentally handicapped child, wouldn't you want to make your child all happy for being in "college" and getting a "degree"? Wouldn't you also prefer to have an "educated" child instead of being the parent with a PhD whose child couldn't get any degree whatsoever? There is a market for such "colleges", too. Because the "accomplishment" would not feel the same, such a college cannot have a name such as Institutional Education for the Developmentally Challenged. It must have a normal name.

    3. But don't such institutions already exist?

    4. The issue isn't whether such institutions exist, or whether they should exist. The issue is "Should communities devote their taxes to building huge institutions that give nothing?"

      Is the benefit to the community of making some people "happy" really worth hundreds of millions of dollars? Even a small college, over the course of a decade, goes through that kind of money.

      There already ARE bogus schools, especially online ones, that do this.

    5. If the college solves some other human problem, such as keeping low-level criminals off the streets, providing a structured environment to mentally ill individuals in stable condition but unable to work or a source of legal income to someone who needs to escape an abusive family, such colleges may save money. At the very least, the solution they provide is more dignified. What would you rather be: a so-called student at a lousy college or a mere user of mental health day programs, prisoner or person formally identified as a victim? Moreover, people who have such needs may just attempt to have them met in a more serious institution of higher education, whatever that means, so it might be better to let them have a so-called college that won't stress them out but might help meet their true needs. Unless, of course, they also happen to be able and willing to get a more serious education.

      Teaching is a helping profession, so meeting other human needs under the guise of teaching is not necessarily wrong or a form of fraud. You may say that a college is not the right place. However, the truly specialized services such as prescribing medication can still be provided by the appropriate professionals. For things like a place to attend and having well-meaning helping professionals and warm human contact, a so-called college providing very easy "education" may do.

    6. This really is a fascinating point of view. One more time, because I keep forgetting your answer: why can't people be allowed to keep their money and spend it like they want for their children (hopefully on useful things, but maybe on worthless slips of paper), rather than support a parasitic class that soaks up money while definitely providing worthless slips of paper?

    7. But people are allowed to keep their money. Nobody forces them to go to college, or "college". Moreover, for some individuals, what is fundamentally a bad thing (debt) could still be better than the alternative (for instance, being unable to simply move away to "college" rather than go to a homeless or victims' shelter).

    8. It's...stunning how you say such things, again I think you must be joking.
      Before a CC opens, first the taxpayer must shell out millions for the land and buildings. Then millions more for a platoon of administrators, which must work for 3 years before the school becomes accredited. Once accredited, the taxpayers then pay millions more for tuition via federal loans and grants, amongst too many other taxpayer subsidies to mention (although, it really seems like I've mentioned these on the blog, once or twice).

      So, no, the taxpayer is totally paying for the immense fraud, in the vast majority of cases. Total student loan debt didn't get over a trillion dollars without it, after all.

    9. Monica, I think the thing R Doom was referring to is not whether college is a good option for mentally ill people who need/want something to do with their days that is productive, but if the community's taxes should be paying for it.

      About companies that claim they need their employee to get a degree before they can be formally promoted to a higher role but can't due to lack of the degree itself even though the employee is capable of doing the work itself, isn't that a problem with what that company considers employees should need to have? It is likely they may not even know about the stuff you R Doom go over on here (the employee may not be gaining anything at all of substance that is related to their job yet are taking on debt just to have a degree they shouldn't even need).

    10. But taxpayers would pay in any case. Those people won't just go away. If they don't just attend another institution of higher education, they may be in prison, in the mental health system, in some kind of shelter or residential program, etc. Put it this way: it might be better to provide some kind of easy "college" than to give them some coloring books at the local mental health day program.

    11. Wow, again. So rather than help people in, say, a mental health system, it's just as good to screw them over and rip off thousands of taxpayers.

      Do you find "up" and "down" equivalent often?

    12. How is keeping people in some sort of school any worse than keeping them in some kind of adult daycare? For something like getting their medication readjusted or seeing a therapist for an hour, they can still do that. However, to keep them busy during the day, an educational institution might actually be better than a place where adult individuals might be asked to color books or make a collage as if they were in kindergarten. Even a lousy college is still better than that.

      As for the taxpayers, they are paying in any case, whether for prisons, mental health services or the lousy college. If an individual is not in college, the taxpayers may be footing the bill for his place at the mental health day program, for example.

    13. Well, as I've explained in detail, keeping them in school is vastly worse than adult daycare.

      Tell you what, next time you break a limb or otherwise need medical attention, demonstrate you honestly believe what you're saying here, in the following way: instead of getting medical attention, go and enroll in a bogus school. It's all the same, as you keep claiming, and you'll be paying either way, after all.

      If you don't enroll, continue to argue the case that it's "all the same", or claim that for you it's different, you'll demonstrate that you're not being intellectually honest here, and no further discussion will be necessary.

    14. The example of breaking a limb is totally ludicrous. I have specifically mentioned that, of course, "the truly specialized services such as prescribing medication can still be provided by the appropriate professionals." It stands to reason that the school won't mend people's broken limbs either. It is for things like keeping people occupied, in the presence of nice people who can talk to them and keep an eye of them, mentally stimulated but not in a particularly demanding environment, and so on, that a school is not any worse and might even be better.

    15. No, the example isn't ludicrous at all. A "fake" college isn't a college at all. How about making sure tax dollars spent on mental health actually provide some real benefits to those who need it? Community colleges shouldn't be daycare centers for adults to be "looked after" so they can spend their time feeling like they're being educated when they are't being educated. How many real criminals spend their time at their local community college? I'll tell you how many, zero! Real criminals spend most of their time committing crimes or enjoying the fruits of their "labor".

      It's bad enough our government subsidizes pseudo-sciences and wastes ill-gotten tax dollars numbering in the billions in the first place. Now you're telling us it is a good thing! And people wonder why our nation is in an uncontrolled death spiral to hell.

  2. Prof. Doom:

    I've got lots of similar stories from my experience as a tech college instructor.

    Many of our students were fresh out of high school and they were, for the most part, unprepared. Their capabilities in such basic topics such as algebra was abysmal and their spelling was atrocious. The institution's remedy was to make them take courses in those very topics, essentially finishing what those same high schools neglected to do. For example, something as basic as solving a quadratic equation (which I learned in Grade 9 nearly 45 years ago) was beyond many of them--unless, of course, they had a calculator which could do it for them.

    The result was that in many of my courses, I took much of my time going over those same basic concepts. Part of the reason was they never got them in high school. Another part of that reason was that either my colleagues didn't properly teach them that same material (which often happened, I'm sorry to say) or it was taught and the students promptly deleted it from their memories. (I was once told something like "We've already been tested on this stuff. Why this being emphasized in your course?")

    A large number of students who enrolled had been away from school for a significant period of time. The institution offered them an option of taking an extra a preparatory year before starting in the area they really signed up for. It was meant to either refresh their memories or give them the background material they lacked.

    For the most part, the students I had who took that extra year wasted their time. I'm not sure if they didn't grasp the material (though I'm sure that was the case for some of them) or what they were taught in that year was a complete joke. For the record, I wasn't the only one who noticed that.

    I saw this when I started my teaching position 25 years ago. That was before the provincial government started horsing around with a number of high school courses, such as science, making a bad situation even worse. Towards the end of my time as an instructor, I wondered whether I should present my course material on the same level as Sesame Street.

    Welcome to adult education.....

    1. Absolutely there are LOTS of students coming out of the schools functioning at the 6th grade level. Every school offers "college track" and "not college track" coursework, and the students are told that when they sign up for courses.

      There always has been weak students like this. In the past, only a tiny percentage of such students decided to go on to college despite blowing off academics for 6 years or more...and colleges should offer something for them.

      Realize, most adults can learn 6th grade level material in far less than a year's time.

      The huge droves of weak students coming on to campus, and the flood of useless coursework being "sold" to them, only exists because of the federal loan/grant scheme. Ultimately, however, it's a huge waste of time and money, and creates a generation of people that are, simply, deep in debt with no way to escape.

    2. How valuable is Algebra to the common person? How many people actually use it in their daily lives? Shouldn't things like Algebra be taught only to those who will actually use it in their specific field of endeavor? It seems like education in general needs to be overhauled. Our children are being dumbed down on purpose. Instead of talking about "this scam" or "that scam" shouldn't we ask "why" instead of pointing out the "how"?

      Why has the American educational system continually fallen over the past 150 years? I don't think money is the primary reason. If it isn't money that's driving the dumbing down of America then what is?

    3. Hey, I'll be the first to admit, algebra isn't that valuable to the "common person'> Hey, how valuable is being able to do a tracheotomy to the common person? Most people will never have a need....but I think a medical professional should know how.

      Similarly, an educated person should know basic math. He should also know a little history, a little science, a little about his country. These things are all being removed, and replaced with "an educated person should know women are superior, that white people suck, that you should just sit back and let your betters make decisions for you," and so on.

      Is the dumbing down on purpose? I don't think so (but I could be wrong). There are many reasons for the dumbing down that don't rely on much conspiracy, as addressed elsewhere throughout my blog. I encourage you to read from the beginning (or just buy my $8 book) of the blog, to get a coherent discussion underlying the collapse of higher education.

  3. I can also imagine a student who might want to pursue a major in something totally different and do it seriously but take those joke courses as elective courses, a minor, or whatever credits are not part of the major. That might raise the student's GPA while allowing the student to focus on the major (or, more likely, just free up some time for the student). Or maybe, let's say, a student is on academic probation, might lose a bursary or is otherwise required to get a higher GPA as soon as possible. I can see those easy courses as a solution.

    Because more material does not equal more knowledge in the end, such courses, if combined with serious courses, may paradoxically increase learning because students may learn less new material, but learn it better.

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  5. Guess i found out why so many drop out of college in Texas.