Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Community College Fraud, part 2

By Professor Doom

So, last time, I was looking at the course offerings at LACC, and saw that a huge amount of resources are devoted to teaching 6th grade and lower math.
Let’s continue to see what “higher education” this community college offers:

Elementary Algebra (113) and Elementary Algebra (114). Because students are so far behind, administration created courses like this that go slower—when you’re behind, you catch up by going slower, right? There are 10 sections of this (7 sections for 113, and 3 for 114---even greatly watered down material doesn’t see many students pass, especially the fake students of the Pell Grant scam). It’s college credit at LACC, but we’re way below high school here, roughly the 7th grade.

I repeat: this is material students see in the public schools around the 7th grade, 8th grade for the slower students, and it’s “college coursework” here.

Elementary Algebra (115). Again, this is the same bogus math course of 113 and 114, just pushed together into a single math course. If accreditation were serious, they’d ask why students are being screwed into taking 113 and 114 when 115 does the same thing in half the time. If accreditation were even halfway serious, it’d ask why the material common 7th grade in the public schools is “college credit.” There are 17 sections of this course.

I bet you’re wondering when this community college will offer high school work.
Me too, but just the above courses merit comment.

LACC is a 2 year college, and they have, literally, 2 years of non college credit and (fake) college credit math courses for students to take.  Most loan programs have a time limit on them, perhaps 4 years. Now, if you take 2 years of non-college material, that means you’ll be 2 years behind in your 4 years of “higher education.” A talented and hardworking student can complete a 4 year degree in three years, but two years? Not very likely, and there aren’t any talented and hardworking students that are taking 7th grade math in college.

An administrator with integrity would look at this curriculum and think “Wait. Any student we enroll in two years of pre-high school of math will have no chance whatsoever of paying back the student loans, which will run out before the student can get a degree. We are hurting people. We need to not do this.”

That’s the path of integrity, and that can’t come from admin, which only wants growth.
Instead, administration does two things. First, administration tacks on section after section of this stuff. Growth, after all. The fact that doing this is wrong doesn’t stop admin from simply doing more of it, much more, as much as they can get away with.
Second, to prevent people from catching on, admin changes the numbering and credit. 

I must point out again: the 7th grade work in these courses is actually “college credit.” At least, the students think it’s college credit, but good luck trying to transfer that as anything but remedial work.

LACC is selling 7th grade material and calling it “college.” Is “fraud” the right word for that?

Let’s look some more at what LACC is actually calling first year college work:

Essentials of Plane Geometry (121). This is the geometry most students take in the 9th or 10th grade of high school. 4 sections.

Intermediate Algebra (124a). This is, literally, half of a class, taught over a whole semester, roughly 8th to 9th grade. 3 sections.

Intermediate Algebra (124b). This is the other half. 2 sections. It used to be, the remedial classes were slowed down already. To increase growth, administration offers more remedial courses. To increase growth further, they take the slow classes and slow them down some more. Luckily, students can still take the “normal” slow courses:

Intermediate Algebra (125). This is the previous two courses, presented as a single course. Still haven’t made it to algebra yet, but we’re closing in on the level of material a very weak high school graduate might have. Anyone who bothers to look can see this, as the course description reads: “Topics include linear functions, systems of equations, inequalities, polynomials…” I really want to point out here: I tutor high school students, I know what they’re doing in high school. The material in this course isn’t it. 20 sections.

I have to pause here, because there is much in the above worth considering on its own.
Anyone else remember the public service commercial with children in school, asking to learn algebra? Kids, not college students. Learning plain ol’ algebra, not “intermediate,” “elementary,” or “pre-”. Now, in California, students are told that they’ll need to take as much as TWO YEARS of “college” courses before they’ll be ready to take the material that kids used to learn.

And what a dizzying array of fake courses. Someone ignorant of what’s going on would have no idea of what these classes are, and an incoming student wouldn’t know that the above joke courses won’t even transfer to most universities as college material.
Just one more course for today:

Principles of Mathematics (215). This is math for elementary school teachers, a course by and for Educationists. As such, it’s not a real course. There’s nothing in here that a high school graduate wouldn’t already know. The course description reads “The main concern will be understanding the structure of systems of whole numbers, integers, and rational numbers.” This material is basically in the “arithmetic” course I discussed in the previous post. Anyone who is curious why the public school teacher can’t add fractions need look no further than this course. 2 sections.

Note the numbering on this Educationist course. We’re now entering the 200 level courses, supposedly 2nd year courses, although, again, anyone knowledgeable looking at the course content of the above 200 level Education course knows its not a college course, either.

LACC is fully accredited, but, as I’ve shown in detail, accreditation has nothing to do with the legitimacy of the education. It’s a joke in that regard.

In the 80s, algebra was a remedial course on college campuses. Some time in the 90s, it turned into a first year college course. We’re already into the 200 level courses, the second year courses, and algebra is nowhere to be found.

Next time, we’ll see if it’s been turned into a 3rd year course or not. In the meantime, consider that none of the above, over 90 sections of classes, are college material, that all of it is offered in high school, much of it in primary school, even…and yet students are being sold these courses as “higher education.”

I repeat: everything we’ve seen so far in remedial, first, and second year college courses is material that is taught in the American public school system—a system that is widely held in contempt for how little it asks of and gives to students. All of it, the students have already seen, and now they’re paying a fortune to “learn” it again for college credit.

How is this not a fraud?


  1. While I was teaching, I suspected that there was an unwritten policy against teaching course material like it should be taught. The logic appeared to be that it would hurt the institution's revenue if, say, a course on, say, introductory calculus covered both derivatives and integrals. By spreading those topics over 2 courses, the institution could double its money for the same material.

    As well, I was discouraged from teaching the material "too" well. I'm sure the idea was that what the students learned had to have a limited lifetime, and, so, they would have to return for either upgrading or review after a certain number of years. By teaching the material thoroughly, that knowledge might stay with the students longer (perhaps even a lifetime), and that would disrupt the institution's revenue.

    People generally think that academic fraud consists of either plagiarism or falsifying data. What about presenting diluted course material as part of a "complete" education?

    1. Maybe by learning more slowly, they actually learn better. Or maybe their majors don't require too much math. I have a Canadian degree and have no idea what derivatives and integrals are. All I know is that they were some math stuff from high school (where I had trouble understanding integrals) and that there is a funny sign that looks like a kind of S for integrals and one number is below and the other above.

    2. It's called "academic standards". Surely you've heard of them, haven't you?

      According to your thinking, there shouldn't be any athletic competitions, either. After all, if, for example, one can't run the 100 m dash in 10 seconds, maybe one should be allowed to take as much time as they want because that way, whoever takes part can run that distance "better".

      Maybe we should let someone with the talent of Florence Foster Jenkins sing with the Metropolitan Opera. After all, if the composers hadn't written such high notes, she could sing that music "better", too, right?

    3. I often look back at the courses I took, particularly as an undergrad. I admit that I didn't grasp all of the material by the time I wrote the final exams, but, with time, I've come to accept that much of that was my fault for not making a greater effort.

      In all my years as a student, I can think of only a handful of courses which were badly taught. The profs were simply incompetent and shouldn't have been put in charge. However, I'm sure much of that could have been overcome had I put more effort into learning the material.

  2. A question: Traditionally, does college/university material begin at Calculus I? In that if we were talking about an intact academic system, students wouldn't need any algebra, geometry, trig, precalculus, or [high school-level] stats classes upon enrolling at the university? They'd just start with Calculus I, covering learning about derivatives.

    1. Forgot to add: where would a good course on matrices & linear programming (including transportation problems & management science stuff like integer programming) fall at in your ideal curriculum: high school, junior college, or university?

    2. I finished high school over 40 years ago. I had a good background in algebra and trigonometry plus a bit of calculus. Statistics was the one thing I lacked because it wasn't taught at the school I attended in the one-horse town I grew up in.

      The freshman calculus courses I took started at first principles and went through the various techniques of solving integrals. Although I had a bit of matrix algebra in high school, it wasn't until my sophomore year that I had a course in linear algebra. Linear programming was introduced as a topic in a senior level course as a method of optimization.

      Introducing those topics in high school might have been expecting too much because we simply didn't have the background.

    3. "Traditionally" in the US, students would take calculus their first year of college. That's the usual, or used to be, but many students (especially college-track students) take calculus in high school, and in Europe it's far more common to take calculus in high school.

      Serious matrix study just doesn't mesh well with other mathematical topics. It's not actually hard, but very little of it applies to any other "basic" mathematical topic (differential equations might include a few matrix applications at the end of the book, as optional material, for example, and d.e. is hardly "basic").

      So, even though a calculus student is more than prepared for matrix theory, it's usually taken around the 3rd year of university. A junior college might offer it, but unless it's a huge campus, enrollment probably isn't much past a dozen a semester.

      Even then, linear algebra doesn't usually address transportation problems; I learned linear programming on my own as part of my honor's thesis. It's such a narrow topic that the kind of students that ask about it are safely told to just go to the library and get a book on it.

    4. Most of the material in the linear algebra course I took weren't terribly useful at first, partly because the professor didn't make the extension to show where it might be. Later on, I did. Eigenvalues showed up in a senior year course on mechanical vibrations. Some matrix operations were used in a number of the control systems courses I took both as an undergrad and later in grad school.

      Actually, the course on Fourier analysis that I took in my junior year was of more use to me. Part of the reason was that the textbook showed areas where boundary value problems would arise. Later, we saw how it could be used in courses such as heat transfer and signal processing.

    5. And that's the thing: the applications are wide-ranging, but they always appear just about out of nowhere. So, it usually makes sense to address a linear algebra application exactly when it comes up, rather than a course with a few dozen applications in fields so different that no one student is likely to use more than 3 different techniques.

      Eigenvalues, for example, are really neat. Page 700 or so of a diff. eq. book I'm reading now has a use for them...but nothing on them in the previous 699 pages. That'll all diff. eq. will use them for, and I think there are three other courses that, likewise, has eigenvalues pop up once, well after the main course material, and never to be seen again.

      It's tough to make a textbook that says "here is the material on page 700 or so of half a dozen courses, all in one book." It's more efficient at the college level (outside of mathematical specialists) to just say "we need this one concept, here's how we use it. If you want more, read a book...".

  3. Why are there only 3 sections of Elementary Algebra 114 when there are 7 sections of Elementary Algebra 113? What happens to the equivalent of 4 sections from one course to the next? Are the Algebra 114 sections much larger?

    1. Bit of a puzzle, isn't it? You always lose a few students when you have a sequence, so I could easily see going from 7 sections to 6, or maybe even 5 for a modest course.

      But this is a sham course, there has to be at least 85% passing here.

      You are correct, it could be the sections are much larger. It could also be that students are going from 113 to 115, simply retaking the first half of 115 again. This strikes me as more likely, but it's an odd drop off all the same.

  4. No, it is due to 60% of the students dropping out after just one semester of the class.

    1. That seems a good guess, but that's just not reality.

      Admin goes *nuts* if you have a high drop rate. A class with a 60% drop rate would be restructured (i.e., chapters removed), and the instructors would just be fired if they didn't bring the pass rate up higher, to what admin says it should be.

      I've worked on campuses where you had to have an 85% pass rate, and I've had admin remove chapters from the courses in the all-important quest to raise retention, rewarding instructors with content-free courses and punishing instructors trying to help students learn skills that might actually lead to something..

      There's a reason why in at least 1/3 of college courses, you can get an A even if you don't know you're enrolled, after all.

      I could be wrong, but nothing of what I've seen of LACC leads me to believe it would tolerate a 60% failure rate (if that were the case they wouldn't have a dozen different algebra-esque courses).

    2. At the tech school I used to teach at, there was an unwritten rule that the class average in a course, or even an exam, had to be at least 60%. Since I couldn't remove content without authorization, even if I wanted to, I often had to resort to creative marking in order to get that result. No doubt, that helped the retention rate.

      Our department was a 2-year program. At the end of each session, the instructors would meet and we would discuss which of the first year students should be allowed to continue into the second. For some, there was no debate. Their results were good enough that they went into the next year unconditionally. Some were in the "maybe" department and were, in effect, on academic probation. Then there were those who were invited not to return.

      Normally, we had around 60 places in each group, though, often, the second year class was a bit smaller. One year, we decided that about 2/3 of the first year group weren't to be welcomed back. Apparently, none of my colleagues heard that someone at a higher administrative level objected, but that was the last time we ever did something like that.

    3. When students were "invited" not to return, was it possible for them to simply "refuse the invitation" and return anyway? Did anybody ever try? Is there any chance that they could have alleged that they were meeting the school's GPA requirements, if barely, and that the "invitation" to leave was rather arbitrary and perhaps in violation of the school's own policies?

    4. When we made our decision to not allow those students move into their final year, it was final. They weren't permitted to continue until they cleared up their deficiencies, and the proper authorities at the institution were notified of that. The dean's office supported us in that decision.

      Many of the students who enrolled in our department were already on academic probation. They were given what we called a "dean's vacation" from the university across the river. The uni had a "two strikes and you're out" policy. If students failed two years in a row, they weren't permitted to return for at least 5 years, during which time they were assumed to grow up, acquire some self-discipline and maturity, and improve their academic abilities.

    5. How exactly were they supposed to "clear up their deficiencies" and to prove they did? As for the "dean's vacation", chances are the students would forget what little they knew just like I forgot math. Within five years, by continuing, chances are they would have managed, if not to graduate, at least to pass a number of courses. If two years is not enough, three or four might be. If the financial aid would not last long enough, that is a totally different issue. Maybe the students would have preferred to try a little longer.

    6. How do they clear up their deficiencies? They take those courses they failed over again--simple as that. How difficult is that? If they found that too hard, then they either should have learned the material to begin with or they shouldn't have signed up for those courses in the first place.

      If the "dean's vacation" students think they're going to forget certain topics, then they are obligated to work on their own to make sure they don't. I received my M. Sc. in 1982. I returned to university for an M. Eng. in 1991. I prepared for the second degree by reviewing material on my own time because I knew very well that the university wasn't going to make any concessions to me for having been away for so long. The obligation was mine. If I hadn't been willing to make that effort, my place would have gone to someone who did.

      There's a fundamental principle governing the universe which many people fail to grasp: TANSTAAFL (there ain't no such thing as a free lunch). One is well advised to not only be aware of it but to make it a way of life.

    7. The problem is that most likely, instead of maintaining their existing skills, the students are likely to just allow them to deteriorate. After all, these are not necessarily the brightest and the most motivated students. On the other hand, by simply continuing, maybe they would have been able to start passing more courses. The university is not helping them. Their return is not seriously expected. Five years is enough time to move on and that's exactly what the university expects. If it was a year, that would have been different but five years is a lot.

    8. If the students let their skills deteriorate, that's their problem. They're supposed to be adults with some degree of maturity.

      The university does not exist as a nanny for adults. It will help people but those same people have to take the first step. I should know, having spent 16 years in the system as a student, both part-time and full-time.

      Getting an education takes more than just having smarts between the ears. It takes commitment, it takes integrity, it takes perseverance, and it takes maturity. Each student has to ask himself or herself the question about just how bad they want to have an education and, once they've answered it, take appropriate action.

      A lot of our "dean's vacation" students started university not just fresh out of high school but wet behind the ears with regards to what real life and the real world expect of them. By being given the boot, they certainly got an education, but not the one they expected to receive when they signed up. The real world is awfully unforgiving and failure has its price.

      I don't know why the university chose the period of 5 years. I'm assuming that it understood that those who did poorly were often responsible for their own failure. If they chose to go partying instead of studying and then wiped out in a course, whose fault is that? If they didn't have sufficient maturity to take responsibility for their own education, then the university was justified in showing them the door.

      Yes, 5 years is a long time, but I remember when I was a freshman and compare that to what I was like when I finally got my B. Sc. I grew up a lot during that time, which was less than 4 calendar years. I'm assuming that the university recognizes that and assumes that 5 years is enough time to grow up sufficiently and resume their studies, if they choose to do so, with a more concerted effort.

      While I was teaching, I shared an office with a colleague who'd been at the institution for many years. He told me stories of when he was an administrator and had no hesitation of showing under-performing students the door. Sometimes, they would come back several years later for a visit. A number of them *thanked* for tossing them out.