Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Colleges to get ratings system, administrators squeal!

By Professor Doom


     Anyone in the industry knows that higher education, as it is today, isn’t working, and hasn’t worked for perhaps a decade or more. A decade is about how long the Federal government takes to realize the bleeding obvious, and so, at last, the government is thinking about maybe-sort of doing something about the disaster being inflicted upon the nation’s youth:



          The gist of the story is that the Federal government, slowly realizing that accreditation is bogus, has decided to take matters into its own hands, in an effort to try to keep track of all that Federal loan money that’s been placed in administrators’ bank accounts given to students for their education.

     As much as I’d like to see some smackdown given to higher education, I don’t have much faith the Feds won’t muck this up. The government is wildly overconfident, and clueless about its ability to fairly rate a system that nobody in the history of humanity has done in an undisputable way, as evidenced by the bravado of one Fed bureaucrat:

“This is not so hard to get your mind around.”

     The supposed rating system will look at all the little things that bureaucrats think measure education. It’s all wrong, of course, but it’s fun listening to administrators squeal at the thought of being held accountable:


“Applying a sledgehammer to the whole system isn’t going to work,”

“It’s hard for me to imagine how that can work,”

“I find this initiative uncharacteristically clueless.”

“We think that entire approach is quite wrongheaded,”

---I find “uncharacteristically clueless” the best. Only an administrator thinks that—characteristically!--government has a clue about anything.


     It’s so funny to hear the sweet hypocritical tears of administrators. Teaching, after all, can be measured in many ways, but administrators always boil it down to one and only one thing: retention (i.e., how many students you pass). I’ve known horrible professors, that have never done a tiny bit of research, whose courses students complain about year in and year out about being a “waste of time”, that get promotion after promotion, raise after raise, because all students get A’s, even the ones that don’t even know they’re enrolled in the course. Good retention is everything.

       And now admin gets to be on the business end of being bullied around by a clueless overpowering force? I have to like it.

     Unfortunately, I know it isn’t going to work. The measurements of “success” that the Federal rating program has proposed so far are a little hit and miss. Some are hard to measure, and prone to fraud in any event. There are three things mentioned in the article:


“…how many of their students graduate…”

      This measure is already used on state-run campuses, today, which is why Education departments (which pass everyone and are notorious for bogus courses) are huge on campus.

     If this becomes Federally mandated, challenging degree programs (you know, the ones that actually produce graduates that are capable of holding real jobs that pay a real salary) will be shut down. Instead, degrees not just in Education, but in Ufology and Queer Musicology will proliferate, while Computer Science degrees will be shut down—the latter would cut into graduation rates, you see.


…how much debt their students accumulate …


     I can see why admin hates using this measure, since suckering students into fat loans is key to getting massive administrative salaries. I rather like this one, but I bet admin will come up with creative accounting methods to get around the debt accumulation problem. It really seems it would just be more efficient to get the government out of the student loan business…stop guaranteeing these things, and the banks will follow, making the debts a nonissue.

     So, I like this one, thus there’s no way this would actually be used.


…and how much money their students earn after graduating…


     This one is highly problematic. What about a student that transfers from one institution to another, do the institutions share credit? I suspect the income would be double counted, and Ivy League schools, with their massive political connections, will have a bit much of an advantage. I also suspect that students that can’t find jobs will fall into the “couldn’t be reached” category, and not even count.


Me: “This document, which calculates points for promotion, is so littered with errors that you should be embarrassed to submit it.”

Accounting professor:  “Oh, the numbers don’t matter. I just put what I want to make Admin happy.”

--nothing like having a former Arthur Anderson accountant teaching students accounting…


     The real problem is privacy—do you really want your income reported to institutions after you graduate, possibly for the rest of your life? Almost certainly, this would be done on some sort of anonymous basis…and the numbers reported would be a complete fraud. I’ve dealt with university personnel that totally submit bogus numbers when they can get away with it.

    So, I like the idea of tracking student debt, even though it’d be smarter for the Federal government to just stop loaning money to institutions. Still, how about a few other ideas to rate colleges:


1)     Floor space devoted to teaching and research


I’ve been at institutions where way over half the floor space is devoted to administrative offices, student recreation, sportsball, in short, stuff that has nothing to do with the education dollars being spent. Campus space should be mostly about education and research. Open land should actually count as nothing either way, or maybe as a tiny contribution to teaching and research (to cut down at least a little on the excessive building on campuses today).


2)     Proportion of employees that are educators or researchers


While I probably should talk about the immense and varied fraud of academic research, the fact remains that educators are a minority of employees on campus today. Instead, most employees are administrators, and administrative support. Campus workers should be mostly about education and research.


3)     Proportion of salary and wages going to educators and researchers


I’ve shown many times that ridiculous sums go to administration, while educators get very little, often so little as to qualify for welfare. Most of the money should be going to education and research.


     I’m unaware of any school that would get a pass (i.e., majority going to teaching and research) on any of the above ratings I just listed, and those are all very easy measurements to make (at least, easier than figuring how much student debt is “too much” or how much graduates make or assigning relative value to a graduate who transferred through 3 institutions). I trust the reader has seen a trend to my ratings, but I feel the need to highlight it in case any Feds read my blog for ideas:

     Every institution of higher education puts in its mission statement that its primary goals are education and, often, research. If you’re going to rate these schools for doing their job, rate them for doing their job. If institutions want to be institutions of “administration and constructing buildings” instead of education and research, let them do so (without Federal money)…but measure institutions of higher education based on how they devote resources to their job, which is education and research.

      I suspect, however, that all this interest in rating institutions of higher education is moot, as something’s coming that will probably devastate the entire corrupt system of higher education in the United States.

     Next time.








  1. I'm not sure just how effective this is going to be. If this is going to be anything like the ranking systems that are used by "Maclean's" here in Canada or the "U. S. News and World Report", I'd be quite skeptical.

    Another thing is whether it will have the desired effect. Will prospective students make better choices using this system? I'm not so sure. I ended up at my undergrad alma mater because my parents said so. After all, they were paying for my education, so they decided where that money would be spent. As well, it was located in a city that was familiar to us as we used to have relatives in the area.

    While I was teaching, I often saw that students exercised little imagination in choosing our institution for their studies. Some went because of the reputation that its grads often found good jobs. Some signed up because of family legacy, such as one of the parents or a close relative being an alumnus. Others, particularly those who lived in the same city, came because their buddies from high school were going there as well, thereby ensuring the continuation of their friendships.

    I don't think I ever had a student who investigated that institution and decided it was the best place for him or her, let alone looking at similar establishments before making their selection.

    By comparison, when I started grad studies 35 years ago, I spent about 2 years looking up various universities and checking to see whether they offered something in the field I was interested in at the time. I wrote lots of letters asking for information such as calendars and I examined them carefully. Eventually, I applied at 8 or so and was accepted by 6.

    (In the end, my final choice for a grad studies university wasn't a good one. I returned to my undergrad alma mater after a year because my supervisor didn't do much. He treated his grad students as cheap labour, who existed only to produce data which he could publish entirely under his name. If anyone ever finished their degree in the normal course of time, it was purely by accident, something which he strove to remedy.)

  2. I honestly don't know what work MEANS in this context, and I make no assurances that a government rating system would "work".

    That said, the ratings I propose would at least give an indication of how honest the institution is. I agree with you that most consumers don't seem to care. My next post, I promise you, will introduce something that will be a real factor in higher education.

  3. Here's a way of getting favourable ratings--simply lower the standards:


    1. Oh, that's not for ratings...that's for growth growth growth. I don't use the word "fetishize" lightly, after all.