Thursday, August 7, 2014

Study Finds Community College “Unhinged”

By Professor Doom

     Time and again I’ve pointed out that much of college is a joke, with students taking loads of coursework of little relevance or usefulness, either to education or to actually getting a job.

     While I’ve done what I could to set things up so that any who doubt me can see with their own eyes, I’m hardly the only, or even the first, to point out that which should be obvious to any legitimate regulator.

     Throughout the country, community colleges are steadily growing like weeds. These colleges promise “higher education” and “job skills” and “cheaper than university”, but I’ve already shown these to all be lies, many times.

     There’s no higher education, as most of the courses, 90%, is at the high school level or lower, often much lower…and anyone who looks can see that.

     Job skills can happen, but usually it’s minimal; most courses are taught by minimally paid adjuncts that can’t get jobs in the workforce—how can people without job skills teach job skills? Community colleges simply don’t pay enough to hire people with job skills, and are content to provide the cheapest instructing they can, on useless topics.

    Cheaper than university? Unfortunately, no, not for the taxpayer. Community colleges don’t add to the real “student base” of a town, instead taking students and faculty away from universities…while adding a legion of ridiculously highly paid administrators.

     Community colleges are simply a scam to grab student grant and loan money from suckers. Every study says as much:

---Emphasis added. Everyone in the industry knows what’s going on. “Unhinged” really is the word for offering ever more ridiculous coursework, charging a bundle for it, and calling it “higher education.”

     A report from 2013 confirms what I’ve been saying about the math in community college. The report addresses what’s really going on in these allegedly “convenient and cheap” avenues of higher education.

“…Many community college career programs demand little or no use of mathematics. To the extent that they do use mathematics, the mathematics needed by first year students in these courses is almost exclusively middle school mathematics…”

--do note: “almost exclusively”.

   Middle school is 6th to 8th grade, and much like I’ve shown, much of community college’s “higher education” is this stuff. Except, of course that it’s generally taught by unqualified Educationist teachers who can’t pass the tests to become teachers in the public school system. 

     Now, don’t get me wrong, I honestly believe that not everyone needs to know calculus or whatever to function in the vast majority of jobs, but when community college students “almost exclusively” are learning up to 8th grade math, should this really be called “college”? Somehow I suspect communities like the sound of “Community College” better than “Place Where You Get Another Chance To Be In The 8th Grade, Except You Pay For It Forever” better.

     Naturally, the question arises: why are we teaching 8th grade (at very best) math almost exclusively in our community colleges?

“Whatever students did to pass mathematics courses in middle school, it does not appear to require learning the concepts in any durable way…”

     The above is representative of the main difference between my blog and the report: the report acts as though what’s going on was legitimate, instead of just plain calling a spade a spade.

      “Learning the concepts…” is a false premise here. I’ve had many students sit in the back of remedial math, and read romance novels to get their easy A. I’ve had many classes where 20% of the names on the roster never show up at all. I’ve had many classes where another 30% of the students vanish a few weeks into the semester—they vanish at the same time they get their student loan money checks.
       I dispute the assumption of legitimacy here. What’s really happened is that administration, with “growth uber alles” as their motto, has simply eliminated coursework down to a level that, safely, anyone can do if pressed, and that even people that don’t care a bit about education can still “look good” in the bogus college courses that bloat campuses today. Since growth is all that matters, administration doesn’t care about scamming students—it’s still growth. The fact that calling a scammer a “student” is about as reasonable as calling a shoplifter a “customer” just doesn’t come to an administrative mind.

     Yes, there are students that graduated high school without the ability to function at the 8th grade level. Yes, some of these students really want another chance to get that education that they missed out on the first time around. Yes, I believe they should have that chance. Too bad they won’t get it at community college, since these types of math courses generally have large enrollments, are taught by dubious teachers, and these teachers have no job security, so have only minimal learning requirements (since the teachers know if they ask anything of the students, they’ll be fired).

     If communities really wanted to help these people, they’d be far better served having an “extra GED” night class system, taught by high school teachers.

“…The research showing that many students who fail their placement tests
in mathematics but then go on to be successful in community college,…”

 --again, the false assumption of legitimacy shows up in the report. Being successful in community college requires little more than the ability to “not shave” after all. The report never questions the assumption of whether the community college is actually of any benefit to a community, instead of simply a massive suck of taxpayer dollars and means to exploit the young into endless loan debt.

         While the report does have much to say, the false assumption of legitimacy really leads to bad conclusions. Just one more such quote:

“…While the textbooks in the introductory program courses were often impressive in their demand for mathematical thinking, the tests were a different story. Judging by the tests community college teachers administer to their students in the introductory program courses in their career majors, their courses are typically pitched to the lower set of expectations …”

     In so many words, what the above quote is saying is that yes, the college course texts are legitimate textbooks. Unfortunately, what’s actually going on in the courses is way below the textbooks. Again, this is because there is no legitimacy here.

     Accreditation never looks at what goes on in the classroom, instead it only looks at the textbook and, maybe, the syllabus.

     Anyone looking at the course syllabus and book will think “hey, this is a college course.” Anyone actually sitting in the courses will realize that in many cases, the course doesn’t follow the syllabus. The syllabus might say the course is covering six chapters, but the reality? Two chapters, tops, and just the easiest material. The reason, again, is the teachers of these courses are motivated not to teach, but to get as few student complaints as possible…this is best achieved by doing very little in classes.

     Still, they have to turn in a syllabus and textbook to admin…

      There are certainly legitimate community college courses, but for the vast majority of students, it’s just a big trap. The report also examines what’s going on in the writing/English classes.

     Next time.


  1. The tech college I used to teach at wasn't much different.

    Each course offered by that institution had an official outline, a document which had to be prepared by an instructor and approved not just by the department administrators but the dean as well. A number of the courses I taught never covered most of the material mentioned in that outline.

    The rationale? I was to be concerned with teaching whatever I covered well. That may be obvious to all and sundry but, at that institution, it often meant only a fraction of what was promised. It's like offering a course in trigonometry and not making it past Pythagoras because the students enrolled in it during a given term could only handle that much. Forget trigonometric functions, let alone associated expressions in which they are used.

    Those course outlines were actually on file in the library, or so I was told. Oddly enough, I don't think any of my students actually looked them up to see what the details of those courses really were. Personally, I don't think any of them really cared, so long as they got the grades they expected to receive.

    1. The rationale behind the proliferation of community colleges reminds me of a discussion I had with someone many years ago why the city I live in absolutely had to keep its NHL team rather than, say, build a new hospital or library.

      The issue, according to that person, wasn't the actual activity of playing hockey. It was a way of creating and maintaining jobs, ranging from people who made sports souvenirs to someone who ran a bar close to the arena and where fans went after the game.

    2. That explains why such things are kept...and, as a private enterprise, it's not my concern.

      The reason CCs spring up is they are a reason to suck massive amounts of money from the taxpayer, in a hidden way (via the Federal government). CCs don't impact the community in the same way as a university, at least if there's already a university around (remember, CC's draw "real" students and faculty from the uni, while supporting an extra legion of administrators). Shut down the CC, and you won't see quite the economic impact, except at the high end, since those 100k administrative jobs dry up. The faculty and students will just go back to university.

    3. And, for what it's worth. Seeing course after course be completely fraudulent (i.e., what goes on in the course being nothing like what is being reported as going on in the course) was what tipped me off to the nature of the scam. More accurately, seeing these courses go on for years with no repercussions from accreditation for admin tipped me off that something wholly corrupt was going on where I was working.

      Then seeing it at institution after institution...

    4. Sometimes, though, that may be due to an inadvertent oversight.

      My alma mater used to issue printed student calendars that, among other things, included brief descriptions of each course. Eventually, they became about as thick as the telephone book for a medium-sized city. Keeping its contents updated may have been a major task.

      While I worked on my second master's degree, I took a course that, for the most part, didn't match its summary. I reprimanded the professor for it in the post-course review and, if I recall correctly, that had been revised in subsequent editions of the calendar.

      I suspect that someone in the system hadn't changed it until I drew attention to it.

    5. Oh, I totally accept that there are artifacts in school documents that are a decade past being updated. The study is well past that point.

      It's not simply that the textbooks are not being used, except perhaps for 10% (heck, Education students often don't buy the books because they aren't even used.

      No. It's instructors typing up and passing out syllabi semester after semester, knowing that the course does not actually follow the syllabus. That's not simply an oversight, that's systemic fraud.

      Or, as the study puts it so politely, "unhinged".

    6. Then there's what happens in the accreditation process.

      During the last accreditation application I took part in, I became aware of how bogus some of the dog and pony shows really were. I taught a number of service courses for a different department and I remember revising the outline for one of them.

      I taught the material in that covered in it several times in a number of other courses, so I was quite familiar with what was involved. The course in question had a lab session and I knew how much time I needed. The department head told me to put down double the figure in the course outline, though I emphatically told him that much time wasn't necessary. It didn't dawn on me until after the accreditation committee had come and gone that the time officially allotted was merely for show, used to convince the inspectors.

      The result was that I went through each lab session in the same amount of time as I did in the other course. So, if I needed an hour for what was supposed to be a 2-hour block, I often had a lot of free time left over. I ended up padding out that time with extra material, though it didn't do much good. The students were even more bored than before, as the stuff went in one ear and out the other, and I looked like an idiot for filling that free time.

      However, everybody seemed to get what they wanted. The accreditation committee got the lab time figure it was looking for, the department administration successfully successfully duped the inspectors, the students figured they got a deal and were only too glad to get away from me quickly, and I got the twerps out of my hair that much quicker. I usually went back to my office during that extra time and had a cup of tea or did some work.

      That wasn't the only time the department pulled a stunt like that. I prepared the outline for a new course which, honestly, was quite ambitious. That same outline was included in the presentation made to the accreditation committee, so I'm sure that the amount of material that was supposedly to be covered impressed it.

      Once the inspectors had left, I was told by the department head to drastically scale back the course content. Part of the reason was to make the remaining material so simple that all the students should have been able to pass. Of course, it was likely that it was all part of the illusion it wanted to convey to the committee, though nobody officially admitted to it.