Monday, September 8, 2014

Study: 80% of Community College Students are Victims

By Professor Doom

     I’ve certainly written many times how community colleges seem designed simply to rip off people, and I’ve provided much eyewitness testimony in that regard, and shown what’s going on in their publicly available course offerings.

     I admit, I’m just some guy with a blog, I don’t expect I can change things no matter how many shins I kick. I’ve also provided studies that show community college is primarily a ripoff, no matter how you measure it. The reason why these studies have no effect is because the results of the studies are constantly misinterpreted. A recent study that made it to the mainstream (Reuters, anyway) demonstrates my point:

--is it vain to appreciate when my name is in the title?

     Community colleges often present themselves as a stepping stone to higher education. They totally can be, but administration is far more interested in setting up traps to screw over the young people that have the misfortune of stepping on campus. It’s easy to show that over 90% of community college work is at beginning of high school level, after all. High school is a stepping stone to higher education; “high school, yet again”, aka “community college”, is a demonstration that the student probably shouldn’t be heading into academia.

     The study shows that most students take such ridiculous crap in community college that, for many of them, their credits don’t transfer to a university. For these students, community college is not a stepping stone, it’s a black pit of doom (not the same thing at all!). They waste years of their lives, throw away a fortune in loan and grant money, and only find out at the end that the community college administrators lied them about the institution providing legitimate education.

“…one in seven transfer students has to essentially start over.”

      That “one in seven” statistic doesn’t sound too bad until you think it through. One might translate that to mean “only about 14%” of community college students are completely screwed over. But those are transfer students, the graduates, and among those just the graduates that intended, and tried, to move on to university. So, it looks like only about 14% of community college students ultimately got nothing from their years at a CC, while the reality is, the bulk of students are cheated. Let me explain.

     Another stat from the study:

58 percent were able to transfer 90 percent or more of their credits...

     Now, this sounds good, but all the goodness comes from the candy coating the study puts on things. 

    Amongst community college students, the graduates are the elite. The study didn’t just look at the elite to get its statistics, it looked at a very special minority of the elite. It threw out older students, part time students, and students that went to top tier institutions…it’s pretty clear the researchers tried to find a way to candy-coat what’s being done to community college students, and this was the best they could do. Just looking at graduates is a huge distortion that makes things look much better, far better than reality.

     Let’s rip off that candy coating by using another statistic:

     Now we can do the math. 66% of community college students don’t graduate or get a credential within 6 years (realistically, that means they never do, although there is a small percentage that might, over the course of decades, get something or other). Of the 34% that remains, only 58% of them, as per the study, even get to transfer the bulk of their hours to a university. Let’s put those two numbers together to get a real estimate:

Less than 20% of community college students aren’t victimized by going to community college. The rest wasted their time and money.

     Even this is a little generous because of the “best case scenario” assumptions of the study. The reality is worse. Just because you can transfer credit, doesn’t mean that credit will necessarily count for a degree. I’ve seen students with dozens of hours that ultimately turn into “elective” credits. A student might need 140 credit hours to graduate. A student could take 140 hours at university…or be suckered into going into community college first, taking 60 hours there and then transferring.

     Even if the student manages to transfer his 60 hours from community college to the university, many of those hours could easily not actually count for a degree. The degree program allows for 6 hours of electives, and maybe some of the other courses count. The end result? The student graduates with 164 credit hours (i.e., 24 extra hours of electives). The student wasted at least a year of his life taking bogus community college courses.

     And that’s the lucky student, the top 20% that managed to get to transfer almost all of his credit hours. The study should have concluded “if you’re very lucky, you’ll only waste a year…otherwise it’s a complete waste.”

     How can community colleges claim to be beneficial when the best case scenario still could mean the student wasted at least a year of his life?

     The spin the study puts on what’s going on in the community colleges doesn’t stop when it looks at transferred credits:

“People who aren't savvy about higher education may assume all or most of their the credits they earn will transfer, only to discover that four-year colleges can be extremely picky about which courses actually mattered…”

     Wait, what? 

     People aren’t savvy about higher education? These are kids, fresh out of high school, why should they be savvy? Four-year colleges can be “extremely” picky? Don’t four-year colleges publish exactly what courses will transfer?

     The study tries hard to pin the blame for the 80% victim-rate of community college at students and universities…but that’s a candy coating of pure crap.

     Do NOT point the finger at kids barely out of high school. See, institutions of higher education, even community colleges, as part of accreditation, promise to act with integrity. They’re not supposed to take advantage of kids. If kids aren’t savvy (and of course they aren’t), then the institution must take responsibility to either make them savvy (hard, I admit), or not to take candy from the children (and this requires an iota of integrity, a real problem for college administrators).

     Naturally, in the name of growth, quite a few administrators look at those kids fresh out of high school with greed (and, occasionally lust). It’s not the kids’ fault that they’re being victimized by community colleges.

    Don’t blame the four year colleges for being “extremely” pick about taking the garbage offered by community colleges. Those four-year institutions do not change their transfer rules every year. The crap coursework they don’t accept this year? They didn’t accept it last year, either. They didn’t accept it 50 years ago, either. And yet, the community colleges keep offering crap. The community colleges know full well they’re selling crap that universities won’t accept, and if any $100,000 administrator wasn’t sure about a course, he could just pick up the phone and call the university. Guess he’s not being paid enough.

     The only way those crap courses could be offered is if administration allows them to be offered. Administration at community colleges is responsible for screwing over 80% of the kids coming onto their campus…not the kids’ fault, not the universities’ fault. The study is being very deceptive here.

     I realize that no tax dollar is spent efficiently, but anyone who chooses to connect the publicly available dots can see that 80% of the tax money flowing into community colleges is wasted, at the minimum, and takes advantage of the young in a way that is simply repugnant.

     This study doesn’t want to connect the dots, but I just did. Will it make any difference?


  1. A strong libertarian stance would be that the students themselves bear much of the personal responsibility for this failure. It's sort of like people who are required to file a Form 1040-EZ complaining about the complexity of taxes. As the Reuters article states, Massachusetts and Virginia have guaranteed transfer programs in place. I quickly looked up California, Oregon, and Washington and each had clear transfer degree programs for in-state universities.

    In California, for example, a C.C. will cost about $3000/yr in tuition/fees/books for residents. After transferring to a CSU campus (preferably the more established ones like SJSU, SDSU, etc.), you will pay about $9,000/yr. If you're smart and major in computer science, accounting, math, etc., you'll have a bachelors degree for under $25,000 and as this blog has pointed out, you can expect about $15K of that to be paid for with Pell Grants. Plus you'll have a good job and better life without being hopelessly in debt. That's how you win the higher education game. C.C.'s have their place, but the student needs to do their homework and figure the path forward.

  2. I concede you're right on some level, but libertarianism also believes in contracts, and accredited schools have a contract to "act with integrity". That means that, indeed, taking advantage of a customer's ignorance is not within the capacity of an accredited least, it should not be. I agree, in a perfect non-libertarian world, however, students would ultimately be responsible for buying crap.

    And, absolutely, a very astute person can play the CC system for a solid degree at a good price. Not every CC even offers enough legitimate material for such a student, however, and most such schools offer a ridiculous number of "trap" courses.