Thursday, July 30, 2015

College Social Promotion = Failure

By Professor Doom

     So, last year, Florida decided to fix the remediation scam in a childishly simple way: students that didn’t want to take remedial courses no longer had to do so. Students are customers, now, so shouldn’t have to do things they don’t want to do, or so those who rule higher education believe. Now, it’s been long known that remediation doesn’t work, and instead screws students into wasting years of their lives for nothing. 

     Trouble is, all those remedial students greatly increase the rosters, and that means more of those sweet, sweet, student loan checks that are responsible for administration’s grotesquely high pay. 

     An institution with integrity would look at a prospective student, one that all too frequently is only coming to campus to pick up a check, and, once learning that the student is only able to think at the 5th grade level, turn the student away, saying: “Accepting you would be hurting you, and we can’t do that, because it’s wrong to take advantage of you like this.” No, that never happens. 

     Instead, “Sign up!” says the administrator, “Give us 3 months and we’ll totally make up all the work you didn’t do for the last 7 years. It won’t be problem at all.” Years later, the student is spit out, older for sure, but with nothing else to show for his time but debt.

     Because remediation is so useless, Florida legislators got rid of it, but not via integrity. Instead of just not accepting people who would only fail, the law was changed to allow the people to enroll in college courses. Hey, if they were spending their own money, I’d be somewhat ok with this, but if it’s taxpayer/loan money, I think it’s reasonable for higher education to take the path of integrity.

      Legislators clapped themselves on the back for doing such a good job, while faculty (and common sense, to be fair) said this would only increase the failure rate of college students, already rather high.

      That was a year ago, and now we have the data. Enrollment in remedial courses dropped, of course. But what about those pass rates in College Algebra? Recall, College Algebra was a remedial course some 30 years ago, being basically the math students learned (and still learn, at least in theory) in the 10th grade, but a stroke of an administrative pen turned it into a college course. What happened when students that cannot perform at the 5th grade level enrolled in the 10th grade course?

    Now, that 55.7% is basically the national average when it comes to pass rate. If you’re teaching a college course, and it drops much below that, you get called by admin…and probably fired. Faculty know this, and upon seeing the flood of unqualified students pouring into class, reduced their standards…and still saw the pass rates drop sharply.

     Folks, social promotion is a weak idea for public schools, but makes no sense at the college level. If a student can’t do the easy work, he’s probably not going to be able to do the hard work, either. It’s not doing students any favors putting them in courses where we know they’ll fail:

“The ramifications are multiple. In the simplest case, the students retake the course, but retaking the course if you still don’t have the proper preparation just means more money wasted.”

     Taking a math course you’re not prepared for is like taking an advanced course in Mandarin when you don’t know the basics: you don’t know enough to get started, and so you gain nothing from the course. Taking the course again isn’t going to help, but that’s what students will do under the social promotion system.

“This isn't rocket science. If students don't have the skills to complete a college course and you let them take the course, there's a likelihood they'll fail the course,” he said. “What did they expect? All along this legislation was questioned by experts in the field.”

     It’s queer that faculty aren’t quoted much in this article, just administrators, who get to look real sharp with their 20/20 hindsight. Faculty were saying these sorts of things last year.

      What also happens is students just decide not to take the qualifying courses, and go through the whole college career unable to the basic things; they cover up this fact by taking all the bogus coursework administration offers, like Game of Thrones courses, or courses on Not Shaving, or Lady Gaga courses, among many other ridiculous options. Then, after 5 or 6 years of strange coursework, these students become stuck: they can’t take any courses that would let them get a good degree, because they danced around the basic preparation courses:

And 47 percent of the students chose not to retake any math at that time, which is one reason the college is changing its policy on how long students have to retake a course, said Patrick Rinard, St. Petersburg's associate vice president of enrollment services.

     Wow, that guy is “associate vice president of enrollment services.” Goodness, what a fancy title for that fiefdom. I feel the need to point out St. Petersburg’s college has around 30,000 students and around 300 faculty…and yet they have so many vice presidents that they need associate vice presidents as well. The United States has over 300,000,000 people in it, and still sees no need for an associate vice president. Seriously, there are way too many administrators in higher education. I probably should look at this place more closely later, since they are “#1 in Online Education,” or so they say.

     “One of the things we were noticing for those students was that a certain percentage weren't enrolling the following term. They were choosing to take other courses,” said Coraggio. “It's like their heads are in the sand. They're putting it off.”
--Jesse Coraggio is “vice president of institutional effectiveness and academic services” at St. Petersburg College. The man’s title is five times as long as his name. It’s amazing there are so many titles and fiefdoms at this school. A town as big as this school would merit a mayor, and not a busload of vice presidents…seriously, way too many administrators in higher education.

     One must appreciate the arrogance here. “They’re putting it off,” says the high administrator. Students with no real chance at college have been doing this sort of thing for decades, and only now the administrator notices? Seriously, what’s wrong with saying “higher education isn’t for you, would you please consider going to a vocational school?” Not everyone needs to know the obscurities covered in higher education…and the material is available online for anyone who wants it. All the college offers is “credits,” slips of paper that assert…not much.

     One must also appreciate the insincerity here. The administrator is chastising students for “putting it off” when he knows full well admin could, instead of screwing students into worthless coursework, mandate that students must take the courses they need to progress them towards a degree. You don’t need a state law for that, a single phone call to the registrar’s office would fix it. Guess they don’t have a senior associate junior assistant vice chancellor regent president provost deanling of the Kingdom of Short Phone Calls who could handle that responsibility. Are there really not enough administrators to handle this task?

      Since faculty didn’t get the option to speak about this (because it’s so easy to get it right after the fact that administration took over), next time I’ll look at the comments section to reveal some more obvious truths about the effects of social promotion at the college level.

Monday, July 27, 2015

A Village of Academic Boondoggles

By Professor Doom

     A report on NYU, an institution notorious for predatory practices on students, tracks the money it plunders. Administrative pay (and ridiculous perks, like 7 figure “forgivable loans”) only accounts for some of it, the rest is pouring into real estate deals.

     I’ve mentioned the madcap building spree at our institutions of higher education, and many campuses across the country are massive construction sites, despite on-site student numbers dropping due to falling enrollment and increased emphasis on high-profit margin (and low-education) online courses. I haven’t gone into much detail because the real estate machinations are far removed from the faculty, as well they should: these things seldom have anything to do with research or education.

     These adventures are funded by student tuition, and foreign students are particularly vulnerable to the predatory practices of NYU:

That year, all those students each paid some $9,000 more than the Americans attending NYU, thereby making NYU at least $100,000,000 in such extra revenue alone. That would be enough to put 540 students through all four years at NYU—and save them, in interest, somewhere from $34,698,240 and $72,270,900—if NYU spent it on financial aid instead of real estate and bureaucratic salaries.
     The report makes many calculations like the above, showing how much the squandered money could have helped students, because that’s what educators do with money: ask how it can help with education. Administrators see money, and ask only one question: how they can get it in their own pockets as quickly as possible. It’s an important difference, and the shift in control to mercenary administrators is key to why higher education has, for the most part, turned into a system of plunder.

      Today we’ll look at a fraction of NYU’s real estate activities.

     Real estate is all about the money, especially insider deals and massive kickbacks. NYU is located in Greenwich Village and thus cannot build, and build, and build, nearly as easily as other campuses, which are usually allotted huge tracts of tax-free land, for the erection of boondoggles. NYU, incidentally, is a non-profit institution, so the gentle reader should feel free to be outraged at the extraordinary (and unstoppable) abuse of power here. NYU gets numerous benefits because they’re non-profit, but where does that money go?

“…but also from its global archipelago of high-priced real estate.

…’So, for housing in Berlin,’ reports a junior in Steinhardt, ‘I’m paying 3,569 euros to live in a suite with five other girls and share a small bed.’ 
…Typically, the rent in Berlin for a huge room with one or two roommates, in the hip younger areas of the city, can be as low as 400 euros, or 1,600 euros total…
 ‘NYU requires Prague students to live in NYU housing,’ writes a junior in CAS. ‘While the dorms are nice, they are much pricier than renting an apartment in the same neighborhood.’”

     Ok, this is more about gouging students, which is everyday practice at NYU…perhaps I’ll come back and list all the ways NYU puts the screws to students. It’s an impressive array of questionable business practices, I assure you.

     Greenwich Village is about at urban as it gets, so NYU really can’t build in their location, and admin says it’s really not possible to do much:

“…we had long been urging NYU to do precisely that—meet our need for academic space by buying sites available in NoHo—only to be told that it’s impossible: “Zoning restrictions exist in areas (e.g., NoHo) proximate to the Core that prohibit University uses such as general classrooms,”

     So, admin says it’s impossible to buy buildings. I’ve recorded so many administrative lies in this blog that it would be foolish to take what they said at face value. A few months later:

Thus, in late October, the Board (to quote the Daily News) abruptly “snagged” two NoHo buildings—404 Lafayette and 708 Broadway—for “a whopping $157 million.” This was “an attractive offer we could not refuse,” exulted Walter “Ed” Scheetz, the former owner (those buildings having cost him $96.6 million one year earlier).

      Think about that: NYU paid 60% more for buildings than what the buildings sold for a year earlier. Has real estate really been skyrocketing 60% a year in your neighborhood? A reasonable person would wonder if perhaps there was a kickback or two involved…

     Maybe admin bought these at such a huge premium because they were perfect for NYU, and wouldn’t cause problems with zoning restrictions? Not a chance:

“…the NoHo site will end up costing millions more than what the Board so generously paid its owner, since it requires extensive renovations (which, as of this writing…NYU hasn’t started). Nor is that the only NoHo property on which the Board is spending tens of millions…”

      Wouldn’t it be nice if faculty could do something to stop the plundering of higher education like this? NYU might be the worst of the lot, but I seriously doubt it leads by much of a margin. Even if this isn’t just theft for personal gain, we have wild mismanagement here:

“…NYU has devoted $74 million to the “acquisition and renovations” of 383 Lafayette—the former Tower Records building, which NYU bought last year for $16 million…Despite NYU’s “urgent need for academic space,” the cavernous first floor of that four-story building—roughly 12,000 square feet—was lately used to house the “NYU ID Center,” and little else,…”

--the ID center is just a vending machine kiosk.

     NYU clearly isn’t buying because it’s a good deal, and clearly isn’t buying to fulfill academic needs. So, we’re pretty stuck between plundering or mismanagement, right? The money going into renovations is very administration-focused:

“…will have its brick rebuilt, parapet reconstructed, masonry and windows replaced, and receive reconfigured storefronts, a new entrance canopy, and a new marquee,” as well as “new utility structures” on the roof. At a cost (according to the Working Group) of $58 million, that huge facelift seems a bit excessive for an “academic” building with no teaching space (as NoHo News reported): “Upon completion, the building will be home to various administrative offices.”

     I really want to emphasize how typical this is. I’ve been on many campuses where the administrative buildings are airy, sumptuously decorated palaces while the faculty sit in cubicles and students gather in partially lit rooms (no money for light bulbs due to budget cuts, you see...). 

     I often laugh when CNN is demonizing some ruler of a county, with news about the palaces he and his cronies occupy. I do wish CNN would turn its cameras towards our higher education complex. Can the gentle reader even imagine living or working in a place that just went through $58,000,000 of renovations, where every dollar was spent for comfort and beauty and nothing else? Meanwhile, the students are forced to cram themselves into massive auditoriums to be talked to by minimally paid adjuncts. No money, you see, budget cuts, yadda yadda...

“…that new administrative hive is costing more than we’ve been told. Beyond the tens of millions poured into the “acquisition and renovations”…NYU is spending further millions on a new construction right next door—a luminous four-story annex…won’t have its own entrance, Curbed reports, “from the outside, it will look like a new four-story building has been constructed,” with a glittering exterior of “aluminum, zinc, and glass”—and 56,000 more square feet of “academic space” that won’t be used for teaching.”

      It really is remarkable how many campuses devote more space to administration than to education and research. We already know there’s a positive relationship between administrative pay and student debt, but I bet a study on the ratio of floor space devoted to administration/education would find similar results. Why can’t we use this information to start fixing higher education? Simply stop accrediting schools that do this sort of thing, and these sorts of boondoggles will cease being erected/refurbished.

     $499 million* to renovate… a 14-story, 460,000-square-foot building…that will house NYU’s new Center for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP)…

 (We note that CUSP will occupy that 14-story building’s top three floors, providing them with roughly 100,000 square feet. Since CUSP’s personnel comprise eight faculty, and ten research scientists and postdocs, apparently each one of them will have roughly 5,000 square feet to work in—quite a gift, considering NYU’s “urgent need for academic space.”)

     Does anyone even know what “Urban Science” is, much less why so much space needs to be devoted to it? I know I don’t. Lots of money floods into mystery renovations:

“Whatever all those renovations cost, some at Poly question their necessity. “There is always some construction going on over the last year,” notes one engineer. “Worst of all, they are completely rebuilding the second floor of the Dibner Building, even though they rebuilt it just a year or two ago. Complete waste of resources.”

    The report’s list of expenditures, hundreds of millions, on real estate is extensive, and all the more insulting because education never seems to be on the agenda:

> $180 million to construct “NYU Langone/Cobble Hill,” a 160,000-square-foot ER, to be constructed on the site of Long Island College Hospital (LICH)—a old and august teaching hospital that was allowed to die for lack of funds, and then sold off the Fortis Property Group …NYU is partnering with Fortis, which will develop condos there.

      So, tear down the teaching hospital because, hey, no money (and nobody needs doctors, right?), and put up condos. I’m pretty sure the mission statement of NYU lacks a line about “tear down teaching facilities and erect condos.” Why, pray tell, would a non-profit institution need to build condos?

     The above are part of just a short summary of all the real estate projects at NYU, managed by a fiefdom:

“…well over 100 projects under way in various stages of progress,” according to the Real Estate Development and Facilities Department (RED+F) at NYU/Langone. Those projects are ongoing throughout the city and beyond:…”

     In addition to all these boondoggles, there are many mansions and expensive properties. A few highlights:

$3.6 million for a luxury condo at 845 West End Ave., for housing Law School faculty. “The four bedrooms have ensuite baths with Calacatta gold marble, as well as radiant heat floors” (according to International Business Times).

$3.5 million for a luxury condo at 166 Perry St., for housing Law School faculty. “The 1,875 s/f corner apartment … has a glass curtain wall and views of the Hudson River. It has two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a powder room and home office, along with 10-foot ceilings and a five-fixture master bath” (according to Real Estate Weekly).

$5.2 million for a luxury condo at 455 Central Park West (“a 26-story tower attached to the French Renaissance chateau at W. 206th St.”), for housing Law School faculty. “The duplex apartment has a round living and dining room with 37-foot-high ceilings and Central Park views, along with three more conventional bedrooms” (according to Above the Law).

      Supposedly these are for housing faculty, but the report tells the truth of the matter:

NYU also has allowed the president to hand out valuable favors unofficially. For his son Jed and family, NYU provided two faculty apartments at 240 Mercer, combined into a duplex, although Jed Sexton had no NYU affiliation…for Pres. Sexton's good friend Henry Louis "Skip" Gates, NYU provides a luxurious two
-bedroom faculty apartment at 120 W. 15th St…with no affiliation here. Both stories were reported by the New York Post, which noted that the lucky tenants paid, or pay, discounted rent, as if they were NYU faculty.

     One can only expect those other mansions “for faculty” are likewise just being used for administrative purposes. I’ve only summarized the highlights of the report, but please understand: that vast bulk of money NYU has acquired for these activities is through the student loan scam, which is supposed to provide money for education…not administrative palaces, luxury mansions, and condos.

    Accreditation will do nothing about any of the fraud here. Likewise, the Federal government will do nothing, because it assumes that accreditation is actually paying attention to what’s happening in our institutions of higher education. Accreditation is a fraud, and fixing it is one way to fixing higher education.

     Shutting down the student loan scam altogether is another.

Friday, July 24, 2015

NYU Epitomizes Administrative Plundering?

By Professor Doom

          NYU is a private, nonprofit university that’s notorious for being extremely expensive, with tuition rising every year. As always, these increases are justified because “not enough money,” but a number of faculty got together and did some research. Their findings are collected in a series of essays called The Art of the Gouge. These essays detail how NYU is rapaciously cheating students,  squandering the money on real estate deals, and looting the coffers for the benefit of administration.

      It isn’t simply the money being plundered, huge sums, it’s the effect of this plundering on the students. The student loan scam system was supposed to provide money for education, but because accreditation (which legitimizes institutions) is completely bogus, it’s turned into a system of easy money, money that seldom goes to education.

      Let’s take a look at some examples of plundering:

     While I’ve certainly covered outrageous pay for the Poo Bahs before, and it’s been in the news a few times, the gentle reader needs to understand that pay is only part of the compensation. Millions more is given to Poo Bahs in the form of real estate and other perks. Apparently even that is not enough, as they also can get sweetheart loans, loans that eventually get forgiven. Hey, do you think the student loans could be forgiven like this?

       Just a little more discussion on how much the Poo Bah gets when you look at more than just salary:

“…what with his $1,404,484 base salary (and $88,000 expense account); lifetime annuity of $800,000…$2.6 million "length of service" bonus…$1 million "loan" to buy his summer home…100% healthcare coverage…car and driver…and his apartment at 29 Washington Place (whence, reportedly, the car and driver take him back and forth to work at Bobst, across the Square)…”

          Now, in theory, a board of trustees is supposed to stop this sort of thing, to help keep expenses in check. All too often there’s a cozy relationship between the trustees and the administration, and NYU is over-the-the top in this regard:

“Since Mr. Lipton took the helm in 1998, he has forged NYU's Board into a group of overseers exceptional in Academia not only for its size
—95 members, including Life Trustees and Trustee Associates
—but for its total lack of academic members, …”

     With neither administration nor the board having any educators involved, these people have been free to loot and plunder without reservation, never considering NYU’s supposed mission of education and research. It really shows in administrative pay:

“…From 2011 through 2013, according to NYU's 990s (the latest publicly available), the 21 administrators deemed "essential personnel" saw their total salary jump from $20,496,794 to $23,590,458…”

--do note we’re only talking 2 years of pay raises here, and we’re averaging over a million dollars a year salary per administrator.

     As the gentle reader can see, it’s not just the Poo Bah who gets ridiculous pay (again, this is just salary, perks can easily double the above numbers). It’s not just the amount, either, these people get regular, and very large pay raises, with 20% per year not out of the question. Meanwhile, faculty get their pay cut, and students see their tuition rise. There’s no money, you see…
     While faculty tighten their belts down to the “skeleton” notch, students are really paying the price:

Among our female students, hundreds—more than at any other university—pay by having to resort to prostitution, through
online "dating" services that cater to affluent older men.(We have been compiling student narratives of such ordeals, which we will publish next semester.)

--one wonders if any of those affluent older men are associated with NYU in an administrative capacity…

      The faculty, wisely, don’t dare attribute their name to this document, but I really want to summarize where we are in higher education today. The faculty need food banks and charity to get by, the students are literally prostituting themselves…while administration plunders and loots their way to financial independence. NYU might, maybe, be the worst plundering institution, but it’s far from the only. Even if students don’t have to resort to prostitution, they still pay the price of administrative plundering at this non-profit institution in other ways:

       “…who run afoul of a bureaucracy dysfunctional because of ruthless budget-cutting at its lower levels, leaving countless students often struggling over billing errors, late paychecks, snafus in financial aid and other time-consuming glitches.
And while NYU's top brass live in luxury, our students' dorms are often crumbling, cramped, under-heated, without air conditioning or otherwise neglected…”

     The faculty who composed this report also delve into the real estate dealings of NYU, well worth considering, as they shed some light on why many campuses across the country are choking on construction dust.

     Next time.