Friday, October 30, 2015

Adjunct Abuse Might End?

By Professor Doom

     I’ve written more than a few times of horrible treatment of the typical college professor now. The adjunctification of higher education has been a secret for years, and it’s long past time that people know that getting a really good education can lead, not to riches, or to even security, but to sub-minimum wage jobs, even in an industry, higher education, that is drowning in wealth, thanks to the student loan scam and the unquestioning support of a gullible public.

      A recent article in The Atlantic highlights details I’ve pointed out many a time. Let’s go over them again, because only through the spread of knowledge regarding the great evil being wrought on our campuses can there be hope for its end.

     First, the source of hope:

In early June, California labor regulators ruled that a driver for Uber, the app-based car service, was, in fact, an employee, not an independent contractor, and deserved back pay.

      Higher education isn’t the only industry that is using “contingent labor” rules to skirt the employment laws. Across the country, workers in other industries are being squeezed, and squeezed hard. They’re being reclassified as “independent contractors.” Because they have to maintain company hours, perform a wide variety of company duties, and maintain company property with their own money, these “independent” workers, after trying to reason with company bosses, are taking their complaints to court…and winning, at least sometimes.

In their winning lawsuit, for example, the California FedEx drivers complained that the company shifted hundreds of millions of dollars in costs onto them, from buying and maintaining their FedEx-branded trucks to following FedEx schedules that didn’t allow for meal breaks and overtime.

     Now, companies complain that they need to shift these burdens onto their workers because, hey, doing so lowers overhead costs, and increases profits, providing an advantage over competitors. All well and good, I suppose, but this makes no sense in higher education, where there isn’t much in the way of a drive to increase profit margins. Many institutions are tax-supported, making profits a low priority.

     Nevertheless, tenure is pretty much dead, and the cliché of the stable professor job is far removed from the reality of barely-surviving, contingent, adjunct-hood.

That colleges and universities have turned more and more of their frontline employees into part-time contractors suggests how far they have drifted from what they say they are all about (teaching students) to what they are increasingly all about (conducting research, running sports franchises, or, among for-profits, delivering shareholder value).

     Trying to survive as an adjunct is murderous. You have no security, and so must adhere to administrative demands to offer the most ridiculously simple coursework; you have no influence, as an educator, over anything relating to education. And it’s really, really, hard to get by this way:

“…Mitch Tropin, teaches at six different colleges in the D.C. area. Through a combination of perseverance and good karma, he has been able to align his three Baltimore schools so he teaches there on the same days, allowing him to minimize commuting time. He always aims for employment at six schools because, he says, “You never know when a class will be cancelled or a full-time professor will bump you at the last minute. Sometimes classes just disappear.” 

     This guy teaches at six different schools, all accredited (legitimized) by the same accreditor. How can the accreditor not be aware of the abusive situation at not one, not two, not three, four, or five, but six different schools? These six schools, rather than each hire faculty to teach full time, collude to each hire 6 teachers, and employ each part time. How did accreditation not notice this scheming? The answer is simple: accreditation is a sham, run by the same people that run those schools, the same people that put faculty into adjuncthood, denying them jobs for the personal profit of administration.

      We’re told time and again that education is the key to a better life, justifying the ridiculous expense of higher education. But what’s the payoff for these highly educated people? Let’s see:

“To say that these are low-wage jobs is an understatement. Based on data from the American Community Survey, 31 percent of part-time faculty are living near or below the federal poverty line. And, according to the UC Berkeley Labor Center, one in four families of part-time faculty are enrolled in at least one public assistance program like food stamps and Medicaid or qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit.”

     These highly educated people get no befits from these jobs, not even health care:

A recent study shows that a large portion of universities and colleges limit their adjuncts’ teaching hours to avoid having to provide the health insurance now required for full-timers under the Affordable Care Act.

      Obamacare actually leads to people becoming even more impoverished. I can’t emphasize strongly enough how the lack of integrity amongst our rulers of higher education is a big factor in what’s happened here. When you consider that our campuses are very Left-biased nowadays, and thus should be driving to create that “worker’s paradise” that is the key Left platform, the hypocrisy here is quite foul…”Liberal Hypocrisy” is as redundant a phrase as “tiny shrimp,” it seems.

Alyssa Colton, for example, the subject of an NBC News story earlier this year, was hired initially as a full-time teacher with benefits at the College of St. Rose in Albany, New York. The college did not renew her contract four years later, but after a semester had gone by, it rehired her as a part-time instructor without health insurance or pension contributions. “I essentially took a pay cut,” Colton told NBC, “doing the same work for less money and less respect.”

     It’s a big bait-and-switch in higher education. We’re told that we shouldn’t feel pity for these people because, hey, they should just get another job. This whole situation has happened slowly. Every year, I get another pay cut, in some form or another (either a higher health insurance premium that my employer won’t pay, or I’ll be forced to pay more for the privilege of parking on my campus’ tax free land, or some other fee that I must pay as part of my job), and no pay raises; it’s takes a decade of this before you realize you’re never getting ahead, ever, as the carrot of “full time position,” dangling just a little out of your reach, is moved further away by a chuckling administrator every time you step forward. 

     Higher education at the graduate level has been diluted down so that you can get a degree qualifying to teach on campus more easily than licensing to teach in the public school…and none of the schools selling these degrees mention “warning: you can only get sub-minimum wage paying jobs with this degree.” Instead, these institutions say “tuition is $20,000 per year, but you can get a great job with your Education Master’s Degree. We’ll help you fill out the student loan forms…”   Again, integrity would really help with this sort of thing.

     We’re also told that we have to pay faculty nothing, because keeping costs down keeps tuition down. Well, we know that sure doesn’t work. It’s a simple enough matter to watch administrative palace after palace going up on (and off) campus and deduce where the money is going. Administration sure doesn’t cut corners when it comes to their own positions:

Even while keeping funding for instruction relatively flat, universities increased the number of administrator positions by 60 percent…10 times the rate at which they added tenured positions.

---the article doesn’t mention the student base greatly increased while this happened.

      Not just the number of administrators, but their salaries, can only increase:

“[I]n January 2009, facing $19 million in budget cuts and a hiring freeze, Florida Atlantic University awarded raises of 10 percent or more to top administrators, including the school’s president.”

     While what’s really going on in our scams schools of higher education are unknown to the general public, anyone inside the system can tell something has gone terribly wrong in the pricing/payment scheme:

One adjunct teacher, JJ, posting a comment online, calculated his/her pay as an adjunct as $65 per student per semester, adding up to the princely sum of $2,000, noting that “each student paid $45,000 in tuition and took about 4 classes a semester.… I think their parents would be rather upset to learn that only $65 of the $45,000 went to pay one professor for an entire semester.”

      I’m not a big fan of unions, but for lack of a better solution, I’m willing to accept unions as a possible solution here. Naturally, the low status of adjuncts means forming a union is a termination-level penalty (yes, I know corporations do the same thing; the issue here is higher education gets extra money poured on it because, supposedly, it’s not about the profit motive). Despite the obstacles, adjuncts don’t have much choice but to fight:

Tiffany Kraft, who teaches at four different institutions in the Portland, Oregon, area says, “What do we have to lose? We’ve been scared into complicity for so long, but I didn’t go through fourteen years of higher education to be treated like shit.”

     It’s a shame that simply asking the pompous overlords self-styled titans of industry leaders of higher education to stop the hypocrisy of paying highly educated people peanuts while charging students a fortune because education is so “valuable.” If they had integrity, it would have stopped long since.

     Hopefully the courts can turn things around, but there’s a flaw in that. A class action lawsuit, with thousands of adjuncts suing an institution, could result in a court award of tens, even hundreds of millions.  Too bad that if that happens, the school will simply close its doors, paying nothing to the victims and stranding students with worthless credit hours…while the people that committed the crime will simply walk free. Can anyone think of a better solution?

     In the meantime, the immense plundering going on in higher education is becoming ever more known. While it would be naive to expect the plunderers will ever pay the price for their misdeeds, the first step is make the crimes public knowledge, and The Atlantic is at least helping.


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Test Scores Are Clear: US Higher Ed Is Weak

By Professor Doom

     In our “public” school system, it’s all high stakes testing, all the time. To succeed as a teacher in that system, you need to be very good at teaching kids to take standardized tests, or so the teachers say. Even if this isn’t perfectly accurate, it’s still pretty clear that American children get plenty of exposure to how standardized tests work, as well as extensive training and practice.

     Our higher education system is ridiculously expensive now, getting an undergraduate degree like a Bachelor’s can easily cost the student $100,000,  far more expensive than everywhere else in the world (far more so when you consider that many countries offer free higher education to their young adults). It’s not outrageous to think all, or at least some, of that money is paying for some legitimate education.

     Educational Testing Service (ETS) offers a Graduate Record Exam (GRE), a standardized test for college graduates wishing to go on to graduate school. Now, this test is given throughout the world, not just in the United States, and the only people taking this test are those with a serious interest in pursuing graduate school, as you have to pay for the privilege of taking this test. 

      Should Americans, with the advantage of going through a very test-intensive school system, and the advantage of our incredibly expensive undergraduate higher education system, do well on the GRE, relative to other countries? It sure seems like they would.

      Educational Testing Service has released the scores, by country, so we get to find out. The GRE is broken down into three categories, verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing.

     Let’s first look at verbal reasoning, the ability to read something in English and understand what is read. American students should have an incredible advantage here—many countries don’t have English as the primary language, and with the GRE being made in the good ol’ USA, there’s a cultural advantage here not to be overlooked. Seriously, English has a massive vocabulary and so many spelling quirks that, as a written language, gaining proficiency at the professional level is no trivial task at all, and far more so if English isn’t your first language.

     The average verbal score for an American student taking the GRE is 152.9. That statistic is meaningless in a vacuum, so let’s compare that score to GRE scores in other English speaking countries. New Zealand (157.3), Australia (158.4), Canada (156) and Britain (157.1). Hey, does anyone notice that America scores worse on this test than any other English speaking country? All that training in the public schools, all that money spent on higher education, clearly is worth nothing.

      Now, there’s a claim of bias here, as supposedly only the top students in those countries are taking the GRE, while, supposedly, we have terrible students taking the GRE here. It’s possible, but shouldn’t we be at least a little concerned when every English speaking country out there does better than Americans in English? The test is written by Americans, after all, we should have a huge cultural bias here.

     Even countries like Romania (153.5), Norway (153.1), Slovenia (153.4), South Africa (153.3), Switzerland (153.7) and Singapore (157.1) are able to perform better than America. Norway, incidentally, has free higher education. Granted, that higher average is from 98 Norwegians (as opposed to thousands of Americans)….but we really should ask why our colleges can’t seem to teach English to native English speakers as well as it is clearly being done in other countries, whether those other countries speak English or not. Sure, one country could get lucky at beating us like this, but it happens far too often to just be luck.

      Maybe we could get some of their “English as a Foreign Language” faculty to come here and teach our students? I don’t think I’m joking here…

     Analytical writing, much like English, should also be an easy category for our students to win. Alas, no. I’ll spare you the numbers, but once again, American students fall short of English speaking countries, sometimes by a very wide margin (close to a whole standard deviation for many countries, for those following the statistics). Even German students write in English better than our American students…again, can we bring their writing teachers over here?

      Bottom line, our testing-trained, expensively-educated, and native-language speaking students are no match for the non-English speaking students in many other countries when it comes to reading, or writing, in the English language.

      Shouldn’t we be a little worried?

     The final category for me to consider, quantitative reasoning, is a disaster. The US average (149.5) is below pretty much every industrialized nation on the planet. China, for example, is at 162.5, and Germany (155.5), Australia (155.7), India (154.1), Viet Nam (158.9), even the Ukraine (154.4) is well ahead, quite an achievement considering the country’s political situation the last few years.

     Yes, apologists for American higher education will claim that these comparisons aren’t fair, there’s just no way to compare the best American students to the best students of other countries…but I honestly feel that, when it comes to reading and writing in English, we should be able to have enough advantages there to look good…and we don’t, ever. I can certainly accept sometimes being behind, but when you’re always behind no matter how many advantages you have, that’s a legitimate sign that something is going terribly wrong.

     ETS really has released a treasure trove of information documenting the failure of our higher education system. 

      I want to talk about how the data suggests what the problem is. Education, as I’ve mentioned before, is something of a joke graduate program. 2% of Asian GRE test takers intend to go on to Education graduate school. For Europe, it’s 1%. 

     In the United States, it’s 8%.

     Many multiples of American resources go into this (now) questionable field than the rest of the world devotes.  Does this not suggest that maybe we’re looking at education in the wrong way here or at least throwing resources away? Many graduate Education degree programs in the US don’t even require the GRE for admittance, so we’re looking at the top American Education students here, incidentally.

     How do our best Education students score with the rest of the world? Once again, ETS is only too happy to provide the data. While in prior years they’ve generally done poorly, this year they’re solidly mediocre, except in one category. The lowest quantitative average was scored by the Education majors, amongst all other majors. 

     The people with the least understanding of quantitative reasoning end up being our math teachers. 

      Put all this information together, and realize our English teachers generally are worse in English than non-native English speakers, and our Math teachers have about the weakest quantitative skills on the planet. Could this possibly have some effect on why the education system is doing so poorly? 

      That would just be a matter of opinion, but the gentle reader must keep in mind that the American test takers are produced by our American higher education system. An honest person would look at how American college graduates are performing on the GRE relative to the rest of the world, look at how much we spend training our kids to take standardized tests in the public schools, look at how much we charge for college relative to the rest of the world, and realize: something is very wrong here.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Dept of Education: Accreditors Clueless

By Professor Doom

     Time and again I’ve pointed out how accreditation has been taken over by the same bloated and overpaid administration that’s destroying higher education. One of the biggest signs of this is the dwindling faculty on campus; although the student base of many of our universities and colleges has doubled, and doubled again, full time faculty positions have dropped, and pay has been flat for the teachers despite the increasing workload, even as administrative positions and pay continue to skyrocket.

Memo from Admin: Please remember your syllabus is a legal contract. Unless I don't like your grading, then I will go into the system and change grades.
--Supposedly a joke tweet from an associate dean. That said, I doubt I’m only one who has worked under admin who honestly think this way…and have done this.

     It’s no secret that administration thinks nothing of faculty, and honestly wishes to get rid of us. Faculty have a nasty habit of having standards, and think it’s wrong to cheat students out of their financial lives for personal gain…there’s just no way for administration to see eye to eye with faculty on matters involving integrity.

     There’s even a book on how much administration wants to have faculty-free campuses…imagine what incredible rip-offs a pure administration campus would be! The gentle reader needs to realize that at the rate things are going on campus, such will be reality within a few decades, if not sooner.

     Accreditation, much like everywhere else in higher education, is all about the growth, about getting more people sucked into paying money for “training” by professionals, and is forever looking for new ways to get people indebted for basically nothing. The latest fad is “competency based education.”

     Why the sudden interest in something completely non-academic? Growth, of course, in this case growth into the “new market” of non-academic education.
     It’s a simple fact that, in all honesty, not everyone is suited for academics. I’m not trying to be elitist here, I openly admit I’ll never be even a mediocre football player, and do note that playing football, to judge by how our society distributes wealth, is considered a far more precious skill than anything academic.

     Higher education, after years of reckless growth due to the student loan scam, is starting to have a hard time finding suckers young people to sign up for more student debt. But the Poo Bahs that run our institutions want more growth, and the people that run our institutions are the same people that run accreditation.

     With no more growth possible in academics, accreditation is hoping to facilitate growth by “competency based education.” Hey, don’t get me wrong, competency is important…but why can’t we just have formal jobs training centers for that? Why can’t we just do that in the high schools, instead of colleges? Why can’t we just make competency determined by tests anyone can take? Nobody will even consider those questions, since answering them honestly would cut into growth…

     Anyway, accreditation set up the regulations for competency based education. Only one problem: faculty involvement is minimized, so much so that even our clueless government sees a problem:

     Now, I don’t believe you need some yahoo with 6 years of Education courses to teach something, but you do need faculty, experts, of some sort to at least determine skill, if not teach it. How did it happen that accreditation set up their regulations in a way that there would not be any actual experts to judge the competency?

The office last year issued an audit that criticized the department’s approval of direct-assessment degrees, which are competency-based credentials that do not rely on the credit-hour standard. The audit questioned the sufficiency of the faculty role in those programs, and raised concerns about low-quality providers entering the space.

     It’s no secret that “low quality providers” are already pretty common in higher education; it seems every day I read another report of another scammy school, ripping off students hand over fist…a scammy school that is fully accredited, mind you.

     Hey, you want to know what is a secret? First, an anecdote:

Faculty: “So, SACS got the assessment data we’d been gathering. The data was awful, invalid on every level. Many of the forms were filled out by the same student five, six, or more times…there was no way to tell between incoming students and students that had been here years, and yet we told SACS we were using the data to assess student improvement…some of the forms were actually testing forms that I’d filled out, to verify the scanner was working…all clumped together in boxes, no statistics beyond the means…I don’t think anyone in admin even knows what a standard deviation is…
SACS praised admin for the data…”

---a colleague just went through accreditation review at his school, by SACS, the same accreditor of UNC. He’d told me for years that the data his school was collecting was what we in the statistics biz call “garbage.” I assured him he had nothing to worry about, that SACs did not care about legitimacy as they were basically certifying themselves, and didn’t even have the competency to determine legitimacy in any event. There are many incestuous conflicts of interest in accreditation, no way submitting fraudulent data would be a problem.

     The big secret: accreditation is a joke. The same non-academic administrators that run our schools also run accreditation…it’s one of the big reasons that fraudulent schools can keep on ripping off students year in and year out, with scarcely a peep from accreditation.

     The Higher Learning Commission, an accreditor, is leading the charge for this new way to plunder student loan money for schools to grow, but it looks like the Department of Education is actually going to slow down the rate of plunder:

We concluded that the Higher Learning Commission did not establish a system of internal control that provided reasonable assurance that schools’ classifications of delivery methods and measurements of student learning for competency-based education programs, including direct assessment programs, were sufficient and appropriate to help the department ensure that it properly classified the schools’ programs for Title IV purposes,” the report said…reevaluate competency-based education programs previously proposed by schools to determine whether interaction between faculty and students will be regular and substantive,”
--Title IV is the student loan money. Emphasis added.

     So, looks like faculty-free schools are not happening really soon, at least…but the gentle reader should know that it will happen at some point, assuming higher education isn’t completely destroyed first. Would the complete destruction of higher education be a bad thing? Overall, probably not, but there are still some legitimate schools out there, and I’d regret their loss.

      Naturally, the Poo Bahs of higher education have no choice but to grin and bear this effort to restrict their attempts at plunder. As usual, however, when these guys speak they say nothing, and reveal their lack of understanding:

The audit shows the need for clarity and more communication on the definitions, requirements and processes for competency-based education, said Laurie Dodge, vice chancellor of institutional assessment and planning and vice provost

--Yes, I’ve emphasized that title, as it is a very typical title of administration. Note the length of the job title satisfies my “get rid of” guideline. Seriously, there are way too many administrators ruling over way too many fiefdoms in higher education, so many that the titles are now laughably ridiculous.

     Seriously, the Department of Education says “more interaction between faculty and students,” and admin just spews out buzzwords in response.

     Another Poo Bah (well, a former one) also has some edu-speak to say in response to the Department of Education’s request to have actual teachers in their educational programs:

“What we need is well-considered action with adequate safeguards and appropriate expectations for demonstrable outcomes to optimize the potential benefits of competency-based education while effectively stewarding Title IV resources,” he said. “I know that the institutions that continue to work diligently to assure development of high-quality competency-based education programs stand ready to help define just how to get this right.”

      Can any normal person read the above paragraph and extract “we understand you, we’ll have interaction between teachers and students in these programs” from all the edubabble? I can’t emphasize strongly enough how horrible the non-academic Poo Bahs have been for higher education. It really is pathetic that these guys are in charge. Educators can’t influence education right now, and if the Poo Bahs have their way, educators can’t even teach students anything, can’t even determine if students are learning anything.

     Now, I’m all for competency-based testing, and I think such tests should be available to all who wish to attempt them, no coursework (and accompanying huge tuition bill) required. Unfortunately, I don’t see accreditation or higher education allowing it. I imagine sooner or later, teacher-free “education” will be for sale, very expensively, at our institutions of higher education, and not just in the competency-based programs. The only thing stopping it right now is government doing its job, and only a fool can think that will last long.