Sunday, January 31, 2016

Profs Agree: GPA Worthless

By Professor Doom

     “If I get a B in this course, I will die.”

--20+ years ago, I’d get a student like this every semester, but it’s been years since I’ve had even one. Mostly this is because of grade inflation—in most courses, getting an A means you showed up, if that much.

     It’s no secret grade inflation runs rampant in higher education, and, as always, I’ll link that to the student loan scam. The money from the student loan scam caused tuition to inflate. Instead of paying a hundred bucks for a course, a student now pays a few thousand: he’s going to be much happier with a better grade than back when courses were relatively cheap. Toss in admin, paid to make sure the students are happy, and, sure, pressure goes on the faculty to do what it takes to make the student happy. “Easy A” is a cliché for a reason.

     The student loan scam has been flooding campuses for well over a decade now, and so now college degrees are worth what a high school diploma was worth a generation ago: nice to have, but not worth all that much.

     Seeing their 4 year degrees are worthless, people are now flooding into graduate schools, paid for by the same student loan scheme that made the college degree nearly worthless. I do wish more people could connect the dots here, but that’s for another day.

     Today I want to talk about getting into graduate school. I get regular messages from readers asking many questions about graduate school. While the key issue is picking a good school, the main obstacle is getting accepted. How do you get into a graduate school?

      First thing to know: that high GPA that you thought was so precious? Like everything else paid for by the student loan scam, it’s worthless:

One astrophysicist…said, “Grade point, most people said it doesn't affect them very much because basically everybody in the pool -- everybody in the final pool -- has such high GPAs that it's not meaningful.”

     Yes, getting into grad school with a 1.99 GPA probably isn’t going to happen (not for the good schools, anyway, and I strongly advise against going to for-profits for this, at least if you’re getting a degree thinking it’ll lead to a job), but once the admissions committee has weeded out all the 1.99 GPA applicants, they’re generally stuck with 50 or so applicants, all with GPAs in the 3.98 to 4.00 range. Now, some schools have A+ grades, so theoretically GPAs can go up to 4.33 now…but much like with public schools that do this sort of thing, the actual GPA is irrelevant, once you get past 3.5 or so.

     A recent book examines how graduate school admissions committees at top schools make their decisions, and a recent article on Inside Higher Ed talks about this. Allow me to add some insights:

Ph.D. programs are one of the few parts of higher education where admissions decisions are made without admissions professionals.

      Ah, the old cry of “we need more bureaucrats.” Admissions professionals…seriously? Look, it’s no secret that “math people” have characteristics that you generally don’t find in “English people” which you generally won’t find in “Arts people.” Hey look, now the gentle reader knows everything an “admissions professional” knows. Seriously, it seems obvious to let experts in the field determine if an applicant has what it takes to eventually become an expert. 

      This isn’t an easy job, I admit, and it’s easy to second-guess yourself. But letting an “admissions professional” do it is just plain stupid. Hey, we’ve let admissions professionals determine who gets into college in the first place…the end result is everything just became “open admissions.” So, yeah, just toss that idea in the trash, we don’t another layer of bureaucracy here.

     While the article stumbles with this first step, there are some valuable things here:

For instance, those whose programs were not at the very top of the rankings frequently talked about not wanting to offer a spot to someone they believed would go to a higher-ranked program. They didn't want their department to be the graduate equivalent of what high school students applying to college term a safety school.

     This is important advice: if you’ve got your heart set on a certain school, realize they might think you are too good (!) for it, and turn you down. Make sure when you apply to let them know that you’re not applying elsewhere, especially if you have those top scores. It might be worthwhile to show up in person, too, just to let them know that, hey, you’re in the area, and not likely to go somewhere else.

     So, if GPA is basically useless, what is worthwhile?

…a priority on GRE scores that extends beyond what most department would admit (or that creators of the test would advise)…

     The GRE is the Graduate Record Examination, it’s like the SAT, except you take it after college, to get into grad school. Well, to get into good graduate schools, anyway. There are plenty of huckster schools out there that don’t require a GRE (in fact, every Education and Administration Graduate program I applied to didn’t care about GRE, all they wanted was a credit card number…), but this is what the top schools use instead of the GPA.

      Why? Well, grade inflation has made GPA useless, and there are just so many bogus schools and departments (Hi, Education and Administration!) out there that you can’t determine if a student knows anything by looking at the GPA. Even the “Why I Want To Go To Graduate School” essay can be ghost-written easily enough (plenty of sites offer this service). But the GRE is administered, not by a government organization (hence, by nature, corrupt), but by a private company, Educational Testing Service, which charges people to take the GRE. If ETS becomes known as corrupted, then the GRE becomes worthless and nobody will pay to take it…and ETS goes out of business.

      In short, GRE, unlike GPA, has integrity in it, and so is useful. Just one more example of why we really need to put integrity back into higher education, and soon, before it gets wiped out.

Further, she noted, the Educational Testing Service, which produces the GRE, has never suggested that departments use cutoffs the way departments routinely do.

     The simple fact is these committees have a huge stack of applicants to consider…there’s only one honest measure around. How can you blame committees for using that honest measure?

‘If it's not over 700, I won't read anything.’ And that cuts usually two-thirds of applicants.”

--if you’re looking to get into a good grad school, there’s your target number. STUDY TOWARDS THIS GOAL AT A MINIMUM!

     The book seems to have an agenda (thus the emphasis on “lack of admissions professionals” as relevant), and talks much of bias, discrimination, and “lack of diversity” as perceived problems, to the point of complaining about: 

White males “dominated” the admissions committees, and Posselt writes that chairs cite diversity as a value in appointing members in only two of the 10 departments she studied.

     To these complaints I must respond: “Whatever.” Graduate study isn’t about skin color or social justice warfare…it’s about academic ability. That said, there is one discrimination complaint that is worth addressing:

Many graduate departments -- particularly in science fields -- rely on international students. The departments observed by Posselt appear to practice a form of affirmative action for everyone who is not an international Asian student in that professors de-emphasize the (typically extremely high) GRE scores of such applicants to avoid admitting what they would consider to be too many of them. This is in contrast to the attitudes of many professors with regard to considering American applicants of various ethnicities -- and who insisted on a single (high) standard there.

Referring to international applicants, one scientist told Posselt, “The scores on the standardized tests are just out of sight, just off the charts. So you can basically throw that out as a discriminator. They're all doing 90th percentile and above. 

     GPAs are tossed, in part, because all students have about the same GPA. For Asian students (hi, China! At some point I might discuss “The China Problem”, but just so many fish to fry in higher ed…) all have the same high scores on the GRE, and so, to a lesser extent, those scores aren’t meaningful.

      The gentle reader (and grad school applicant) needs to understand, studying for tests is an important part of Asian academic culture. When it was time for me to take the GRE, I was told “You should take the GRE, fill out this form, the test is in two months.” I wasn’t given preparation, or any guidance past that. I was on my own, and my options were look at my textbooks, or maybe buy a sample test to work on.

       On the other side of the world, here’s how preparation for the GRE goes: “The GRE is 24 months away. You need to start studying! You need to enroll in a cram school for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and since you only scored in the 85th percentile on the practice test, you should enroll in the remedial cram school for Friday, Saturday, and Monday night.”

     I exaggerate about the second cram school (I think), but the point is, the Asian students really study hard…and they end up getting discriminated against, as their high scores don’t count as much as a high score for a “native” student.

      The Asian student response to this discrimination isn’t to go on marches and throw rocks. No, the Asian student response is simple: study harder.

      But for my readers that are asking how to get into a good school, please, please, consider: all you have to do is study as hard as the Asians, and you’ll have an “unfair” advantage. Please, use the big secret for getting into grad school that I just told you.

     There is more in the article, including a discussion of cheating (when it comes to English as a Foreign Language demonstrations, which are subject to corruption), but the takeaway here is clear:

      GPA is now so corrupted that it means nothing. Thanks, student loan scam!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Graduation Rates Up = Standards Down

By Professor Doom

     “Let’s Use Graduation Rates As A Measure Of School Success!”

     The above is a typical suggestion about we can tell if a school is doing well. At first glance it sounds like a good idea. It’s certainly reasonable, up to a point. For example, a school with a 0.6% graduation rate probably is a terrible school (unless you measure in terms of growth, in which case such a school is successful). 

     On the other hand, a school with a 100% graduation rate might not be a great school…or maybe it has great students. This is where you start to look at admissions policies. For example, unaccredited “coding schools” have high graduation rates, well over 90%, and are obviously great schools because they actually offer money back guarantees to their graduates that don’t get jobs (and only take tuition from students that get jobs with the degree from the coding school). Of course, coding schools get those results because they have restrictive admissions policies…if you can’t demonstrate a willingness to learn, you can’t get in.

Admin: “85% of your students must pass your course, or you will not be considered a good fit for this institution.”

--a state university I worked at, “open admission.” Trust me, standards dropped fast and hard with this policy. “Not a good fit” meant termination, at the risk of patronizing the gentle reader.

      An “open admission” school with high graduation rates, on the other hand, really should get scrutiny. It doesn’t get such scrutiny, of course, because such scrutiny can only come from administration. Instead, administration pats itself on the back and awards itself pay raises for the great “leadership.”

     While I’m talking about the reality of much of higher education, a recent mainstream news article addresses the reality of our “public” school system:

     The article looks at a particular school that received immense pressure to raise graduation rates, and the pressure produced results of a sort:

“By one measure, Berea, with more than 1,000 pupils, is helping more students succeed than ever: The graduation rate, below 65 percent just four years ago, has jumped to more than 80 percent.”

--there was a similar “improvement” at the university, too.

     As is so often the case when I cite an article title, I’m disappointed with using the title, because it’s misleading. There’s no “fear” that standards have fallen, that’s just reality. As always, mainstream news screws it up:

According to college entrance exams administered to every 11th grader in the state last spring, only one in 10 Berea students were ready for college-level work in reading, and about one in 14 were ready for entry-level college math. And on a separate test of skills needed to succeed in most jobs, little more than half of the students demonstrated that they could handle the math they would need.”

    Yes, those are terrible numbers, but that just shows standards are crap. Why couldn’t someone at MSN go back a few years and see what college readiness was like before the graduation rates soared? A statistic in a vacuum like this is worthless. It really isn’t a puzzle why mainstream news just keeps losing customers.

     MSN quotes many talking heads, but never bothers to ask actual teachers that do the actual teaching. So, it offers no real answers as to how graduation rates can rise besides guesses:

Still, there is no single reason these rates have increased.

     Seriously? At the university that leveled that 85% “retention” rate threat, every single faculty member there could answer why the graduation rate went up after a few years of that. I have friends and former students that graduated from that university years ago…they’re delivering pizzas, driving for Uber and…heck, not one of them has gotten any financial benefit from the degree. While the people that graduate under such a corrupted education system suffer, the administrators that did the corrupting just keep getting pay raises and more benefits…

In one poor rural district where most of the students are African-American, graduation rates have risen to more than 85 percent, yet not one student scored high enough on the ACT to be deemed ready for college in reading or math...

--it’s interesting how that 85% number keeps coming up. I suspect there was some sort of initiative at the administrative level. If only mainstream news had investigative reporters…

     Again, I’m talking about higher education, but it’s little different in “public” schools:

“…the authorities have recently eliminated requirements that students pass an exit exam to qualify for a diploma. Alaska, California, Wisconsin and Wyoming demand far fewer credits to graduate than most states, according to the Education Commission of the States, although local school districts may require more…”

     The standards game really is trivial to manipulate whatever way admin wants:

Over the past decade in California, several large urban districts adopted coursework guidelines aligned to entrance requirements at the state’s public universities. Los Angeles initially required that students earn at least a C in those classes, but the number of students on track to graduate plummeted. Now grades of D or higher are accepted.

      Too many kids failing? Change the definition of failing. This moves them ahead, but then you have too many failing at the next level. So you change those standards too. Move on to the next level, and repeat the process. Honest, there’s a reason why finding college graduates that can’t read, write, or do arithmetic is becoming ever more common now, and the drive to “create” graduates is part of it.

     The student loan scam is, of course, the ultimate reason here. Back when getting a degree was very difficult, not graduating wasn’t a big deal—having “some college” on your resume was worth something. Now, open admission policies means everyone has “some college” on his resume…it’s meaningless.

     Now, standards have been annihilated (at many institutions), and, more importantly, tuition has risen to stratospheric levels thanks to the student loan scam (more money flowing in to any field will raise prices)…”some college” is worthless, so now you want to have a degree, something, to justify the huge sum of money being paid.

     Handing out degrees is great for administrative salaries, but the obvious is missed: if everyone has a degree, a degree becomes worthless, just as worthless as “some college.” This is not difficult to understand, though the swarms of PhDs that run our education systems never seem to figure it out.




Monday, January 25, 2016

Kentucky Physicist Wanted: No White People Need Apply

By Professor Doom

     The University of Louisville is an Affirmative Action, Equal Opportunity, Americans with Disabilities Employer, committed to diversity. In that spirit, the Department of Physics and Astronomy announces a tenure-track Assistant Professor position that will be filled by an African American, a Hispanic American, or a Native American Indian.

--note carefully that last line. The university had to add “Indian” at the end, because anyone born in America is technically a native, and they didn’t want to risk a white person being hired this way.

     The above ad appeared in October of 2015. Yes, I know that makes it somewhat old news, but…I’m confused. When Trump makes a gaffe that’s even vaguely racist, it’s all over the news, and I can’t even begin to count the number of public figures that have seen their careers end due to an offhand comment leading to months of wailing in the media.

     But this ad was no offhand comment, it was typed up professionally, and posted. You don’t just slap up a job ad in higher education willy-nilly, you have to go through a process of showing need, and have a discussion with admin over what you’re looking for. The HR department typed it up and posted it, being sure to satisfy the needs of the department, and the needs of administration. The last line of the ad comes from admin.

     Here’s something else from admin:

Equal Employment Opportunity
The University of Louisville is an Affirmative Action, Equal Opportunity, Americans with Disabilities Employer, committed to community engagement and diversity, and in that spirit, seeks applications from a broad variety of candidates.

     The above was directly before the paragraph specifying what types of minorities are acceptable for the physicist position. HR typed up that, too, since admin requires that policy regarding “equal opportunity” be followed. Well, they must say as much, but admin has made it clear, many times, that they’ll ignore any policy that gets in their way.

Admin: “There’s no such thing as mathematical game theory, and, frankly, I’m a little angry you would try to trick me.”

Me: “…”

--not close to the stupidest thing I’ve been told by admin at a community college, but I want to emphasize the intimidation factor here. You must agree to admin…or else.

      In this blog I’ve made many claims about how corrupt and/or incompetent administration in higher education is. I know these claims sound outlandish, which is why I try so hard to document when I see elsewhere, the things I’ve seen with my own eyes.

Me: “So, you’re telling me that we’ve documented at least 1/3 of the courses on this campus require literally nothing from our students, no papers, no tests, no nothing…they need not show up even one time, and still get an A for the course?”

Registrar: “Yes.”

     So, I’m telling you that community colleges can operate completely fraudulently, and there will be no repercussions…and I follow up with studies and books that explicitly discuss the open criminality of community colleges.

Me: “I, and a number of my colleagues, have noticed that many students, slightly less than half, disappear after ‘check day’ when they receive their Pell Grant checks. Can we please do something about the obvious fraudsters? I note in the contact information for my students that a number of them are, supposedly, commuting over 500 miles to come to this school, which literally has nothing not offered at every other community college.”

Admin: “We need those students, and they are entitled to come here.”

     I’ve written of the Pell Grant fraud, and how administration literally doesn’t care about all the fraudulent students on campus, and, of course, documented that this fraud represents a large percentage of the “students” in higher education today. These students register in multiple colleges, picking up the checks and moving on, while admin deliberately turns a blind eye. Admin are paid based on the size of the institution, you see, not on legitimacy of the students or quality of the education.

Faculty: “The person who was selected for the position was not interviewed by the hiring committee, and, in fact, she is not qualified.”

Admin: “We need more female representation in the math department.”

--the new hire in question was also the Dean’s girlfriend. A fistfight nearly broke out over this, because it was so blatant, not that faculty could do anything about it.

     I understand that this sort of news is not “sexy,” but I’ve also spoken of the virulent racism and sexism on campus today, especially when it comes to hiring. And, once again, I’ve produced very clear documentation, this time in that job ad.

     I repeat the key line:
“…position that will be filled by an African American, a Hispanic American, or a Native American Indian.”

     Why isn’t the job posting sexy enough to merit an uproar in the media? It’s very clear racism, it’s very clearly in violation of the no-discrimination equal opportunity policy the university helpfully provided directly above the job posting. I promise you, no administrator will lose her job over this gross error.

     I’ve waited patiently for weeks for…something. Why isn’t this all over the news? Heck, the “water buffalo incident” merits a page on Wikipedia, even though the “slur” is hardly racist. 

     But this open violation of policy, of common sense, of fairness, merits…almost nothing. Only a specialized site, Inside Higher Education, covers the story in much detail.

     To be fair, someone with an ounce of common sense did point out, after the ad was posted, how ridiculously insulting it was. The excuse from admin, is, of course, pure lies:

The ad, posted in mid-October, was taken down after the department received a complaint that the preferences didn’t include applicants with disabilities, said C.S. Jayanthi, chair of physics and astronomy. She said she forwarded the complaint to administrators, and the ad was promptly removed.

     Never in my 25+ years of higher education has an administrator requested we hire a disabled faculty member…but time and time and time again, I’ve been told how we “need” to hire a specific gender, or a specific minority, “or else.”

     The real nature of the error is acknowledged, sort of, by admin elsewhere:

“I’ve never seen that before and it strikes me as inappropriate,” said Benjamin Reese Jr., vice president and chief diversity officer at Duke University

      The gentle reader needs to understand campuses are bloated with 6-figure paid administrators, such as the above “vice president and chief diversity officer,” and the entirety of their jobs is to keep the racism private. The University of Louisville, of course, has their own Office of Diversity (you can see pictures of their two top female minority commissars administrators, including a Vice Provost for Diversity and International Affairs at the institution which posted the vile ad)…why aren’t they screaming loudly about the bias here? Why do we even have these overpaid diversity hires if not to stop this sort of thing?

     Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.  Remember the above quote saying the issue was the ad didn’t include people with disabilities? It doesn’t take long for admin to contradict herself:

Jayanthi said she wondered how the department was supposed to attract minority candidates without explicitly saying so in the job ad.

     So much for it being about disabilities. The chair, incidentally, is female, in a field, physics, with mostly male degree holders (by a wide margin). Is it unfair to guess that her gender was part of her rise to admin? I’ve been on campuses where most every administrative position was female…even in my field, math, which has about as many female Ph.D.s as physics does, which is to say, not many. Strange coincidence, really…I don’t mean to cast aspersions on her, but in light of that ad, someone with an open mind has to at least consider such things.   
     The gentle reader needs to understand this kind of bigoted hiring has been going on for quite some time. I know, this is just another claim by me, a random blogger…but the only way that ad could have gotten posted is if everyone had been told specifically what kind of skin color was going to be hired (and, of course, what kind was not).

      Usually, the bigoted hiring is done with a wink and a nod, and it’s not so open. A few comments on the article    show I’m hardly alone in knowing this:

I'm not surprised by this article. Universities have been hiring minorities over social justice concerns for years.

I don't agree with hiring for race; but I will say, at least the Louisville administrators are being honest about their intentions.

     I have to agree with the above sentiment; administration lies so often that the truth, in writing, from admin is pretty refreshing.

There are quite a few universities who do exactly what the University of Louisville did here, with the only difference being that they are not so transparent and obvious about excluding some groups from consideration. My own university recently instituted an initiative in which departments were told that they may hire members of only one racial group for a series of positions made available by the upper administration. We were told that no candidates who were outside of this specific racial group--including candidates from other diversity groups--would be considered…

     Consider how blatantly illegal the “initiative” referenced above is…and there’s not the slightest chance any lawsuit will come of it. And, I’m telling you, our institutions of higher education have been hiring like this, more or less surreptitiously, for many years.

     Of all the open frauds going on in higher education right now, this one might be of the least concern to our kids suffering under the student loan scam, but it’s possibly the most relevant: the forcible insertion of identity politics into hiring means our kids are indebting themselves, not to learn from people who are legitimately interested in helping others, but are instead…simply the right gender or skin color. Since education is clearly not even a remote concern, what are the odds that our kids will get an education worthy of what they’re paying for in this system?