Monday, November 28, 2016

Professors Protest Education Changes

By Professor Doom

Admin: “You need to remove explicit functions from your algebra courses. Students have no use for that.”

     It’s no great secret that a great number of our college graduates are basically unemployable, or no more employable than they when they graduated high school.

     Admin: “You need to remove inverses from your algebra courses. Students have no use for that.”

     Now, admittedly, higher education was never meant to be a jobs training program. A generation ago, a college degree, at least at the undergraduate level, signified the graduate had demonstrated knowledge in a wide range of basic topics. A college graduate who couldn’t add fractions, who didn’t know what century the American Civil War took place, who couldn’t compose a decent essay in English, who couldn’t speak at least a little of a foreign language, who didn’t know the basics of scientific principle, who was deficient in just one of the previous things, was considered very suspect.

Admin: “You need to remove logarithms from your algebra courses. Students have no use for that.”

      And today, it’s quite common to see college graduates, with 4.0 GPAs no less, who cannot demonstrate even one of the previous…literally ignorant of every topic that was considered key to education a generation ago.

     These topics, taken together, are called General Education (or “Gen Ed” for insiders), and the General Education of today is a shadow of what it was a few decades ago.

Admin: “You need to remove exponentials from your algebra courses. Students have no use for that.”

    What happened?

Admin: “You need to remove systems of equations in three variables from your algebra courses. Students have no use for that.”

     There are many answers to that question, but today I want to focus on the most straightforward answer: administration. A powerful administrative caste took over education, and educators, scholars, no longer have say in what constitutes college material.

Admin: “You need to remove matrices from your algebra courses. Students have no use for that.”

--the more mathematically inclined reader might see a pattern to the removals, though there was nothing I could do to explain to admin what they were doing…they know nothing of the subjects they’re telling me how to address.

      Educators are deeply disenfranchised from higher education today; admin, often with no education themselves, now get to control education. Primarily, this control is used to subtract from what education used to be, although often they’re just content to add to their own power.

Admin: “Can you explain why the retention rate calculus 5 years ago was 80%, and now it’s 40%?”

Me: “…”

---“retention rate” is admin-speak for “passing rate.”

     For the most part, professorial “influence” on campus is a sham, an illusion that we have anything to do with what goes on now. Sometimes admin doesn’t bother with the illusion:

      So admin at Concord U decided to dispense with the formality, and just rip away more content from the General Education requirements. The professors complained, accomplishing nothing, of course:

“They say that the administration tried to make the changes without any faculty review, and that when the faculty were permitted to review proposed changes, professors' views were ignored. The university's board chair said the board backs the administration.

The faculty voted 52-22 that they have no confidence in Vice President Peter Viscusi. Although the vote has no actual power,…”

         The faculty say they do not like this method of doing things, and board responds with casual disrespect:

“Elliott Hicks, chairman of the school’s board of governors, said the vote hasn’t changed his or other board members’ support for Viscusi and that the board doesn’t plan to make any changes to his employment.”

     The changes are pretty big, and the scholars who know about education have legitimate concerns, concerns that are, ultimately, irrelevant:

“Faculty members, including some who wished not to be named for fear of retaliation from the school’s administration, identified several concerns with Viscusi. Chief among them were the changes to the school’s general education requirements. The new requirements reduce the number of general credits required of all students to graduate by about 20 percent.”

--what, the faculty don’t want to be named because they fear retaliation? But, but, administrators are so reasonable…

     Isn’t that fascinating? Admin can just take out 20% of what a degree entails, and there’s nothing to stop them. Tuition won’t be reduced 20%, of course. What is the reason for the heavy debasement of education at Concord U? What will the money that used to go towards teaching these courses go to?

In addition to changing the school’s general education requirements, the school’s board of governors voted this week to restructure the university in part. The new structure creates four new positions for deans, positions that didn’t exist before.

     Ah, great, the reduction in classes will allow the hiring of more deans…how much more of this can we take? Our campuses are drowning in administrators while our graduates are drowning in debt. Does nobody suspect these two things are related somehow?

     One comment really highlights the enormity of the issue here:

It's interesting to see an administrator seize control of the curriculum in order to make an institution "to help save the school money and allow it to better compete with other schools..." by taking it out of the business of educating in order to be "competitive."

   Our higher education system is so overbuilt, so open to anyone who wants to take out a student loan, that all our campuses are now in competition with each other to offer the easiest, most convenient degree. Our “leaders” use the debasement of coursework to justify further debasement, to stay “competitive” with other schools for that sweet, sweet, student loan check.

      Throughout this post, I’ve included many missives from admin, debasing our introductory math course ever further—a course necessary for students to progress to actually college level coursework. When I complained to admin that removing so much material from our algebra courses would make the courses unsuitable to prepare students for further work, they replied: “Other schools are doing the same to their algebra course, so we are justified for doing it here.”

     And there was, of course, nothing I could do. We are now at the state where higher education’s failure to educate is being used as justification to fail even more extravagantly. How many more states are left before higher education can only move to the state of collapse?

Friday, November 25, 2016

Academics Pressured to Bump Up Grades

By Professor Doom

     Higher Education really is strange when you start to look at the big picture. Educators have almost no influence on what goes on. Instead, ridiculously powerful, non-education, administrators have taken over our campuses. What are the results? A quick summary:

     1) We all know standards have been annihilated to the point that many college courses require no effort; it’s even quite documented.

     2)  Social promotion is now a part of higher education. Who cares if you don’t know lower level material because there’s no work in the courses, you can still take higher level coursework.

     3)  Grade inflation has made GPA essentially meaningless. The mode grade on campus is an ‘A’—more students get this grade than any other, and on some campuses more than all other grades put together.

     These changes didn’t come from educators. Educators know that standards are important for motivation, for education—we were students too, you see, and know that students usually don’t do more than what is asked of them. If you ask nothing, they do nothing…but admin threatened us to ask less and less, so assigning nothing in a college class is fairly common now.

      Similarly, we know social promotion is a terrible idea—if the student knows he’s going to pass no matter how little he does, then it gets that much harder to motivate the student to work towards an education.

Faculty: “In four semesters and hundreds of students, I’ve failed exactly two students. Also in that time period, I’ve twice received correspondence from admin requesting me to justify and explain my grading system, a system that I’m following to the letter, since it’s set by admin. Of course, both times I had to defend my grading to admin were the both times I failed students. Do you think maybe there’s a message here I should get?”
--a common explanation of how university campus works.

      Grade inflation is a slightly different matter. Of course educators want students to do well, and, sure, we know that an over-emphasis on grades can lead to students focusing too much on the grade and not enough on the material. Still, grades can serve as early motivation until the student gets a real desire to learn. Admin didn’t need to threaten us much to lighten up on grading…but we still were threatened.

      The American-style higher education system, with its eager capability to trap young people in perpetual debt while enriching the connected class, has spread for the most part across the planet. The abuses that faculty in the United States take for granted because we’ve been subjected to them for decades are still relatively new elsewhere, and thus are considered shocking:


     The student loan system has led to a huge increase in tuition; with such an increase, one would expect college degrees to become more valuable. Instead, many degrees are basically worthless, and part of that reason is, within a degree, it’s almost impossible to distinguish the hardworking student with a 3.98 GPA (he met that one tenured professor on campus will uses “old school” grading) from the complete slacker with the 4.00 GPA (he used his slacker connections to stick with all the faculty who just plain got tired of explaining their grading to admin every semester). There might well be some extremely hardworking and bright African-American Studies degree holders…but there’s just no way to distinguish between good and bad.

Some 46% of academics said they have been pressurised to mark students’ work generously, according to the survey hosted on the Guardian’s Higher Education Network, while 37% did not believe teaching was valued by their institution.

      So, about half of academics are feeling the pressure from admin. I ask the gentle reader to read between the lines: 46% feel pressure. The 54% that don’t feel pressure? These are the academics who have learned not to fail students, and to grade as generously as possible (hence, they don’t get pressured by admin).

     It’s hard to believe only 37% realize teaching was not valued by their institution. I’ve seen many good teachers punished for good teaching, and I’ve never seen one rewarded for it. A few good teachers have managed to avoid punishment, but it seems every terrible teacher I’ve known gets praise and kudos from admin for passing everyone.

      Again, I want everyone to succeed…but if the course material is so simple that everyone gets an A, that literally nobody on the planet can fail at learning it, how can you justify charging many thousands of dollars for teaching it? How can you justify your job if you honestly believe everyone can do it perfectly well no matter what you say or do in class? 

     Admin never seems to ask these questions, mostly because admin is too busy congratulating another 100% A-giving teacher on the fine work the teacher is doing.

     The survey didn’t just ask about pressure to raise grades, a few other questions came up:

Many academics said recent reforms, which encourage universities to treat students as consumers and expand their intake, have damaged the quality of education offered to undergraduates. 

       The student-as-customer paradigm, so responsible for the riots on American campuses, is spreading…it really is just a matter of time before we see such riots in other countries. It’s a shame that we can’t use the experience of the failure of this paradigm to stop it from spreading.

Half of the academics and university staff surveyed described their workload as unmanageable.

     It really is strange how my workload goes up every semester. Sometimes it’s incremental—just ten more students in each class, or just one more mandatory set of training seminars on educationist muck. Sometimes it’s wholesale, such as redefining classes as “half credit,” so that I must teach twice as many courses as before…for the same pay. It’s a shame faculty have no voice in these decisions…but I suspect if faculty did have a voice, these types of changes would be laughed out of existence long before anyone even tried to implement them.

      It’s quite understandable that totally disenfranchised faculty, upon seeing their workload go ever higher while pay remains unchanged (or is lowered), just can’t care anymore and so, indeed, we stop assigning so much (or any) work in our classes, absolutely we eliminate our classwork so that socially promoted college students don’t get overmatched by material they can’t possibly know, and, yes, we just award mostly A’s to the students, even as we know we’re not doing anyone any favors.

     And still admin threatens us to give in more…

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

College Enrollments Drop: Good Economy?

By Professor Doom

     Admin: “When the economy is bad, people go back to school and retrain. So this is good news!”
--administrator’s response to the economic crash of 2008

     One thing I’ve heard many times while working in higher education is how it runs counter to the economy—the better the economy, the lower the enrollments. I certainly believed it when I was younger and very trusting of admin, but I’m old enough now to start thinking about things. We’ve had tremendous growth in higher ed, year after year…too many institutions have more than double the student base of twenty years ago, and that’s too much growth to really point at the economy. Across the country, enrollments have been steadily increasing for decades now…surely we haven’t had a consistently terrible economy for the last 40 years?

     This trend of growth has reversed recently, in a class of schools that should do well in a terrible economy, or at least better than most other schools: the community college. At first glance, these cheap schools of higher education should attract students when money is tight…but that hasn’t been the case.

      Granted, it’s clear a “bad economy” doesn’t really enhance enrollment, but still we have to wonder what’s going on with community colleges to make people avoid them. A recent article attempts to address the question, but misses details:

Some educators see other factors besides a recovering economy as a reasons [sic] why their enrollments are low.

     Any serious look at our economic numbers reveals that the economy isn’t improving. If our government honestly believed their own numbers, the Fed would have raised interest rates years ago, instead of current rates which, literally, are the lowest interest rates have been in the entire history of planet Earth.

    First, a quick look at the enrollment drops:

Community College Enrollment
Fall 2015
Fall 2014
Fall 2013
Fall 2012
Fall 2011

     Now, a few percent in one year is a minor worry…but year after year drops like this are frightening to a college administrator. I’ve seen private schools close down with a 10% drop in enrollment, and considering how horribly mismanaged a typical community college is, these types of numbers should cause many a community college to drop. Well, they would but that they’re massively supported by tax dollars extracted from taxpayers who are, regrettably, deeply ignorant of what a scam most of these places are.

    Although the article subtitle says we’ll hear from educators, the article begins with a Poo Bah’s thoughts:

“After the great recession, we’ve seen a restoration of new jobs, but manufacturing jobs remain off and aren’t restored to pre-recession levels,” said Dan Phelan, president of Jackson Community College in Michigan. “You would think if that’s the case, there’s got to be more people interested in taking classes and enrollment would be better, but that’s not the case.”

     Indeed, there’s obviously something wrong with the economy, a problem not likely to be fixed by an endless stream of bogus government economic numbers. When the only jobs available are pushing buttons on the register (although those are leaving because of increasing automation), driving trucks (although those are leaving because autonomous vehicles are coming soon), and yard work, it’s tough to justify getting a college degree.

     Ok, to be fair, there are great jobs available in computer repair, electrical work, plumbing, carpentry, and such…but few community colleges are willing to pay for instructors with such obviously marketable skills.

      The article actually bothers to quote a (bogus) official government number:

The unemployment rate increased slightly from a low of 4.9 percent last month, however, the low rate is traditionally a sign that the economy has recovered and people are back work, said David Baime, senior vice president for government relations and policy analysis for the American Association of Community Colleges.

    Yeah, sure it’s 4.9%. Even the CEO of Gallup, an organization that knows statistics very well, admits that the unemployment numbers are as bogus as can be:

     Another administrator offers a suggestion why nobody’s going to community college even though the economy is weak:

      This is a perfectly accurate representation of what’s going on at community college, and it’s no fluke the system is set up this way. If these 2 year schools would offer 2 year programs in precise job skills, instead of “general studies” degrees and endless coursework on empty topics of no marketable value, I bet students would show up. The trouble is, admin have set the system up to be opaque, deliberately. Trust a guy who spent over a decade at a community college, students can spend years on campus without figuring out that nothing useful, job-wise, it taught on campus.

      Community colleges are government enterprises, and that means they do everything backwards. If a business wants to increase sales, it has, well, a sale…it lowers prices. Considering very little of the tuition money actual goes to the teachers, there’s room to do so. Instead, community colleges have responded to dropping enrollments by raising prices:

“The Michigan college increased tuition by 7.5 percent two years ago and raised it again by 8 percent this year,…”

     What larger sign would you need of how clueless the “leadership” of these institutions is?

     Much like for-profit schools, a big chunk of revenue comes from government money, especially when it comes to abusing the Pell Grant program, which is of particular interest to criminals; I’ve written before of how this program attracts nomad students, roaming from school to school to get these poorly documented grants. The leadership realizes they need to expand their marketing to this group:

Jackson is also one of the institutions offering the Second Chance Pell Grant program that allows prison inmates to receive federal money to pursue a college education.

     Hey, I totally believe we should educate prisoners, or at least offer them the chance to get such an education…but knowing that some 25% of a community college’s student base could be Pell scammers (i.e., criminals) doesn’t give me a warm feeling at targeting prisoners (many of whom might well be criminals) like this.

      Sadly, the article lies: no actual educators are asked about why community college enrollments are dropping. While regular readers of my blog know my conjectures, namely the huge academic fraud, tremendous plundering by admin, and the use of Education as a joker to (questionably)  teach courses, to name a few. And, of course, the fact that legitimate jobs-training programs  are in scarce supply on community college campus, since admin is very unwilling to hire appropriately skilled teachers, who would command professional-level pay, instead of the sub-minimum wage pay admin can give to adjuncts to teach Gender Studies and other comparable courses.

     I really wish the article had spoken to educators instead of administrators, as I suspect quite a few would point out the same issues I have.