But not the prices.

-Alan Yeck, Founder of AltRaged

Trigger Warning: Strong language; swear words

I read a recent opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal (https://on.wsj.com/3ndFknY) about another higher education scam. It may apply to every institution, but it’s not the exception.

Let’s start with this. There is no reason, other than fiscal negligence, for the absurd costs of a degree today. $40,000 for a bachelor’s degree at a state institution is insane and frankly, you’re insane for paying it. Move to the nonprofit, private, liberal arts sector and you can easily triple, quadruple that amount. Our political leadership has yet to reign in these institutions because frankly, they are making money themselves off of the ongoing mismanagement of higher education.

I had a conversation with a college president and some board members last May about their responsibilities to the students who are in their care at their institution. It was not well received but knowing how higher education works, the internal wirings including the large storage rooms located on every campus containing years of fuck-ups they hide from parents and the public, I wasn’t surprised.  Because of COVID19, this residential, liberal arts campus went from classroom instruction to 100% online the following Monday. This institution, for the last few decades had ignored (fought) online education as a viable medium for instruction. Now, it was embraced by administration, and accepted by faculty (like geese accept being force fed to later become foie gras).

While online education has been a proven delivery method since the late 1990s, for those that have never taught it, or have never been on the learning end, it isn’t like moving from an acetate overhead projector to a whiteboard. There is a solid, developed pedagogy behind both ends of the internet that the school had no idea about. Those colleges and universities that welcomed this use of technology for instruction have depths of research and networks of curriculum developers. They have dedicated administrators and tech support, continuous improvement and evaluation of the systems (beyond the individual courses) to make certain the online teaching and learning experiences for both the professor and the student would be as rigorous as what the student could receive in the classroom. They also provided in-depth instructions, videos, articles…to the students on ‘how to take an online class.’  Faculty at these institutions are certified, normally an internally developed program, to teach online. They must understand the capabilities of the Learning Management Systems in use as well as the pedagogy behind them. They must understand how to take a classroom course and move it without damage to the online environment. All of this is again evaluated on an ongoing basis against industry best practices (new developments in technology are daily but the tail of tech can never wag the academia of the dog). Change or adaptation in academia makes land turtles look like jaguars chasing down a gazelle – which is why it’s important to plan, execute, evaluate, improve, repeat. That’s not the norm in higher education and especially in the private, nonprofit, liberal arts, honkey campuses.

This institution moved forward, students struggling, teachers struggling, coursework succumbing to the attitude ‘better than nothing.’ To be fair, the same thing was happening across the country so they weren’t less than ethical as other colleges and universities that were being less than ethical. Some students did fine. Others not so much and they wanted to withdraw without penalty; no grade and they wanted their money back. It’s not what they signed up for. Students have rights and must be educated on those rights and then use those rights – many just accepted the grade, cost, poor quality, and finished the term. Others fought and some won. The compromise I suggested to another college was to award an incomplete “I” grade without any restrictions on when it had to be used. This allowed for the students who did poorly to retake the class at no penalty without having to pay for it again. Seems fair, right? This other institution thought so and that’s exactly what they did.

Part II of this are the dormitories. Housing students is big business on campus with an average cost of about $12,000 a year (on top of the cost of their degree). Now, let’s cut to last month and senior administration’s decision to return students to classroom instruction, on campus, dorms filled. Brilliant move – talk about the care of the students and cash the checks as quick as possible. Then when COVID19 starts making it’s way around, move to online education again – but keep the dorm money.

It’s amateur hour on campus with few administrators ever having any leadership mentoring, which is clearly seen in how any crisis is handled but especially today. Arrogance on the other hand is a choice – a disastrous choice – and its consequences have moved beyond financial and accreditation to life and death scenarios. 

  • Demand accountability for how an institution is handling COVID 19.
  • Demand accountability for how an institution is spending their money (your money).
  • Demand accountability from the elected officials receiving millions in PAC and Super PAC donations from the student loan industry to keep the status quo.

Higher education teaches ethics. Maybe senior administration and board members should be required to take the course themselves – it’s not like they are fooling anyone on their own campuses. I mean if you’re going to screw the students, at least give them a free sweatshirt.