Tuesday, February 28, 2012

UMUC faculty were unhappy with president before she was placed on leave

Read original article at Inside Higher Ed
Dangers of Depleted Morale
February 28, 2012 - 3:00am

Faculty members at the University of Maryland University College – whose president, Susan C. Aldridge, was placed on indefinite administrative leave last week – have repeatedly expressed dissatisfaction with the university’s administration, raising concerns about pay, shared governance, and professors' views that the administration lacked interest in academic standards.

When they received no response from the university's administration, based in Adelphi, Md., they took their concerns to the University System of Maryland, which oversees the institution and 11 other public universities in Maryland. In November 2010, faculty members in the university’s Asian division, which serves students in Japan, Korea, and Guam, sent a letter to William E. (Brit) Kirwan, the system’s chancellor, highlighting the findings of a survey they conducted among themselves.

“The attached faculty survey is a de facto vote of no confidence in the present administration,” wrote Mervin B. Whealy, a former member of the Faculty Advisory Council representing the Asian division, who wrote the cover letter to the survey. “Issues that have degraded faculty morale in Asia include the declining economic value of UMUC employment, a lack of shared governance, problems associated with the appointment of the next Asian Director, the Aldridge administration’s insufficient interest in academics, and the management of the Asian division and Adelphi.”

The University System of Maryland has not yet offered an explanation for why Aldridge was placed on leave. UMUC faculty members do not have tenure, so those asked to comment declined to speak on the record or be quoted. Several said they do not think faculty complaints were the reason Aldridge was placed on leave, since the complaints have been on the books for a while and the system has shown no hint of action until last week.

UMUC is one of the largest public universities, serving more than 90,000 students in the U.S., Europe, and Asia, including many active military personnel. It has grown significantly in the past two decades. In 2000, the university reported that it enrolled 71,560 students. In 2011, it reported that it enrolled 96,342. Many of these students are part-time, so the full-time equivalent enrollment is about 32,000.

UMUC has often been held up as a model of how public higher education can take advantage of tools often employed by for-profit institutions – such as online education and sped-up course schedules – to reach a group of nontraditional students that four-year, residential campuses rarely do. The survey from Asia and other complaints from faculty members in the United States show that the university’s notable gains haven’t been made without some resistance from faculty members and that problems have existed beneath the surface for several years.

A spokesman for the University System of Maryland said there has been no public airing of the issues raised by the survey, and that any concern about the manner in which an employee has conducted his or her duties is a personnel matter and therefore confidential.

The survey was sent to 104 faculty members in the Asian division, and 53 of those faculty members responded -- a fraction of the university’s total of about 2,200 faculty members. The overwhelming majority of UMUC faculty members work for the institution part-time.

Rating their morale on a scale from one to 10, with 10 being the highest morale, more than half of the survey respondents said their morale was a three or lower.

The issues that most faculty members said contributed to low morale were tied to compensation, including a lack of raises in the previous three years; the currency-adjustment formula; and their housing allowance.

“Morale is low in the Asian division because the administration seems to have little regard for our economic condition and basically gives us the choice of ‘quitting’ if we do not like these conditions,” one survey respondent wrote. “We need some encouraging word about their intentions regarding our economic condition in the future.”

Many respondents also said administrative turnover, academic issues, and a lack of shared governance were factors in the low morale. “At UMUC, shared governance has little practical meaning,” Whealy wrote in the letter. “When the Asian faculty sent a letter to Dr. Aldridge in 2010, expressing concerns about its degraded financial condition, she did not respond.”

Responses to open-ended questions throughout the survey decried the university’s top-down leadership style. Respondents said the administration was not open to input from faculty members, even on questions of academics, where faculty members at most traditional colleges and universities tend to exert significant authority. They also complained about the departure of several administrators whom faculty respected.

“The mysterious firings and resignations of competent [administrators] tell us that the integrity and high standards of our university are not a priority in Adelphi,” one respondent wrote, referring to the university's headquarters. “When our best advocates leave, and cannot tell us why – something is very wrong. It harms morale and increases distrust of administrative policies.”

Faculty members outside the Asian division have also complained about the university’s rapid embrace of technology and course restructuring over the last five years, which have placed an increased workload on them while, in their opinion, diminishing the quality of the education offered, faculty members said.

The university has moved quickly to reformat classes to make better use of online technologies and to transform the schedule. Classes have been pared down from 14 weeks to eight weeks to make offerings more flexible, particularly to accommodate military personnel who often don’t have a full 14 weeks to take a class.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Some Oregon universities oppose governing boards

Read original article at MailTribune.com

Sam Wheeler

Public universities across Oregon are pushing back against an effort in the state Legislature to give any member of the Oregon University System the ability to establish a local governing board.

The firing of University of Oregon President Richard Lariviere late last year by the state Board of Higher Education kick-started an effort to establish governing boards at U of O and Portland State University.

But legislation tied to that effort lost momentum early in the session after the introduction of House Bill 4061, which would create a 10-member Special Committee on University Governance to study the possibility and impact of allowing the state's seven public universities to establish semi-self-governing boards.

The special committee, comprising eight lawmakers and two members of the recently established Oregon Education Investment Board, would be charged with writing legislation for lawmakers to consider during the 2013 legislative session, said Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland.

By Aug. 15, the committee is required to submit a report to legislators recommending how much power to give the proposed boards over regulating tuition and fees, hiring and firing of university presidents, writing personnel policy for faculty and staff, managing university finances, purchasing real estate and approving capital improvement projects, the bill states.

The committee would hold a 30-day public review period at each of the seven universities before writing legislation, said Buckley.

The House Committee on Higher Education, in its introduction to HB 4061, said the legislative assembly recognizes the potential benefit of individual boards "to promote accountability, administrative streamlining and the ability to provide the best quality education possible for the amount of state dollars spent."

Buckley, co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Ways and Means, has been working with other lawmakers to revise the bill since it was introduced on Feb. 7. He said it likely will be moved to a vote on the House floor by midweek.

"I have mixed feelings about it," Buckley said. "If University of Oregon and Portland State decide to go the local board route "… smaller schools could lose a lot of leverage."

Buckley said the majority of state lawmakers come from districts surrounding UO and PSU, opening the possibility that those local boards would have an upper hand while lobbying in the Legislature for funding.

On Friday, Buckley said he added language to require the proposed special committee to meet with and include the concerns of the presidents from each of the state's public universities before issuing its report to legislators.

Southern Oregon University President Mary Cullinan, joined by the state's three other regional universities and Oregon State University, said there likely will be more disadvantages to creating governing boards in public universities than advantages.

"Creating another layer of boards for campuses creates further complexities," she said in a prepared statement. "An individual institution's board is necessarily focused on that institution ... but not necessarily for the good of the state."

She said the role of a central board for a state system strengthens the ability of public universities to work collectively toward common achievements, and helps universities maintain a statewide focus for education.

The individual university boards still would operate under the state Board of Higher Education, but Buckley expressed concern that individual university boards could create an unwanted rift in the OUS.

"The first step will be to clarify what the impact would be, and to address those impacts," he said.

Although it's too early to offer an estimate, creating a local board likely would incur internal costs for SOU, said Jim Beaver, marketing director.

Additional staff and an attorney likely would have to be hired for such a board to function properly, he said, something most of Oregon's public universities are trying to avoid with budget cuts already looming.

Before landing at SOU in 2006, Cullinan served on the Board of Regents at Steven F. Austin State University in Texas, which is the institution's self-governing board within the state's university system.

She prefers a central-board based process, she said, pointing to the 23 campuses managed by the California State University System.

"Surely a simple structure should be sufficient for seven public universities in Oregon," she said.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Accidental Activist Collects National Data on Adjuncts' Working Conditions

Read original article at The Chronicle of Higher Education

Where adjuncts are being treated well, and where they are not, is coming to light through a database that has collected information from hundreds of instructors.
by Michael Stratford
Energized by his fellow adjunct professors who had gathered for a national meeting last month in Washington, D.C., Joshua A. Boldt flew home to Athens, Ga., opened his laptop, and created a Google document.
On his personal blog, the 32-year-old writing instructor implored colleagues to contribute to the publicly editable spreadsheet, detailing their pay per course and other working conditions, noting their institutions and departments. The goal of the crowdsourcing project, Mr. Boldt said, was to praise universities that treat adjunct professors well and "out" those institutions that do not.
"Let's combine forces," he wrote. "Fill in as much information as you feel comfortable doing, and be sure to tweet this document and share it. ... "
Mr. Boldt says he was expecting several dozen responses. As of the middle of last week, 786 people had posted their data to the document, and it had been viewed more than 18,000 times. Mr. Boldt's basic spreadsheet had become a viral hit, circulating on a number of academic blogs and social-media platforms.
"I was shocked by the reaction," he says. "It just sort of took off."
Mr. Boldt, who now teaches freshman composition at the University of Georgia, fell into the adjunct ranks in 2011. After graduating from the University of Kentucky in 2003, Mr. Boldt worked for five years as a manager of a Whole Foods store. Then, while he was earning his master's degree in English at Eastern Kentucky University, he took a position as a graduate teaching assistant. He quickly discovered he enjoyed teaching, and was able to land an adjunct faculty position at Eastern Kentucky as soon as he completed his master's program.
But the disheartening economic reality soon set it in. Burdened by $30,000 in student-loan debt, Mr. Boldt says he realized that working as an adjunct professor would not be a sustainable career path. He recognized that many of his colleagues were in a similar position—that is, chasing after adjunct positions that paid less than the wages of the stock crew he had supervised at Whole Foods.
Mr. Boldt says his desire to organize on behalf of adjuncts began with a simple bureaucratic inconvenience he encountered during his first year teaching at Eastern Kentucky: The last paycheck of the fall semester was issued on December 15 and the first paycheck of the spring did not arrive until February 15.
"We were barely making any money to begin with, and then we had this two-month gap in pay," he says. "I think the assumption was that we'd just figure out some way to survive. It's really difficult to get a job for those two months, and you can't get unemployment."
Mr. Boldt organized a small group, the Forum for Adjunct Instructor Reform, of fellow adjuncts. They met with the dean of the college but were unsuccessful in getting the payroll office to pay adjuncts earlier in the spring semester.
The group continued to grow, Mr. Boldt says, and the more he became aware of the issues adjuncts faced on his campus and around the country, the more involved he became. He says he was especially compelled to campaign for adjuncts' rights after learning that "so many underdogs were being abused by the system."
When he moved last year to the University of Georgia, where he teaches four sections of freshman composition, Mr. Boldt says he was "blown away" by how much better the environment was for adjuncts. The university, he says, offered double the pay, health, and retirement benefits, and more respect for contingent faculty. For now, Mr. Boldt says he is happy at Georgia and doesn't have any plans to earn a Ph.D. and jump onto the tenure track. But the contrast in working conditions has renewed his interest in the adjunct movement, he says.
Although non-tenure-track positions now constitute almost 70 percent of all faculty appointments, there is little comprehensive national data about their pay and benefits. As Mr. Boldt's project illustrates, adjunct compensation varies widely, but it is often well below the pay of full professors. While full professors tend to have duties, like advising and research, that adjuncts often do not, many adjuncts nevertheless feel they embody a lower class in academe.
"We have accepted that what's best for the ruling class is what's best for us," he says. "We, as adjuncts and anybody involved in higher education, are giving consent to this power structure by passivity, by standing by and allowing it to happen."

Sounding Board

In the first week after Mr. Boldt began what he has come to call the Adjunct Project, he says he spent hours watching the information flood in to his Google document and just trying to keep the data properly formatted. At any given time, there were between 30 and 40 people entering information into the spreadsheet in real time, he says. Mr. Boldt has since formalized the data-input process and moved the project onto its own dedicated site.
What has emerged is not only a large directory of pay information but also a sounding board for adjuncts to discuss the specifics of their working conditions.
"Not encouraged or allowed to participate in faculty governance at any level. Contracts always done last minute," writes one anonymous adjunct professor of education at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, who reports pay of $2,500 for each three-credit class.
An adjunct professor at Ramapo College of New Jersey writes, "Shared office. Two computers for numerous professors. ... Supervision is very hands off but many tenure-tracked professors are very supportive."
Mr. Boldt attributes the popularity of his project to the need for a space for adjuncts to discuss the issues they face. He also says that people are attracted to the interactive, communal nature of crowdsourcing information that they care about.
"We're not being told, 'These are the results of this study,'" he says. "We're creating this study as it goes."
The kind of grass-roots campaign Mr. Boldt has sparked to raise awareness about adjunct issues is the type of organizing that the New Faculty Majority, an advocacy group for adjuncts, sees as important to the success of their reform movement, says Maria C. Maisto, the group's president.
"The project he's done is real inspiring and exactly the type of thing we hope happens," Ms. Maisto says. "We see him as a potential leader, and he already is a leader in many ways."
The title of leader is one that Mr. Boldt cautiously embraces. He is quick, for instance, to point out that his desire to delve into adjunct advocacy was unplanned and merely the product of his personal experiences.
Ms. Maisto, who fell into her role as an adjunct advocate in a similar way, says it is a common path for adjunct professors.
"When you experience what it's like to be an adjunct, you tend to get a fight-or-flight response," Ms. Maisto says. "Those of us who become activists have engaged our fight response."

A 'Systemic Dysfunction'

Though he may be an accidental activist, Mr. Boldt's admittedly simple spreadsheet has clearly struck a nerve.
Michael Bérubé, the new president of the Modern Language Association who has pledged to make adjunct issues a priority, says his organization will be closely watching the project and hopes it can complement a similar adjunct crowdsourcing project the MLA will be starting soon.
Mr. Bérubé also says that the data in Mr. Boldt's project may not ultimately be as important as the participation and engagement of the many rank-and-file adjunct professors that it promotes.
The working conditions for adjuncts is a "systemic dysfunction" that higher education must confront, Mr. Bérubé says. "We may be at one of those publicity tipping points."
Mr. Boldt says he has yet to decide where to take his crowdsourcing project next but acknowledges that the data need to be thoughtfully analyzed. Personally, he would eventually like to pivot into a job where he works on higher-education policy or advocacy. In the meantime, he says he wants to keep the conversation about adjunct working conditions going.
"I'm not an expert on this matter," he says. "I'm just a guy who's passionate about an issue, and I've kind of become a person who people want to talk to. I'm learning as I go."

The Adjunct Project at a Glance
Joshua A. Boldt, a writing instructor at the U. of Georgia, created a Google document on February 2, asking fellow adjuncts to enter information about their pay and working conditions. Here is a snapshot as of the middle of last week:
  • More than 18,000 views
  • 786 entries from adjuncts in 46 states, the District of Columbia, and Canada
  • Pay per three-credit course ranges from $600 (South Suburban College, outside of Chicago) to $9,500 (Carnegie Mellon U.).

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Oregon college students call for an end to rising tuition, declining state support

Read original article at OregonLive.com
February 21, 2012 Bill Graves, The Oregonian

Portland State University rally 2011

Oregon college students lobbied lawmakers in Salem and rallied on the campuses of Portland State and Eastern Oregon universities Tuesday against the increasingly painful price of a college degree.

"Investing in education is investing in our future," said Adam Rahmlow, 24, a junior and PSU student body president, during an afternoon rally on the campus park blocks. "So why did the Legislature last year hold back money from higher education?"

Faced with poor job prospects in a sputtering economy and rising debt, more Oregon students are questioning whether higher education remains a viable option. Two decades ago, they paid a fourth of the cost of their instruction and the state covered the rest. Today, students bear 61 percent of the cost.

Students fanned out over the Capitol on Tuesday with a mission to engage legislators in 60 individual meetings. They urged legislators to give an additional $43 million to community colleges, universities and need-based Oregon Opportunity Grants and to keep the two-year tuition cap approved by lawmakers last year, said Emily McLain, executive director of the Oregon Student Association, which represents Oregon university and community college students.

Students from Mt. Hood Community College and four Portland Community College campuses joined students on the PSU campus Tuesday afternoon to rally for better state funding of higher education.

"Every student I talk to is facing a variety of challenges in being able to remain a student," said Douglas Taylor, 30, student body president for PCC's Cascade Campus. "Everyone here is working extremely hard."

In La Grande, Eastern Oregon University students staged a mock legislative vote in support of higher education during a rally in the performing arts building attended by Eastern President Bob Davies, a county commissioner and the city manager.

Many students at the PSU rally said they worry about student loan debt and the strain they are putting on parents. Some wonder whether they can afford to keep going.

Sangeeta Chibber, 20, a junior, can't qualify for financial aid even though her dad recently lost his job at Intel. Tasha Jacobs, 19, a freshman, works, but is still worried about how much she must depend on her parents to stay in school.

"I'm scared that next year I won't be able to afford it," she said.

She and two other students ticked off the names of four students they know who quit school this year because of the cost.

Kyle Hubbard, 19, a PSU sophomore, said he's looking for work, borrowing and became so stressed about taking out a bank loan last term that his grades dropped.

During the rally, Tiffany Dollar, a PSU student and chair of the Oregon Student Association board, led about 200 students in a pledge of allegiance to: "the mighty state of Oregon, and to our colleges for which we stand, one student movement, under shrinking budgets and millions of dollars in debt, and unemployment for us all after we graduate."
Portland State University President Wim Wiewel

Last year, the Legislature held back 3.5 percent of the budgets for universities, community colleges and the Oregon Opportunity Grant program for low-income students in case revenue dipped below expectations this year, which it did.

Students from across the state urged lawmakers to restore the holdback: $15 million for community colleges, $24.5 million for universities and $3.5 million for the opportunity grants.

After adjusting for inflation, state general fund support for the seven campuses in the Oregon University System has dropped 27 percent over the last decade to $669 million. Enrollment climbed over that period 36 percent to 100,000 students.

That surge in enrollment, particularly among out-of-state students who pay triple the tuition, has helped the state's universities amass $193 million in reserves. That's more than three times what the state has in its rainy day fund and school reserve account. University leaders want to use that money to hold down tuition.

State support for Oregon's 17 community colleges has dropped from $500 million in 2007-09 to $395 million this biennium, a 21 percent drop. During the same period, enrollment climbed 34 percent to 125,000 students.

To handle more students with less money from the state, annual tuition and fees doubled over the last decade to an average $4,125 for community college students and $7,634 for full-time resident undergraduate university students.

As tuition climbs, so do the financial needs of students. More than a third of Oregon's 71,650 undergraduate students have incomes low enough to qualify for federal need-based Pell Grants.

Oregon has a $100 million fund this biennium for opportunity grants, enough to award about 50,000 grants each year. The maximum grant is $1,950. Only about one in five eligible students actually collects one.

People are beginning to question whether it is worth it to go to college, Randy Blazak, a PSU sociology professor, told students during the rally.

"What is not sustainable is the higher education model in Oregon," he said. "We are at a tipping point."

Monday, February 20, 2012

Record enrollments give Oregon universities big reserve accounts

Read original article at OregonLive.com

Published: Sunday, February 19, 2012, 10:00 PM FRONT PAGE The Oregonian

SALEM -- Record enrollments coupled with higher-than-ever tuition rates have helped give Oregon's higher education system something almost unheard of in this time of civic austerity -- a fluffy cushion of cash reserves.

At last report, the state's seven universities were on track to have combined reserves of just under $200 million by June 30. The amount stands in stark contrast to the comparatively paltry $56 million the state has in its Rainy Day Fund and school reserve account.

At a time when people are clamoring for more state services, and students are looking for tuition relief, the reserve fund looks like a juicy target. But higher education officials say the reserves will help hold down future tuition increases, and budget writers at the Legislature say they're more impressed with than envious of higher education's expanding piggy bank.

"The university system is doing absolutely the right thing," says Rep. Peter Buckley, one of the co-chairmen of the Legislature's main budget committee. He said there are no plans to "raid" the reserves, as the state has done in the past.

"It's part of a five-year plan for stability," Buckley says.

Healthy reserve accounts are relatively new to Oregon's university system, which is better known for frequent pleas of poverty and calls for better treatment by state budgeters. A combination of circumstances has changed all that.
GS.21RSRVx.jpgView full size

Last year, the Legislature approved a bill that gives universities more autonomy from the state and makes it harder for lawmakers to do what they have done in the past -- sweep chunks of tuition payments into the general fund to pay for unrelated state programs and services.

On top of that, the economic recession has sent scads more Oregonians back to college, whether because they lost jobs or because they decided they needed to up their academic credentials to find one. Furthermore, jumbo-sized tuition increases in California made Oregon schools seem like a deal -- even at non-resident rates -- and hordes of students came across the border.

"We have record numbers of students, and we have more students coming to us from out of state and internationally," says Jay Kenton, chief finance officer for the Oregon University System.

Also, on orders by the state, the campuses slowed spending two years ago, which helped build the current nest egg, he said.And on top of that, the state front-loaded its allowance to the university system, giving it 54 percent in the first year of the biennium, which allowed universities to invest the extra money and recoup some interest earnings.

"It's kind of a calamity of errors almost, in terms of how we got to this point," Kenton said.

Not that he, or anyone in higher education, is complaining.

"We're a $2.6 billion enterprise," Kenton says. "If you talk to most corporations, they don't drain their treasury every year. Granted, right now our reserves are a little high, but that's due to the herks and jerks by the Legislature."

Admission policies also helped pad higher education's bank accounts. The University of Oregon's popularity has soared outside the state, aided by multiple appearances at national championship football games. Now, one out of every two freshmen admitted pays out-of-state tuition.

"They're paying $27,000 a year in tuition, while the average cost to educate them is $11,000 to $12,000," Kenton says. "So they're a net gain." The higher tuition rates helps subsidize in-state UO students, who pay about $6,000 in tuition, he says.

Roger Thompson, UO's vice provost for enrollment, says all those non-resident and international students aren't pushing out Oregon high school graduates. Just the opposite -- they help Oregon high school graduates to consider staying in state, he says.

"Our primary goal is to enroll and educate Oregonians," Thompson says. The UO enrolls about the same number of in-state students each year, but the real growth has been in non-resident admissions.

The state has been consistently "disinvesting" in higher education, and the extra tuition paid by non-residents helps offset those losses, Thompson says.

Students say the reserves should be used to reverse a trend of skyrocketing tuition increases. Over the past four years, tuition at the state's bigger campuses has increased 70 percent, says Tiffany Dollar, chairwoman of the board of the Oregon Student Association.

"We know we have shrinking services on our campuses -- fewer advisors, fewer counseling appointments, also increased class sizes," Dollar says. "We're in a really tough spot."

Students have proposed limiting tuition increases to no more than 7 percent over the next two years. She said he hopes the Oregon University System, with its bigger reserves, "does their part."

Buckley, the House member who is helping craft a revised state budget, said the reserves give universities some wiggle room as student preferences and the economy change.

"It's not like they have these big reserves and they're just sitting on it," Buckley says. Some schools have had to add faculty and staff. As the economy picks up steam, enrollment is likely to go down. The flood of Californians and other non-resident students will subside.

"This recession," he says, "is going to end some day."

The 'Bennett Hypothesis,' on Why College Prices Rise, Is Alive and Well - Administration

Read Original article at The Chronicle of Higher Education

William J. Bennett was probably too simplistic when he famously proclaimed 25 years ago that increased student aid makes it easier for colleges to raise their tuition, says a new policy paper from the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, but he wasn't necessarily wrong.

The assertion by the former secretary of education, which has come to be known as the Bennett hypothesis, has been widely debated over the years, with some academics arguing that it was unfounded and others that it was dead-on.

Now, in the paper, "Introducing Bennett Hypothesis 2.0," Andrew Gillen, research director at the center, says the mixed findings can be explained by factors that Mr. Bennett overlooked.

For one, says Mr. Gillen in the paper, Mr. Bennett did not differentiate between aid going to low-income students and aid for less-needy students. Mr. Gillen says that increased aid aimed at the neediest students does help make college more affordable to them. So in those cases, he says, the increased aid doesn't necessarily fuel higher tuition. But aid that is universally available will make it easier for middle-class students to afford a higher tuition, which is "more likely to simply fuel tuition increases" without making college more affordable.

Arthur M. Hauptman, a student-aid expert who has long argued that aid should be directed to the neediest students, and who closely followed the debates over the original "Bennett hypothesis," says that conclusion, from an organization he calls "conservative," is a "helpful" addition to the discourse about student aid. (It would have been even more helpful, he says, if the paper had also examined the "substitution effect"—how much colleges cut back on their own student aid when government aid goes up. "Just looking at the price effect is missing the story," says Mr. Hauptman, who examined the paper for The Chronicle.)

Mr. Gillen also writes that the Bennett hypothesis didn't take into account the effects of tuition caps—whether formally adopted by state law or informally imposed by trustees for competitive reasons. In those cases, the increased availability of aid might not have resulted in higher tuition, but it might have had other effects, such as allowing colleges to become more selective.

Ultimately, however, the main reason the Bennett hypothesis does still hold true, writes Mr. Gillen, is "the nature of competition in higher education." While bread producers, for example, compete on value that takes into account quality relative to price, most colleges compete on the basis of reputation, prestige, and "excellence," which are harder to measure. And often, he says, the proxies for quality are high-quality inputs, like new laboratories and top professors, and they're expensive. (And those added costs are not one-time-only expenses but are continuous.)

Absent other measures of quality, says Mr. Gillen, colleges "will spend what they can, meaning that revenues drive costs."

The availability of increased aid doesn't create the drive for rising prices—it only exacerbates it, concludes Mr. Gillen. "Nevertheless, that is no excuse for ill-designed financial-aid programs to pour fuel on the fire."

Taking Some of the Guesswork Out of the Value-of-College Question

Original article at The Chronicle of Higher Education

February 20, 2012, 4:55 am

The lifetime wage premium that accompanies a college degree has long been the best selling point for colleges trying to attract students. The marketing pitch went something like this: Don’t worry how much you spend on our degree, we all know that getting a college credential is worth it.

Of course, not all colleges or majors are created equal. And it’s nearly impossible for consumers to get any information about how much a graduate in a specific major from a particular university earns. That’s probably one of the best measures of the return on investment in higher education, but, as with so many other tools that would allow consumers to make bottom-line comparisons, colleges are loath to share such information. In the absence of data, it’s easier for colleges to sell the dream of higher education at any cost.

But with tuition prices continuing to climb and the economy stuck in neutral, families will increasingly demand more information on what they’re buying.

Like politicians elsewhere, Virginia lawmakers have heard such complaints from parents and decided to do something about it. Over the last two years, the state legislature has passed two bills that, beginning this spring, will give families access to a key component in answering the value-of-college question: median salaries for the graduates of hundreds of academic programs across every public institution and some private colleges in the state.

The public database, which is expected in April, will allow students and parents to look at potential earnings over a six-year period in several ways. They can look at a specific program to see median earnings by type of degree (a certificate vs. a two-year degree in information technology, for instance) or across institutions (an English degree at James Madison University vs. the same degree at George Mason University), or majors across a campus.

The tool will have several limitations. It includes information only on students who graduate from Virginia institutions and work in the state, and excludes the self-employed. It also shows employment only by industry, rather than by job. So someone who works in information technology at Target, for instance, will show up as employed in retail. And it only includes certificates and undergraduate degrees, not those who went on to graduate or professional school.

Even so, when the database is released, Virginia will become the first state in the country to make such information available on a widespread basis. It’s about time.

“It turns out not to be complicated to do it,” explains Mark Schneider, a vice president at the American Institutes for Research, which is working with Virginia on analyzing its data. So why has it taken so long? Technology? “It’s not an IT problem, it’s a political problem,” says Schneider, who served as U.S. commissioner of education statistics from 2005 to 2008.

To get these statistics, you need two sets of numbers. One is from the unemployment-insurance program that every state runs. Employers who are part of that program must report the salaries of their employees every quarter. The second number is a “unit-record number,” a unique ID for each student enrolled in an institution in the state.

The unit-record number probably sounds familiar because it was at the center of a debate during the George W. Bush administration. The administration wanted to create a national system to track students, which would have allowed us to know so much more about transfers, completions, and employment than we do now. Higher-education lobbyists, particularly from private colleges, successfully fought back attempts to build such a system over privacy concerns.

But many states already have such unique ID’s for their college students (some private and for-profit colleges in Virginia don’t, which is why its system won’t cover everyone). Schneider has a grant from the Lumina Foundation for Education for the work in Virginia and three to four other states. Once other states see what Virginia has done, it’s very likely others will quickly follow, with or without the support of college leaders.

Some who work in academe don’t like the idea of viewing a college degree through an economic lens. It’s likely that this database will renew the debate over the purpose of college, training for a job or a broad education. To me, it’s not an either/or argument.

Will some students decide not to major in the fine arts at Christopher Newport University once they see this median salary information? Perhaps. But for most families, this tool will be just one of many data points they use in the college search process, and more comparable information is needed on one of the biggest investments they’ll make in their lifetimes.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Selling Water By the River: Reflections on AAUP and NEA’s national leadership strategy

Read Original article at Teri Yamada's blog
February 19, 2012
By Teri Yamada, Professor of Asian Studies, CSU Long Beach

In our current gilded age where all politics is business, we educators yearn for ethical leaders to admire. Under assault in the trenches, our faculty unions are undermined at the local level, often by both political parties who are using this bad economy to privatize public education. It is depressing as we fight the good fight against multibillionaires. Therefore, we can at least hope that our national education associations will have our backs, effectively lobbying for us at both the federal and state levels to stop this wildcat privatization. As associations who represent us, we expect NEA (National Education Association) and AAUP (American Association of University Professors) to model the highest standards of ethical conduct and leadership as we struggle daily on our campuses to organize against faculty apathy, and as we lobby our state legislatures to act responsibly for the public good. In our local fights for equity and access to public higher education for every qualified student in our respective states, in our struggle to maintain quality education and academic freedom, in our efforts to preserve secure jobs with benefits, we need help! We need effective ethical help.

Our expectation of ethical and effective leadership holds true for both AAUP and NEA. Both serve the public higher education sector as our national representatives to the media and the Department of Education in Washington D.C. How our AAUP and NEA leaders comport themselves, what they say to the media, to Arnie Duncan and President Obama, reflects back on the entire higher education sector. It is time for some self-reflection.

In a recent Chronicle of Higher Education commentary, former AAUP general secretary Gary Rhoades made a number of points about leadership and the difficult questions that AAUP must face if it is to survive as a respected and effective association. The challenges are great. But we all will be diminished if AAUP is unable or unwilling to embrace constructive criticism and prove by its actions that transformation is possible. The United University Professions (SUNY), have demonstrated the consequences of unresponsiveness by their February vote to end affiliation with AAUP after twelve years of relationship, citing a number of complaints including poor communication and lack of responsiveness.

NEA has also challenged patience. Several years ago, NEA decided to establish or form a relationship with a proprietary affiliate called the NEA Academy (1) . This Academy’s purpose it to serve as a portal to “online professional development products,” which means it provides a link to other providers’ online courses for teacher continuing education and Master’s Degrees. Claiming to have a Content Quality and Review Board, the NEA Academy has published its Requirements for Inclusion in its products list. These requirements include such standards as “content that aligns with NEA policy.” One of the top three providers for NEA Academy’s courses is Western Governors University(WGU)

NEA stipulates that its vision is “a great public school for every student” and that its mission is “to advocate for education professionals.” It promotes public education as a core value: “We believe public education is the cornerstone of our republic. Public education provides individuals with the skills to be involved, informed and engaged in our representative democracy.” The question then is why does NEA embrace Western Governors University, a private, anti-faculty union provider of online courses? How does this fit with NEA’s mission to advocate for “education professionals” when WGU is an institution that eschews teacher-based instruction; it has no teachers. Why do this when so many excellent public universities and community colleges across the nation have online programs of the highest quality which adhere to the philosophy that teachers form the core of education? Shouldn’t educators also deserve “a great public school” for their continuing education?

When our national associations fail to serve us well —as we battle on the ground to protect faculty jobs and save collective bargaining, to preserve adjunct positions with benefits and job security, to ensure quality control over curriculum, to save public education and academic freedom—we must wonder whom AAUP and NEA are serving.


(1) This relationship needs further clarification. NEA Academy charges a course fee for its portal services.


Rhoades, Gary. “Forget Executives the AAUP Should Turn to Grass-Roots Leaders” in The Chronicle of Higher Education, 8 January 2012.

Schmidt, Peter. “AAUP Loses Major Affiliate at SUNY” in The Chronicle of Higher Education, 6 February 2012.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Are Some Faculty Members Really Serfs?

Read original article at UCR Today

Professor finds full-time non-tenure track faculty think of themselves as foreigners, detached observers and members of a counterculture

John Levin

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) — Full-time non-tenure track faculty at colleges and universities lack a professional identity and a sense of self worth, according to interviews with these faculty members that formed the basis of a recently published paper co-authored by a University of California, Riverside professor.

John S. Levin, a professor in the Graduate School of Education at UC Riverside, argues that, for this condition to change, full-time non-tenure track faculty, comprised of teachers, researchers, and administrators – who lack permanent employment protection and an acknowledged role in institutional governance that tenured faculty enjoy – need to be better compensated and have greater institutional authority.

“Right now, they have become like serfs – a labor force for tenure-track faculty,” said Levin, who is the Bank of America Professor of Education Leadership. “That needs to change. Institutions need to take responsibility for these employees.”

Levin published the paper, “The Hybrid and Dualistic Identity of Full-Time Non-Tenure-Track Faculty” in the journal American Behavioral Scientist with Genevieve G. Shaker, an administrator in the School of Liberal Arts at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

In the last several decades, colleges and universities have increasingly relied on part-time and full-time non-tenure-track faculty. They provide increased flexibility and cost savings. Other contributors to this rise include: a public unease with tenure, declining government funding for higher education and an abundance of Ph.D. recipients.

In the United States, about 70 percent of academics now work off the tenure track, and more than a quarter of these faculty members are full-time. Full-time non-tenure-track faculty members constitute 60 percent of new full-time faculty hires.

Levin predicts these uncertain conditions and identities foreshadow growing complications in U.S. higher education. For example, today the reliance on part-time and full-time non-tenure-track faculty is most pronounced at community colleges and state colleges. He believes the same trend could start having a larger impact at elite universities.

While much academic research has focused on such topics as the demographics and earnings of full-time non-tenure-track faculty, little research has focused on how these faculty members feel about their situation.

That’s what Levin and Shaker set out to do.

They interviewed 18 full-time non-tenure-track faculty members for up to three hours. All were affiliated with English departments at three public research universities. They focused on English departments because they have expressed a longstanding interest in the roles, responsibilities, and rights of non-tenure-track faculty.

The researchers found that full-time non-tenure-track faculty (FTNT) describe themselves as foreigners, detached observers and members of a counterculture. As teachers, they express satisfaction. But, as faculty members they articulate restricted self-determination and self-esteem.

“Generally, they are divided selves, chameleon-like: They both accept and reject aspects of their professional roles and status, they live in the present but also in a future that is projected as better than the present, and they have to adjust to be appropriately FTNT,” the authors write.

The group has some trappings of professional university faculty, especially high levels of education and training, but there are voids, such as identification in their field nationally and internationally and the ability to pursue intellectual curiosities.

The authors conclude full-time non-tenure-track faculty members are more of an occupational class than a professional body.

The authors also argue that is up to both the institutions and full-time non-tenure-track faculty to change the situation.

Institutions need to provide greater authority for full-time non-tenure-track faculty in curriculum and instruction decisions; make them part of departmental decision making; provide research support and professional development; create less of a status differentiation between those who primarily teach and those who primarily conduct research; and be more creative in naming these positions as it relates to salary, job security and appointment policies.

Full-time non-tenure-track faculty members need to: participate in service, administration, and governance at the university; fill disciplinary niches, such as becoming experts in teaching online; and become involved with existing associations for faculty or non-tenure-track faculty or establishing new campus-based associations to support the interests of full-time non-tenure-track faculty.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Progressive Victories in Ohio, Mississippi, Maine, Arizona Provide Seven Key Lessons for 2012

Read original article at Huffington Post
by Robert Creamer, Posted: 11/9/11

A year ago the Empire struck back. Right Wing money capitalized on anger at the economic stagnation that their own policies caused just two years before. They brought a halt to the hard-won progressive victories that marked the first two years of Barack Obama's presidency.
Last night the progressive forces tested some of the weapons and tactics they will use in next year's full-blown counter offensive. They worked very, very well.
Progressives won key elections in Ohio, Maine, Mississippi, and Arizona.
The importance of yesterday's labor victory in Ohio cannot be overstated. It could well mark a major turning point in the history of the American labor movement -and the future of the American middle class.
The people of Ohio rejected right wing attempts to destroy public sector unions by an astounding 61% to 39%. Progressives in Ohio won 82 out of 88 counties.
In his "concession," the author of the union-stripping bill, Governor John Kasich, looked like a whipped dog. He was.
Last night's victory will have a direct and immediate impact on the livelihoods of thousands of middle class state employees in Ohio. It will stall similar attempts to destroy unions in other states. It will turbo-charge the campaign to oust Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker who jammed a union-stripping measure through his own legislature. And it will massively weaken Kasich and other Republicans in Ohio.
But last night's victory also carried critical lessons for the progressive forces throughout America as we prepare for the crossroads, defining battle of 2012.
Lesson #1: Creating a Movement. The industrial state labor battles that culminated in last night's overwhelming Ohio success transformed the image of unions from a large bureaucratic "special interest" that negotiates for workers and are part of the "establishment" -- into a movement to protect the interests of the American Middle Class.
The Republican Governors who began these battles hoped to make a bold move to destroy union power. In fact, they have succeeded in creating their worst nightmare -- the rebirth of a labor movement.
That is critically important for the future of unions - which by any measure provide the foundation of progressive political power in the United States. It also provides an important lesson for every element of the Progressive community.

These battles put the "movement" back in "labor movement."
And the importance of "movement" can't be overstated. Particularly at a time when people are unhappy with the direction of the country and desperately want change -- they don't want leaders who appear to be embedded parts of the status quo. They want to be part of movements for change.
Movements have three critical characteristics:
  • They make people feel that they are part of something bigger than themselves.
  • They make people feel that they themselves can play a significant role in bringing about that larger goal.
  • They involve "chain reactions" -- they go viral. You don't have to only engage people in movements one by one or one or group by group. They begin to engage each other.
Because they make people feel that they are part of something larger than themselves -- and that they can personally be a part of achieving that larger goal -- movements inspire and empower. And for that reason they give people hope.
To win, Progressives must turn the anger and dissatisfaction with the present into inspiration and hope for the future.
The labor movement turned the battle in Ohio into a fight for the future of America's middle class. It turned the battle into a fight over the dignity of everyday working people -- and their right to have a say in their future. Instead of being about "contracts," it was about "freedom."
Lesson #2: It's much easier to mobilize people to protect what they have than to fight for something to which they aspire.
Every one of the big victories yesterday involved battles that had been framed as attempts by the Right -- or their allies on Wall Street - to take away the rights of everyday Americans.
In Ohio, it was the right to collectively bargain about their future. In Maine, it was the right to same-day voter registration. In Mississippi it was the right to use contraceptives -- once it became clear that the so-called "personhood" amendment was not just about abortion, but ultimately about a woman's right to use birth control. In Arizona, it was the rights of Latino Americans.
And of course, that's why the Republicans' plan to privatize Social Security and eliminate Medicare are so toxic for them in the election next year.
Among referenda yesterday, the one progressive setback came in the largely symbolic vote -- once again in Ohio -- against the Health Care Reform Act's mandate to buy insurance. The very same people who had voted against taking away the rights of their neighbors to join a union -- also voted against being "forced" to buy health insurance.
The whole issue of the "mandate" is the major card the Right has played against the critically important Health Care Reform Act. Of course the whole issue could have been framed differently. The "mandate" to start paying Medicare premiums when you're sixty-five isn't framed as a "mandate." People do it, both because they really want to get on Medicare, and because if they wait to pay premiums until they need it, their premiums go way up.
That's why a Public Option was so popular with the voters. You got to choose to join something you wanted. But it's also the way we should have framed the overall "mandate" to get insurance -- with premium penalties if you fail to "opt in."
Once the health care law becomes a fact on the ground that benefits ordinary people, every day, it will certainly become very popular. But that will wait until 2014 when most of its provisions go into effect. Once it does goes into effect, if they try to take away those benefits and the Right will run into a firestorm of opposition.
Of course if Romney is the Republican candidate next year, we don't have to worry about the "mandate" issue at all. In fact, our attitude should be "go ahead, make my day." It will be simple to neutralize any attack by Romney or Super-Pacs on Democrats about "mandates" by simply pointing out that the entire question is just one more example of how Romney has no core values -- since he authored and passed the Massachusetts health care law built around "mandates." In the end, Romney's lack of core values is a much more powerful message than anything having to do with "mandates."
Lesson #3: Framing the battle is key. In every one of these issue referenda, Progressives won the framing battle.
In Ohio, Progressives made the fight into a battle for the rights of the middle class -- part of the overarching battle between the 99% and the 1%.
In Maine, Progressives made the battle into a fight over the right to register to vote. Of course the right wing frame was that eliminating same-day registration provided protection against "voter fraud." That was pretty hard to sustain given the fact that there had been exactly two instances of "voter fraud" involving same-day registration in 28 years.
The Mississippi "personhood amendment" was framed as a battle over the rights of women to use birth control - not to make "miscarriage" a crime.
Lesson #4: Turnout is king. In Virginia, a Republican candidate leads his Democratic opponent by only 86 votes, so a recount will determine whether the Republicans there take control of the State Senate.
Turnout in the Virginia contests was low.
In Ohio, by contrast, 400,000 more voters went to the polls yesterday than in the elections in 2010. That's one big reason why Progressives won.
And it wasn't just inspiration and great messaging that turned them out. Rank and file union members and Progressives of all sorts conducted massive get out the vote efforts in every corner of the state.
After all, victory isn't just about great strategy, mostly it's about nuts and bolts -- it's about great execution. In Ohio they had both.
In Arizona, the Latino community mobilized to defeat the author of Arizona's "papers please" law, State Senator Russell Pearce. He lost a recall election, by seven points, 52.4% to 45.4%. The Pearce defeat is just one more example of how the Republicans play the "immigration" card at their peril -- and how important the Latino vote will be to the outcome next year in critical states like New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado, Florida -- and Arizona.
Pearce didn't count on Latinos going out to vote. They did.
Lesson #5: Progressives win when we stand up straight. We won last night where we stood proudly for progressive values -- planted the flag -- mobilized our forces and took the offensive.
People in America are not looking for leaders who apologize for their progressive beliefs or are willing to compromise those principles even before they enter the fight. They want leaders who will fight for the middle class, and fight for change; who stand up against the big Wall Street banks and the CEO class that they believe - correctly - have siphoned off the nation's wealth, and whose greed has caused the economy to collapse.
People are willing to compromise when it seems to advance the common good -- but only after their leaders have done everything in their power to defend their interests -- and have mobilized them to defend their own interests.
Lesson #6: The face of the battle in Ohio was your neighbor.
The Republicans bet that they could make public employees the "Welfare Queens" of our time. They bet that they could make public employees the scapegoats for all that has gone wrong with the American economy -- that they could divide the middle class against itself.
They bet wrong.
Turned out to be impossible to convince everyday Americans that firefighters, cops, and teachers were greedy villains. Normal voters recognized them as their neighbors -- as people just like themselves.
The 99% versus the 1% frame is critical to making clear that the problem with our economy has nothing to do with how much teachers, or firefighters, or steel workers, or home care workers, or Social Security recipients make for a living. It has everything to do with growing economic inequality, the exploding financial sector, and an unproductive class of speculators and gamblers who don't make anything of value but siphon off all of our increased productivity.
Lesson #7: Progressives win when we frame the issue as a moral choice.
In Ohio, Progressives did not frame the debate as a choice between two sets of policies and programs. They posed the question as a choice between two different visions of the future.
It was a choice between an America with a strong, vibrant, empowered middle class, where every generation can look forward to more opportunity than the one that went before - or, a society with a tiny wealthy elite and a massive population of powerless workers who do their bidding.
It was posed as a choice between a society where we're all in this together -- where we look out for each other and take responsibility for our future as a country -- or as a society where we're all in this alone -- where only the strong, or the clever, or the ruthless can thrive.
If given a clear, compelling choice, Americans will chose a progressive vision of the future every time.

Education Gap Grows Between Rich and Poor, Studies Show

Original article at NYTimes.com
February 9, 2012

Education Gap Grows Between Rich and Poor, Studies Say

WASHINGTON — Education was historically considered a great equalizer in American society, capable of lifting less advantaged children and improving their chances for success as adults. But a body of recently published scholarship suggests that the achievement gap between rich and poor children is widening, a development that threatens to dilute education’s leveling effects.
It is a well-known fact that children from affluent families tend to do better in school. Yet the income divide has received far less attention from policy makers and government officials than gaps in student accomplishment by race.
Now, in analyses of long-term data published in recent months, researchers are finding that while the achievement gap between white and black students has narrowed significantly over the past few decades, the gap between rich and poor students has grown substantially during the same period.
“We have moved from a society in the 1950s and 1960s, in which race was more consequential than family income, to one today in which family income appears more determinative of educational success than race,” said Sean F. Reardon, a Stanford University sociologist. Professor Reardon is the author of a study that found that the gap in standardized test scores between affluent and low-income students had grown by about 40 percent since the 1960s, and is now double the testing gap between blacks and whites.
In another study, by researchers from the University of Michigan, the imbalance between rich and poor children in college completion — the single most important predictor of success in the work force — has grown by about 50 percent since the late 1980s.
The changes are tectonic, a result of social and economic processes unfolding over many decades. The data from most of these studies end in 2007 and 2008, before the recession’s full impact was felt. Researchers said that based on experiences during past recessions, the recent downturn was likely to have aggravated the trend.
“With income declines more severe in the lower brackets, there’s a good chance the recession may have widened the gap,” Professor Reardon said. In the study he led, researchers analyzed 12 sets of standardized test scores starting in 1960 and ending in 2007. He compared children from families in the 90th percentile of income — the equivalent of around $160,000 in 2008, when the study was conducted — and children from the 10th percentile, $17,500 in 2008. By the end of that period, the achievement gap by income had grown by 40 percent, he said, while the gap between white and black students, regardless of income, had shrunk substantially.
Both studies were first published last fall in a book of research, “Whither Opportunity?” compiled by the Russell Sage Foundation, a research center for social sciences, and the Spencer Foundation, which focuses on education. Their conclusions, while familiar to a small core of social sciences scholars, are now catching the attention of a broader audience, in part because income inequality has been a central theme this election season.
The connection between income inequality among parents and the social mobility of their children has been a focus of President Obama as well as some of the Republican presidential candidates.
One reason for the growing gap in achievement, researchers say, could be that wealthy parents invest more time and money than ever before in their children (in weekend sports, ballet, music lessons, math tutors, and in overall involvement in their children’s schools), while lower-income families, which are now more likely than ever to be headed by a single parent, are increasingly stretched for time and resources. This has been particularly true as more parents try to position their children for college, which has become ever more essential for success in today’s economy.
A study by Sabino Kornrich, a researcher at the Center for Advanced Studies at the Juan March Institute in Madrid, and Frank F. Furstenberg, scheduled to appear in the journal Demography this year, found that in 1972, Americans at the upper end of the income spectrum were spending five times as much per child as low-income families. By 2007 that gap had grown to nine to one; spending by upper-income families more than doubled, while spending by low-income families grew by 20 percent.
“The pattern of privileged families today is intensive cultivation,” said Dr. Furstenberg, a professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania.
The gap is also growing in college. The University of Michigan study, by Susan M. Dynarski and Martha J. Bailey, looked at two generations of students, those born from 1961 to 1964 and those born from 1979 to 1982. By 1989, about one-third of the high-income students in the first generation had finished college; by 2007, more than half of the second generation had done so. By contrast, only 9 percent of the low-income students in the second generation had completed college by 2007, up only slightly from a 5 percent college completion rate by the first generation in 1989.
James J. Heckman, an economist at the University of Chicago, argues that parenting matters as much as, if not more than, income in forming a child’s cognitive ability and personality, particularly in the years before children start school.
“Early life conditions and how children are stimulated play a very important role,” he said. “The danger is we will revert back to the mindset of the war on poverty, when poverty was just a matter of income, and giving families more would improve the prospects of their children. If people conclude that, it’s a mistake.”
Meredith Phillips, an associate professor of public policy and sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles, used survey data to show that affluent children spend 1,300 more hours than low-income children before age 6 in places other than their homes, their day care centers, or schools (anywhere from museums to shopping malls). By the time high-income children start school, they have spent about 400 hours more than poor children in literacy activities, she found.
Charles Murray, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute whose book, “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010,” was published Jan. 31, described income inequality as “more of a symptom than a cause.”
The growing gap between the better educated and the less educated, he argued, has formed a kind of cultural divide that has its roots in natural social forces, like the tendency of educated people to marry other educated people, as well as in the social policies of the 1960s, like welfare and other government programs, which he contended provided incentives for staying single.
“When the economy recovers, you’ll still see all these problems persisting for reasons that have nothing to do with money and everything to do with culture,” he said.
There are no easy answers, in part because the problem is so complex, said Douglas J. Besharov, a fellow at the Atlantic Council. Blaming the problem on the richest of the rich ignores an equally important driver, he said: two-earner household wealth, which has lifted the upper middle class ever further from less educated Americans, who tend to be single parents.
The problem is a puzzle, he said. “No one has the slightest idea what will work. The cupboard is bare.”

Sunday, February 12, 2012

"Good for Wall Street - Bad for Students": SEIU Webinar on For-Profit Colleges and Universities

Read the original article at Truthout
by: Danny Weil, Truthout | News Analysis

(Photo: Will Folsom)

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A cursory investigation of the for-profit higher education industry reveals striking parallels between the economics of the for-profit colleges and universities and the Wall Street financial meltdown of 2008. The matter cries out for immediate attention for the breadth and speed of the extraction of public funds and their transfer into private hands is proceeding faster than could have been imagined five years ago.

That is why it was heartening to see one of America's largest unions, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), sponsor an event entitled, "Good for Wall Street - Bad for Students," a panel discussion and national webcast on the dangers of for-profit colleges - especially the 105 schools owned and operated by Pittsburgh-based Education Management Corporation (EDMC).

The event was organized by SEIU and I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend by organizer, Kevin O'Donnell from SEIU Communications. The webinar took place February 2, 2012 on-line between 12 noon and 2 PM (EST), and the group of panelists assembled for the webinar included a vast array of knowledgeable participants. The panelists were seated at the Fairmount Hotel, in downtown Pittsburgh.

According to O'Donnell:

"This was the first webinar on for-profit colleges sponsored by a worker's union. But in a broader sense, the webinar was part of the labor movement's traditional function of advocating for justice for all working families, not just members. SEIU is increasingly recuperating this tradition which is best exemplified historically by unions pushing for the eight hour workday, social security and the minimum wage. It often gets overlooked but unions have historically had an impact far beyond their membership. Consumer education for both members and the public is the top priority. But we have also been talking with Senator Harkin and some policy groups about how we can work together to prevent abuses in this sector." [Private email.]

Present at the webinar were Kevin Kinser, associate professor in the Department of Educational Administration and Policy Studies, SUNY-Albany; Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director, American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions (Nassirian was interviewed extensively in the "Frontline" documentary produced by PBS); officer José Cruz, vice president for Higher Education Policy and Practice and The Education Trust; Osamudia R. James, associate professor of law, University of Miami School of Law; Kathleen Bittel, former EDMC recruiter and career services employee; Jeremy Dehn, former EDMC instructor; Suzanne Lawrence, former EDMC recruiter; and Mike DiGiacomo, a former student at EDMC's New England Institute of Art. Although the forum was a webinar online, not unlike a seminar on the ground, the participants could have been testifying for a grand jury, law enforcement or before a Congressional inquiry; this was how informative, distressing and outright shocking the testimony of the participants actually was.

Defining Terms and Setting the Groundwork

The webinar began with moderator Kinser opening up the session with a clear definition of what exactly the difference was among public higher education institutions, non-profit higher education institutions and for-profit higher education institutions. This definition of terms was exceedingly important and provided an excellent opportunity to begin the discussion of the various themes that comprise any critical understanding of the for-profit higher education sector.

For-profit colleges and universities are part and parcel of the booming and increasingly accelerating private ownership of the educational means of production in the United States and abroad. As panelist Nassirian was quick to point out, the for-profit colleges and universities have managed to wrangle 12 percent of all college students in the United States. Cruz pointed out that this number includes one out of every four students of color in all colleges and universities, arguably making institutional racism a part of the for-profit industry's well-targeted business plan. Shockingly, Nassirian noted that these colleges and universities also receive 25 percent of all federal aid for colleges and universities, and they are responsible for a the lions share of student loan defaults - a whopping 50 percent of all college and university defaults.

Some History of the For-Profits

The panelists commenced with a bit of history for the audience, which was necessary in order to provide a critical understanding of the complex issue of for-profit colleges and their meteoric rise. Nassirian gave an overview of the GI Bill coming on the heels of World War II and how this was really the first time the federal government provided American citizens an opportunity to attend and participate in a higher education. Known and passed into law as The Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, the new law provided college (or high school or vocational education) for returning World War II veterans as well as one year of unemployment compensation). The bill was passed to avoid the problems that had occurred with the "Bonus March" that had occurred in 1932 and to also provide a stimulus for the depression economy.

The GI Bill was stupendously successful providing 7.8 million World War II veterans benefits under the GI Bill and 2.2 million of them participated in higher education and/or training programs. During the 1950s, the number of college students doubled. Getting a college education was no longer the providence of the elite and the rich.

As the experiment wound its way through the 1950s with a great deal of fanfare and success, access was expanded through the Civil Rights Act of 1965, most notably The Higher Education Act of 1965 (the HEA). The HEA was specific legislation attached to the Civil Rights Act that was codified into United States law on November 8, 1965, as part of President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society domestic agenda. (For more on this law and Johnson, see here, here and here.)

Although not the subject of the webinar, it is important for a thorough understanding of the current material economic and political conditions underlying the growth of for-profit colleges and universities to point out that the GI Bill was superseded by the Veterans Adjustment Act of 1952. This new bill offered benefits to veterans of the Korean War that served for more than 90 days and had received an "other than dishonorable discharge"; but it did something more: unlike the predecessor GI Bill, the substantial difference between the 1944 GI Bill and the 1952 Act was that it altered the distribution of federal funds for tuition use at higher education institutions.

To read other stories by Danny Weil or other authors in the Public Intellectual Project, click here.

Under the original GI Bill federal monies had been sent directly to the institutions of higher education. Now, with the new Veterans Adjustment Act of 1952, federal monies would no longer be paid directly to the various institutions of higher education, but instead, veterans would directly receive a fixed monthly stipend. They would then use this to pay for their individual tuition, fees, books and living expenses. The decision to end direct tuition payments or to stop the direct distribution of federal funds to the myriad institutions of higher education came after a 1950 House select committee hearing that uncovered incidents of fraud by many educational institutions through overcharging of tuition rates. Some 258 unnamed educational institutions were mentioned in Appendix D of a 1950 Veterans Administration report to the Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare in what would be the first such incident of for-profit higher institutional fraud to plague the government, which would then set the stage for the present subsidized profit-extraction schemes by Wall Street. More investigations of the for-profit educational enterprise would occur in 1973, in the 1990s and now, once again, under the Obama administration and senate subcommittees.

Nassirian went on to note that in the late 1980s, after close to a decade of Reaganomics or neoliberalism, massive deregulation of governmental policies were put into motion that were to affect favorable consolidation and growth in the for-profit educational industry. This led to the development of what we now see as large "higher educational or vocational chains" owned outright through corporate ownership. Wall Street was now becoming a huge player in the burgeoning industry. For-profit diploma mills issuing four-year degrees rose steadily as a result.

It was not until the "selection" of George W. Bush that for-profit, corporate, educational stocks really took off to the pleasure of Wall Street. Under the tutelage of Ron Paige, education secretary under Bush, regulations governing the for-profit educational industry were further eliminated in the interest of profit-taking purposes on behalf of corporate shareholders, CEO's and Wall Street. Predatory recruitment practices by the for-profits that had been singled out for tight regulation earlier were now allowed to proceed with reckless abandonment. During this time, three million new students enrolled in higher education institutions and 10 percent of all of them were enrolled by the for-profit colleges and universities. The market was beginning to take shape and the profits had never flowed so quickly and so easily. Wall Street, sensing that it was profitable to financialize through privatization the educational sector in America, looked to the for-profit colleges and universities as a location to invest surplus capital to avoid stagnation and achieve capital maximization. What is now a $30-billion-dollar business began to take form and fully blossomed with results that would prove to be devastating for students and taxpayers.

Recruitment at the For-Profit Colleges

As the webinar moved from a brief history to the actual inner workings of the private ownership of the means of higher education production, various themes began to emerge. The first was the issue of recruitment.

Kathleen Bittel, former EDMC recruiter and career services employee, spoke first. As a former recruiter for the largest of the for-profits, her testimony at the webinar was compelling. Bittel spoke of the various "sales pitches" that she was taught to employ. Getting "asses in the classes," Bittel stated, was the primary goal of the for-profit college or university recruiter. Techniques and tactics deployed resembled the high-pressure sales tactics utilized by the matchstick men who sold subprime mortgages to unwitting Americans, especially to people of color, the same targeted audience for the subprime colleges and universities.

One favorite tactic used by EDMC recruiters, and actually taught and sanctioned by the corporation, was what Bittel called "overcoming death." The way this ruthless and cunning recruitment tactic was used was the following: Bittel said that when a student would mention to a recruiter that he or she had just had a death in the family, say a grandmother, the recruiter was to respond, "Wouldn't grandma want you to go to school? Wouldn't she be looking down right now and saying, 'get an education'?"

Nassirian was quick to point out that when a person goes to a used car lot they expect to have a "commercial encounter." In essence, you expect that the used car salesperson will be ruthless, cunning and otherwise attempt to get you to part with your money. But, he went on to mention, when a student approaches an educational sales pitch they have a reasonable expectation that there will be a modicum of trust - that the relationship between the colleges and universities would be a "use value relationship" - after all this is not about the purchase of a used car, but about access to education. Yet, as Nassirian noted, for-profit colleges and universities have turned educational encounters into little more than "exchange value relationships" where recruiting students into the program is the only salient issue. For "asses in the classes," much like with the subprime mortgage and Bush's "ownership society," translate into heady profits for Wall Street and the small circle of major stockholders and CEO's who profit from the exchange relationship.

James called participant's attention to the TV advertisements that these for-profit colleges and universities use in an attempt to recruit people of color. She noted that the ads employed by the for-profit corporations were purposefully racialized; they mimicked working class and minority dress and speech. And they relied on material conditions of the new Jim Crow to herd students into the institutions. By doing so, she argued, the companies use race and class to target the subprime population they so notoriously say they serve, providing a compelling and direct corollary to the subprime mortgage fiasco that stripped minority citizens of their assets, life savings and homes and is still hurdling them into foreclosure.

Academic Instruction at the For-Profits

Once the issue of military-style recruitment was fleshed out, the panel pivoted to the actual "educational products" the for-profit corporations sold.

Dehn, a former instructor at EDMC, began by addressing the instructional component. First of all, he was quick to highlight that none of the faculty at the schools were tenured. This is, of course, due to the fact they have no collective bargaining, no union to represent them. A full-time professor or teacher, Dehn testified, teaches 20 classes, many with class sizes of 45 students or more. Working conditions are arduous and stressful.

Teachers teach for a "term" (there are no semesters, the for-profits changed the language to reflect their corporate business plan), which is 11 weeks and the instructor receives $2,000 for the term. This compared to just five classes a teacher would teach in a state college. Kinser commented that many of the "adjuncts" utilized by the for-profits never had classes in how to teach or work with students and were to supposed to have a "real world" quality, meaning that many were simply technicians in their fields. Many of the adjunct laborers employed at the for-profits were professionals simply "moonlighting" with no commitment to either the institution or to helping the students enrolled in them. It is important to note that because these schools are directly subsidized by receiving 90 percent of their revenue from federal funds and loans, teachers' salaries were consequently subsidized, in part, by student loan debt.

As to student-teacher interaction, Dehn indicated that he could not possibly have given full attention to students or read the body of student work due to time considerations. Teachers, he noted, were mere "message board monitors" or low-paid "moderators," not real teachers. He said that as a teacher he was forced to prioritize what was most important in the interest of the corporation and that reading student work or giving feedback on each and every paper was simply not a priority nor was it possible. The result is that students hardly had the benefit of an education - giving credence to the claim that the entire relationship represented a commodified "exchange value', hardly a human "use value'. Again, not unlike the subprime mortgage fraud where consumers were sold overvalued and overpriced homes, students at for-profit colleges and universities are being sold a toxic educational product with little value other than the "title," which in this case would be the diploma, if one were ever able to pay for it.

Dehn also spoke to the "corporate culture," which forms the ideological basis for the schools. The corporate emphasis was strictly on "attendance'. This made sense from a profit perspective: for while the recruiter might have to get the "asses in the classes," the "instructor could be said to have to keep "the meat in the seat." For if students dropped out too soon, the federal funds dried up and this meant less profits for Wall Street. For-profit college and university teachers were much like jailers: they did the bed count for the warden, in this case, the for-profit CEO's.

Dehn went on to describe the curriculum as a "canned curriculum" where there is no meaningful teacher input. Standardizing curriculum is important, for keeping costs down is another grave concern of the corporations. Kinser called attention to the fact that there was no opportunity for academic development at these for-profit schools. Dehn concurred, noting that when he went to teacher in-services they had little to do with instruction and concentrated chiefly on avoiding copyright law, how to avoid lawsuits and, of course, how to keep students tethered to their seats for enrollment data purposes.

Finally, Dehn spoke of classes filled with a broad range of students, from those who were clueless, meaning they didn't even know why they were enrolled, to students who were semi-literate and could not possibly navigate through the "classes." The whole sordid affair took on the appearance of containment and resonated like a den of iniquity - a neo-Darwinian model of human suppression and control.

Tuition at the For-Profits

When it came to discussion about the high cost of tuition for the for-profit colleges and universities, officer Cruz was quick to weigh in, noting that non-profit colleges and universities in the United States spent 35 times more monies on instruction than did for-profit schools, even though the cost of tuition is notoriously high. At for-profits, costs for a four-year degree can range from about $35,000 to upward of $80,000. Nassirian correctly pointed out that the for-profits really receive a "federal voucher" in the form of direct subsidies to students that they then vacuum up through tactics like robo-signing. Think Wall Street subprime housing mortgage once again, but instead of selling the American dream of home ownership, the for-profits are using a typical American scheme to defraud taxpayers and students. According to Nassirian, "Capitalism fails the market test."

Markets are messy, which is why the for-profits hate them; direct guaranteed subsidies made up of taxpayer funds and transferred electronically faster than the speed of light from the government to Wall Street are quick, easy and immediately translatable into profits, which is what Wall Street covets.

As to the graduation rates, panelists spoke of how the graduation rates were actually manipulated at the institutions in a variety of ways by many teachers who were baptized in corporate culture and trained to understand and identify with corporate needs. One way the institutions control graduation rates and attendance at the for-profits is to remove any reasonable "cooling-off period" and allot only a two-week time frame for "dropping" a class. This two-week window begins from the first class to and including the second class. Mike DiGiacomo, former student at EDMC's New England Institute of Art, who himself now owes $80,000 in student loans, testified that he took one class and wished to drop it directly thereafter only to find he had missed the "window of opportunity" to do so. He was charged in full for the class and continued to be listed as enrolled. These tactics are designed to assure the student is listed as registered for the class and avoids "dropout" status, which blemishes the ability of the for-profit to get their hands on federal dollars.

While non-profit colleges and universities, along with public institutions, see graduation rates of 60 percent or more, the for-profit sector graduates as little as 20 percent of their recruits. For Nassirian, heavy-handed sales pitches that reel students in like fish on a hook coupled with the realization on behalf of many students that they have been duped, is responsible for dropout rates as high as 80 percent as many students inevitably squirm to get out from under the massive debt and perfidious subterfuge that has locked them down in these rapacious institutions.

The resemblance to homeowners that cannot make payment on the subprime mortgages that the banks and nefarious mortgage houses sold to them cannot go unnoticed. While minority and working students mark up alarming dropout rates at the for-profits and are left saddled with debt, minority and working-class homeowners experience accelerated incidences of forfeitures and home losses for mortgages that they could not afford on homes that have lost huge chunks of value.

Career Prospects and Job Placement at the For-Profits

When the discussion centered on student job placement, Bittel's testimony was invaluable. She spoke about how the for-profit colleges and universities manipulate data on job placements. Fictitious placement rates are the norm, she stated. In reality, Bittel testified, no one really knew how many students ever were lucky enough to get employment in his or her field of "study." What she did say was that EDMC, specifically, told students they would be placed in jobs in their fields and would count a graduate in "video game design" to be "placed" if they got a job at Toys "R" Us as a clerk or an inventory worker. Dehn was reminded of a student with a film and video degree from a for-profit who was counted as being placed when they got an ushers job at a movie theater. This student, noted Jeremy, now owes $90,000 in student loans.

Osamudia James made a very telling point when she argued that for-profits teach "know-how" skills not "know-why" skills. This is an important distinction for it goes, once again, to the core of the for-profit claims that they provide an education. In fact, they don't, but instead, provide a little more than an inferior commodity and a crippling dependence on the thinking of others and, thus, not only dummy down their curriculum to exclude critical thinking and citizenship education, but in doing so and by targeting working-class people of color, they steal educational opportunities that would allow people of color to understand their legacy of oppression, which is necessary to embark on a path of liberation. This is all part of the new Jim Crow. For James, a "know-why" education would require critical thinking about personal, social and economic life. This is hardly what for-profit colleges or the corporations that own them desire. In the for-profit model of education, people of color and working class origin are expected to go to school to learn how to make a living at a low-wage; they are not educated to learn how to live. James argued that the for-profit educational scheme, even if we accept its bogus claims that it readies people for employment, is clothed in racial and class discrimination and is designed to, as she stated, "spend less, teach less and expect less," all with deleterious effects on our citizenry.

Debt Load and Default Rates at the For-Profits

Lawrence, a former EDMC recruiter, testified that students were never really told how much tuition actually costs to attend for-profit colleges. Though she was speaking with first-hand knowledge of EDMC, the same holds true for most students ensnared by the for-profit colleges and universities. Students are quickly herded like cattle, after a brutal recruitment process, and directed to the financial aid offices that serve as the economic hub for the for-profits. Here, according to Lawrence, students are encouraged to apply for loans and are very rarely told they might qualify for grants or scholarships. Applying for loans translates into money in the bank for the for-profits, while scholarships and grants can take time, with no guarantee of success. Lawrence stated that, although students were never told they did not qualify for grants or scholarships, when students told financial aid "counselors" they didn't think they would qualify for either, they were never corrected.

Mike DiGiacomo remarked that students really did not know much about debt either, how it worked or the consequences of taking it on. He said students were tricked into applying and accepting various loans, both Sally Mae and private. This, too, of course, is analogous with the subprime mortgage and practices at Fannie Mae, for example, that left many homeowners in default and in debt. Giving students the "bum's rush" into debt accompanied with a lack of transparency and full disclosure meant that most students had no clue as to the ramifications of their liabilities. They neither understood who issued the debt, what institutions held the note, what a promissory note really was, what the debt meant; nor did they understand the terms of their loan agreements. DiGiacomo indicated that students often would get deferments from payment of student loans they owed. These deferments were referred to in corporate parlance, laughingly, as an "unemployment fee." The same sort of snickers and laughs that mortgage lenders would levy at home borrowers who had signed subprime loan agreements and had no idea of the terms of their mortgage loans.

James made even more of a direct connection between Wall Street practices in selling phony and toxic mortgages and Wall Street's for-profit college and university practices when she noted that most students, just like many consumers given subprime mortgages, did not even know what they were signing when they agreed to obligate themselves. Pages and pages of documents were placed in front of students to sign just as struggling home borrowers were forced to sign and initial stacks of documentation they never understood. Nassirian agreed, adding that issues of nondisclosure, lack of oversight and lack of transparency paralleled the Wall Street housing crisis to the letter.

All the panelists agreed that the real problem is student debt and the inability of student loan debt to be discharged in bankruptcy. The only exemption to the non-dischargeability of student loan debt is documented mental or physical disability. Most students do not qualify for this exemption and, besides, as some of the panelists were quick to point out, the Protestant ethic embedded in American culture and the American psyche has the effect of students blaming themselves for their failure to pay back loans. Rarely is the failure to pay back student loans looked at as a systemic problem. Students, if not directly told, are ideologically softened up to ask themselves, "Why can't you accept that you accrued debt and simply get on with the task of paying back what you owe?"

It is the moral bankruptcy of a system of corruption that puts the ideological and psychological onus on the borrower to believe they actually have failed in their obligations to the Wall Street banks that are responsible for much of what the for-profits get away with. By individualizing a social problem, students never think they might have been exploited, just like home borrowers might be convinced they were the cause of the housing collapse; it was the borrower's profligacy, they are led to believe, not the fraud perpetrated by Wall Street and the for-profits, which is built into the system of mendacity.

Questions and Answers About the For-Profits

From debt and default the conversation drifted to questions and answers with audience members. One such question came from an audience member who asked whether "credits" at the for-profit colleges and universities were transferable. Nassirian fielded this question and stated that, "there was a great uncertainty" in this area. He went on to explain that even if credits from the for-profit educational sector are transferable, there is no guarantee they would be transferable for any more than elective credit. This means that, although students might be laboring under auspices that they can transfer degree-specific courses, in reality they may find that they can only transfer them "generally" and are, therefore, saddled with superfluous general requirement credits, but then must retake courses taken at the for-profits for public or non-profit college credit. Students are rarely, if ever, told this.

The conversation then took a path into the area of accreditation. The for-profits, much like purchasers of liquor bars who look to capture a license from the Alcoholic Beverage Commission to sell alcohol to the public, look to purchase other colleges that already have accreditation so they will not need to reapply for a license. Here, Nassirian made a direct connection with the subprime mortgage fraud perpetrated by Wall Street, claiming that "the regulators were captured by the regulated." Nassirian was making reference to the fact that the accrediting agencies responsible for policing and "rating" the for-profit schools were bought off, much like stock rating agencies Moodys, Fitch or Standard and Poors that rated junk certificate of deposits AAA when, in fact, they were inundated with toxic mortgages that had been sold to unsuspecting consumers, who had no idea what they were actually buying. As Nassirian stated:

"If an accrediting agency says 'No' to a for-profit school they could face a $2 million dollar law suit."

One audience member asked if the privatization efforts that are going on in K-12 education with charter schools, vouchers, tax breaks, and other financial incentives to and for Wall Street had anything in common with the for-profit frenzy taking place in higher education. The question was a good one and Nassirian jumped on it. He pointed out that the Apollo Group, the corporate ticket name for the owners of the Phoenix University, has started its own high school. Furthermore, up until last year, the for-profits were able to recruit high school dropouts who did not have a GED if the student could pass what was called an "ability to benefit test (ABT)." The "test" was hardly any test at all and droves of students who had not graduated high school or the equivalent were admitted into the corridors of the for-profits with devastating effects for the students and the colleges that served them. For example, 24 percent of all students at Corinthian College (Goldman Sachs) are ATB students. The ability to test was designed for the for-profits to benefit, not students, and was simply another corrupt tactic authored and designed to capture more and more federal dollars.

But more than anything else, what many panelists made clear is that one cannot understand Wall Street's attempts to privatize education at the K-12 level without factoring in the for-profit colleges and universities. Nassirian, for example, spoke about secretive backdoor connections between public high schools and for-profits. He told of his suspicion that there will be a future explosion of diploma mills as K-12 education is subject to the same forces on Wall Street. It makes sense. Wall Street is seeking a direct alignment between K-12 education and the for-profit higher education sector. As the public-sector economy is forced to scream in pain through the application of "austerity measures," Wall Street privatizers slash and burn the public commons through budget cuts and union destruction. Like a heat-seeking Predator drone looking to destroy all vestiges of public education, companies like K12, Inc., a big player in the online for-profit K-12 financialization racket, have become natural allies of all that is private and for-profit. In fact, the same Wall Street players who, like a cancer, are busy privatizing elementary and secondary education, are some of the same protagonists in the for-profit higher education industry. They are both part and parcel of the same sickening, commodified roux.

This cannot be stated loudly enough, for too many progressives and liberals have cordoned off the fight to prevent the movement to privatize of K-12 education from the struggle against privatization by for-profit colleges and universities. This conveys a debilitating misunderstanding of Wall Street's so-called "educational reforms" and atomizes the struggle being waged to protect the public commons. It has also allowed such public policies like the onerous Race to the Top to be considered as simply an issue of educational standards or achievement when it actually goes to the heart of the explosive attempt at corporate financialization of the entire $500-billion-dollar educational sector in the United States. The move is to have students placed on an educational for-profit fast track that will begin in kindergarten or before and traverse all the way to college or university.

With Citizens United in full force as a result of the Supreme Court decision to treat corporations as individuals, it is essential we see educational privatization, both K-12 and college and university, as part of the same whole cloth. If not, it is easy to fall prey to the story of the blind men struggling to make out an elephant by touching its various parts.

Policies and Solutions for the For-Profits

Addressing the issue of policy solutions to the problem of for-profit exploitation and proliferation, the panel was not as specific as it might have been and also not in collective agreement. Kinser mentioned that for-profits had a place in the educational drama and that non-profit and public institutions of higher education were simply not keyed to accept or absorb a deluge of for-profit students. James disagreed and argued that there were limits on what one might expect from regulations of the industry. She pointed to the fact that regulations are subject to political whims and can be removed when administrations or politicians change. Furthermore, she made the point that not all endeavors and ventures in human life are for-profit based and that education surely could be considered one of them. Instead, she argued for full disclosure of industry practices and clear transparency.

DiGiacomo stated he would like to see recruitment at the for-profits change, and he claimed that the institutions needed to put quality of instruction before quantity of students.

Nassirian spoke to the need for incentives that would put students and taxpayers in the center of consideration, not profits.

The topic of policies and solutions moved into a discussion of what the for-profits are doing to stop or thwart regulations. Dehn noted that, when he was working at EDMC, students were visiting classes on behalf of lobbyists for the industry to state erroneously that students would lose financial aid if they did not call Congress and tell them to stop the "gainful employment" provision of the new Obama regulations. At his school, students were recruited to get signatures on lobbyist petitions that were then forwarded to the Department of Education (DOE). They were also told to tell their story on paper and these stories would then be "customized" by paid lobbyists for the industry who would then take them to the DOE.

Nassirian talked about how the for-profits were partnering with outside lenders to get out from under the 90/10 rule which allows them to only receive 90 percent of tuition from the federal government; the other 10 percent is supposed to come from students themselves. Many for-profits increase tuition just to capture more federal funds, which is the lifeblood of their income and profits.

At a scheduled half hour time period directly following the panel, I asked Nassirian if for-profit distant learning colleges and universities could set up in a state without state regulators or state governing bodies being aware. He stated that in all 50 states this was possible. In 1992, the 50/50 rule was promulgated that required 50 percent of instruction be done on campus. This, however, was repealed under the tutelage of Ron Paige, head of the DOE under George W. Bush in 2005. It was removed late at night, with no hearing, as part of an attachment to another bill. What this means is that no for-profit distant learning college or university has to have a "footprint" in any state to do business. In fact, one can set up a for-profit in Belarus or Romania and enroll students in the US and there is nothing that the government, consumers or taxpayers can do.

Even more troubling is the fact that for-profits know that the states that impose the fewest regulations will become the states of choice for the for-profits to set up shop. They then can spread their tentacles across state lines and net more students.

As the session closed, it was apparent that the for-profit educational sector operates much like the Wall Street subprime home mortgage fraud. Unsuspecting working people, most notably people of color, are being herded into these for-profit schools by to benefit shareholders looking to exploit "sharecroppers." This is an 18th- or even 17th-century economic model that reeks of plantation politics and harkens back to feudalism. Wall Street seems to be setting the table for global elites looking to profit off of the educational sector. Outsourcing these colleges or outright selling them to foreign companies is not only not out of the question, but seems inevitable if the industry is left to grow, The whole enterprise is little more than organized corruption where the crime is actually "legal" in most cases and the victims are discarded or dumped by the side of the road.

What Is the Role of ALEC in the For-Profit Debacle?

The financialization of education is proceeding unimpeded across the nation and is the key to understanding why Wall Street is so infatuated with education these days. Wall Street has billions to invest in both the K-12 education, colleges and universities and they are loaded with the money needed to pay off supplicant politicians to do their deregulatory or regulatory bidding, whatever the case may be. Bill Gates is the latest to weigh in in favor of Wall Street's plans and this is no surprise. He recently praised Kaplan Higher Education and its CEO, Donald Graham for the company's predatory business practices. Of course Gates did not disclose that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are linked to the Post/Kaplan's profits.

Although it did not emerge in discussions at the webinar, interesting connections are emerging between the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and North Carolina politicians associated with the group in an effort to promote a corporate education agenda that serves to protect and enhance the power of the for-profit colleges and universities. North Carolina's community college system recently surrendered its responsibility to regulate for-profit schools that offer job training programs and grant associate degrees to an "outside advisory board" made up of seven members.

The transfer of the regulatory authority to a new State Board of Proprietary Schools comes on the heels of the passage of North Carolina Senate Bill 685 that was introduced in the North Carolina State Legislature in 2011 and passed on June 18 of that year. The bill sets up a State Board of Proprietary Schools in the North Carolina Community Colleges System Office, but one distinct from the prior regulatory board. The bill was sponsored by North Carolina Sen. Virginia Foxx, North Carolina Rep. Bryan R. Holloway, North Carolina Rep. Linda P. Johnson, North Carolina Sen. Donald Ray Vaughan and North Carolina Sen. Tom Apodaca, all members of ALEC. Foxx is the chair of the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training and is a member of Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education. Readers might remember the exposé written on Foxx for Truthout.

Thirty-three North Carolina Legislators have ties with ALEC. Thom Tillis, North Carolina speaker of the House, is on the ALEC International Relations Task Force and has been a member since 2011. He was also ALEC State Legislator of the Year in 2011 and he attended the ALEC 2011 Annual Meeting. Republican Rep. Justin P. Burr is on the ALEC Public Safety and Elections Task Force. He, too, attended the ALEC 2011 Annual Meeting, (In fact, 33 North Carolina legislators have ties with ALEC, lending credence to the assumption that ALEC is knee-deep in the for-profit higher educational scandals.)

ALEC is more than a front group for corporate interests; it is actually a working group of corporate heavyweights that are bent on buying legislation. ALEC hosts meetings in fancy hotel ballrooms where they fly in legislators, lawyers and lobbyists from across the country to sit together to draft model corporate legislation for use in states throughout the nation. ALEC then gives the legislation to participating ALEC legislators, overwhelmingly conservative Republicans, who then bring these proposals and legislation draft bills home, and where they introduce them in statehouses across the nation as their own unique ideas and crucial public policy innovations. They do this without disclosing that it is really a cabal of corporations and their silk-backed lawyers who have crafted and voted on the bills to enhance corporate control.

The question is, of course, did ALEC draft this North Carolina legislation as "model legislation" that can be used state by state to create regulatory boards that are then packed with lobbyists to govern for-profit colleges and universities in effect shielding? A North Carolina dental school recently was shuttered due to lack of accreditation and Kaplan Higher Education that ran the school was forced to pay out $5 million to students both past and current harmed by the fraudulent program. Congressman Waters of California recently penned a letter to CEO Donald Graham regarding the fraudulent college.

If ALEC is behind the North Carolina legislation Senate Bill 685, then we can expect that the for-profit college and university controversy will be swaddled in lobbyist cash even more than it has been and could spread like a cancer to other states that already have or are considering adopting legislation to rein in the for-profit predatory industry.

For more information on SEIU's foray into the for-profit college and university visit scandals visit their web site at www.ForProfitU.org.