Germany Opens Up Free College to US Students

Germany-665x385Yes, it’s true: US students who have a conversational knowledge of German have been invited to attend German universities for free. I would like to encourage all US students to take them up on this offer. Germany has some of the best universities in the world, and being centrally located in Europe, any student attending universities in Germany will have relatively easy access to Europe’s most significant cities. What an adventure.

Germany is able to make this offer because German universities are made up of, for the most part, libraries and classrooms, and because Germany doesn’t use federal tax money in the form of financial aid to support farm teams for professional sports that already generate billions of dollars a year in revenue (as if they couldn’t fund their own farm teams), and because Germany isn’t embroiled in massively unnecessary overseas wars, and because the German government isn’t spending more on their military than the next eight nations combined.

But none of that is the real issue. The real issue with higher education in the United States is that it’s being turned more and more into a profit center and less and less into an educational center. The ultimate goal for higher ed. is to spend as little as possible on it while charging the same tuition and fees. Yes, that’s it. That is why there’s a lot of nonsense rhetoric about a higher ed “crisis” (the only crisis is that it’s being defunded), and why there’s a big push for computers to educate our students rather than teachers, and why over 70% of our college classes are being taught by adjuncts, and why non-profit educational institutions with occasionally bad spending habits are being demonized while for-profit educational institutions engaged in massively fraudulent practices are being defended, and on and on.

Here’s the big picture: US big business wants to take as much of your tax money from you as possible while giving back to you as little as possible in return, and it is willing to sacrifice America’s intellectual capital — and its future — in order to do so. It is willing to sacrifice its own country, you, and your children in order to make a little bit more money.

That is what the “higher ed crisis” is all about. That and nothing else. The “crisis” in US higher ed. is only about the full transformation of US higher ed. into a profit center rather than an educational center. It starts with tuition being turned into a profit center in the form of student loans, and it continues into daily operations being turned into profit centers in the form of contractors, testing centers, educational technology, and the elimination of full time instructional staff.

So I’ve just given you the magic key to all of this rhetoric of “change” and “innovation” in higher ed: when someone says they are educational innovators, you need to hear this: “I want to take more of your money while giving you less in return.” When you hear people talk about a crisis in higher ed., you need to hear this: “I want to take more of your money while giving you less in return.” When you hear the words “MOOCs should be offered for college credit,” you need to hear this: “I want to take more of your money while giving you less in return.”

And when you hear the word “socialism,” you need to hear this: “I’m going to convince you that spending your tax money to benefit you is ‘socialism’ while spending your tax money on my personal profit is ‘capitalism.’ I’m going to do this because I think you’re stupid enough to believe that.”

Are you? I hope not. Vote Republican in the next election, though, and you’ll be saying nothing else.

Let me put it another way: you’re already paying more than enough in taxes for you and your children to have free quality 10310089_10152792389654255_1764711481482102606_neducation through four years of college. But the part of your tax money that should be earmarked for education is being spent instead on bank profits, college sports, massively inflated administration, massive profits for for-profit educational institutions that don’t really educate their students, and — get this — on industry lobbyists who use the profits made from your tax money to keep you from receiving any benefit from it.

So when a politician says there isn’t money in the budget for education, ask them what they’re spending these billions of dollars of revenue on instead. A $1 trillion plane that doesn’t work (i.e., defense contractor profits)? Another unnecessary foreign war (i.e., defense contractor profits)? A ten year road project (i.e., payback for graft)? Ask where the money is going, and ask in detail. You’re a voter. You’re a US citizen. It’s your money. You have the right.

Defund for-profit colleges. Defund unnecessary wars. Spend American tax dollars on American citizens or, in other words, spend your money on you and your children. Tax money is your money. Don’t forget that. It is yours. Invest in America’s future by investing in education, our only source of intellectual capital, and invest in education by investing in teachers. Machines don’t educate people. Only people do.

Anyone who tells you anything else is, literally, selling something.

If you’re serious about pursuing this option, you may want to check out Rebecca Schuman’s blog on Slate to learn a little bit about how German universities are run.Education as Social Good


Evaluating Course Evaluations

There’s a recent interesting study out of UC Berkeley evaluating the validity of student course evaluations in measuring teaching effectiveness. The results are similar to the results of the many other studies conducted in the past: student course evaluations are not reliable indicators of teacher effectiveness:

Student ratings of teaching have been used, studied, and debated for almost a century. This article examines student ratings of teaching from a statistical perspective. The common practice of relying on averages of student teaching evaluation scores as the primary measure of teaching effectiveness for promotion and tenure decisions should be abandoned for substantive and statistical reasons: There is strong evidence that student responses to questions of “effectiveness” do  not measure teaching effectiveness. Response rates and response variability  matter. And comparing averages of categorical responses, even if the categories  are represented by numbers, makes little sense. Student ratings of teaching are valuable when they ask the right questions, report response rates and score distributions, and are balanced by a variety of other sources and methods to evaluate teaching.

What do student course evaluations measure, then? The authors of this study summarize the findings of previous studies here:

  • Student teaching evaluation scores are highly correlated with students’ grade expectations (Marsh and Cooper 1980; Short et al. 2012; Worthington 2002). WHAT THIS MEANS:
    • If you’re an instructor and want high course evaluations, pass out As like candy.
    • Adjunct instructors, having the least job security and the most job retention anxiety, are most likely to inflate grades to get high course evaluations.
    • Net result: over-reliance on adjunct instructors and on student course evaluations to evaluate teachers leads to grade inflation and low course rigor; i.e., poor educational quality.
  • Effectiveness scores and enjoyment scores  are related. In a pilot of online  course evaluations in the UC Berkeley Department of Statistics in Fall 2012, among the 1486 students who rated the instructor’s overall effectiveness and their enjoyment of the  course on a 7-point scale, the correlation between instructor effectiveness and course enjoyment was 0.75, and the correlation between course effectiveness and course enjoyment was 0.8.
    • WHAT THIS MEANS: If students enjoyed the course, they will rate it highly. But enjoyment by itself isn’t a measure of learning. The instructor may just be a good performer.
    • Conversely, lack of enjoyment doesn’t mean the student didn’t learn. The types of assessments and activities that promote long term retention, in fact, lead to low course evaluations. The practices that students like the least actually help them learn and retain the most. See the link right above.
  • Students’ ratings of instructors  can be predicted from the students’ reaction to 30 seconds of silent video of the instructor: first impressions may dictate end-of-course evaluation scores, and physical attractiveness matters (Ambady and Rosenthal 1993).
    • WHAT THIS MEANS: student course evaluations are, more than anything else, superficial measures of instructor popularity.
  • Gender, ethnicity, and the instructor’s age matter (Anderson and Miller 1997;  Basow 1995; Cramer and  Alexitch 2000; Marsh and Dunkin 1992;  Wachtel 1998; Weinberg et al. 2007; Worthington 2002).
    • WHAT THIS MEANS: student course evaluations are, more than anything else, racist, elitist, ageist, and sexist superficial measures of instructor popularity.

So how do we rate teaching effectiveness? I’d recommend the following:

  • Worry less about evaluating the teacher for promotion and focus on gauging effectiveness for the sake of seeking out the most effective strategies for that specific student population.
  • Rely in part on peer evaluations — teachers in the field conducting this evaluation. Field specific knowledge matters, as teaching isn’t just a matter of technique, but of careful selection of content.
  • We still do want to hear from students, of course, so use course evaluation tools that focus on teaching effectiveness, such as those provided by the IDEA Center.

Just for the record, I’m an engaging instructor who generally gets high course evaluations, so I’m not worried about myself here. I am, however, worried about how effectively students are being educated. Reliance on student course evaluations, at present, is working against educational quality.

You can read the study below:

One Student’s Heartbreaking Letter Sums Up What’s Wrong With America’s Colleges – Mic

Lucy ParksAND a great article about how the problems that I describe in my blog about for-profit colleges can apply to non-profit institutions too. This student is, unfortunately, mistaking NYU President John Sexton for a human being with feelings, but more importantly, this case illustrates why this student should have attended any of the very good state schools in the NY university system rather than a private non-profit, even a very good one like NYU. Her money would have taken her through all four years of an education at a state university system, and if she can be accepted to and do well at NYU, she could make it just as well at a highly reputable flagship SUNY institution.

According to the linked article, NYU has raised $3 billion in a massively successful fundraising campaign, but not a dime of that goes toward tuition relief for students: total student loan debt at NYU is $659 million, while the institution is spending money on the following:

Instead, the school has caught flak for choosing to invest in such worthwhile endeavors as expensive real estate expansion, satellite campuses in Abu Dhabi and Shanghai (under deplorable worker conditions), faculty homes in Manhattan, the Hamptons and Fire Island and turning school housing into a duplex for Sexton’s son.

Non-profit? Really? You understand that just 22% of NYU’s most recent fundraising campaign — not all funds altogether, just the most recent fundraising campaign — would alleviate 100% of NYU student debt and still leave the institution with over $2 billion to work with?

Don’t you dare tell me there isn’t money for higher education in this country. We don’t seem to have it because we’re more interested in monetizing higher ed for the benefit of a few than we are in serving students; i.e. our own children.

One Student’s Heartbreaking Letter Sums Up What’s Wrong With America’s Colleges – Mic.

What You Need To Know About For-Profit Colleges

stock-photo-cash-dollar-signs-texture-84020074The Chronicle of Higher Ed published just today another nightmare story about practices at a for-profit college: Corinthian. Fortunately, this one is on the verge of closing anyhow, but you need to take heed, because Corinthian College isn’t alone among for-profit institutions in the use of criminal practices.

But before we talk about for-profit colleges, we need to talk about what profit is to begin with. First of all, profits are a good thing. People open and run businesses to make money from them, and these businesses create jobs for everyone. People deserve to make money for their goods and services, as much as the market will allow. Any normally and ethically run for-profit business operates for the profit of its owners and the good of its customers, and should take the good of its employees into account as well.

In the most simplistic terms, profits in any for-profit business are the difference between expenses and revenue when that difference is positive. So business owners are motivated to reduce expenses and maximize revenue to generate the most profit from their business. Limitations on reducing expenses are generally in the areas of quality control (you usually need to pay well to get good employees, for example) and regulatory requirements (taxes, health care, etc.) along with just the cost of doing business in any given area (rent, utilities, etc.). Very basic stuff here. But the point of a for-profit business is that the entire positive difference between expenses and revenue belongs to the owners. It’s all theirs. They can reinvest all or none of it in their business, but that’s up to them. If the owners decide to close up shop and sell their business or any part of it, all of the money left after debts have been settled is theirs.

Now a non-profit business is run on entirely different principles. A non-profit business is run to provide a service to the community (however you define it), not for the benefit of the owners. If you close up a non-profit, you don’t get to walk away with what’s left after the bills have been paid. It’s not yours. You have to donate those funds to another non-profit. The positive difference between revenue and expenses is all supposed to be reinvested in the business itself. The point of a non-profit business is to maximize the services rendered within budgetary constraints, not to make owners rich.

Now there are quite a few practices in the non-profit sector that raise eyebrows, and rightfully so. The NFL is a $9 billion a year non-profit entity, for example. It’s really hard to tell it’s a non-profit given how much some players and coaches get paid. Some major non-profit organizations give hefty bonuses to their fundraisers. Within reasonable limits, this is an understandable practice. Do you really have a problem with paying out $1,000,000 in bonuses to someone who raises $10,000,000 for you? I wouldn’t. However you look at it, the non-profit is $9,000,000 ahead.

But the point is that the “profit-taking” in any non-profit organization has some kind of limits. Salaries, bonuses, etc., will never add up to profit taking, which can always be 100% of the positive difference between revenue and expenses (I’m imagining an honest world: bear with me). No such limits exist in a for-profit business.

Now I’m all for people making profits in almost all sectors, but from what we’ve seen of the way for-profits operate in the educational sector, I think the profit motive does not belong in higher education at all. In fact, it doesn’t belong in any educational system at any level at all. My wife has worked for several charter schools around Ohio, and I wouldn’t advise sending your children to any of them. Most of them are just prison-prep for children who have been abandoned by the state. At one of her schools, the principal just walked off the job in the middle of the day. One school closed three days before opening because of low enrollment (after allowing instructors to move across the country to start there). Because student discipline was low, teaching was almost non-existent.

In higher ed., the National Center for Education Statistics consistently reports that for-profit schools have the highest student loan default rates, the lowest graduation rates (88% of the students at U. Phoenix don’t graduate, but they all have student loan debt — see Bill Maher’s video below), and the worst employment numbers for graduates. As we see from the Corinthian College fiasco, these for-profits engage in a wide array of deceptive practices to inflate these numbers dramatically — not to mention their engagement in predatory loan practices.

Someone is surely going to argue that non-profit schools do the same thing. When they do, that’s just as bad, but the fact is, the numbers seem to illustrate that they don’t do that to nearly the same degree, and most non-profits don’t engage in these practices at all.

Why do for-profits have such uniformly poor numbers? The purpose of the institution is not to educate students. The purpose of a for-profit institution is to make money for its owners, and as in all cases, it does everything that it can to minimize expenses and to maximize revenue. And since higher ed. is massively competitive, and since for-profits are at a disadvantage to begin with, these efforts regularly cross the boundaries of ethical practices.

But the most important fact here is that they’re not in business to provide a service. They’re in business to make money. At a typical for-profit, faculty are viewed as employees, are paid as little as possible, are completely disempowered, and are pressured to inflate grades in a customer service model. Those who know also know that non-profits are moving more and more in this direction, but most for-profits are much farther down this road than most non-profits. Don’t be surprised if over 90% of the courses taught in any given for-profit school are taught by adjunct instructors who, should their wages be calculated hourly, are being paid about the equivalent of an employee at McDonald’s.

Now how are faculty treated at non-profits? In many places, pretty much the same, but not at all places. At schools focused on their educational mission, faculty aren’t employees: they’re the product. When education is the school’s mission, faculty are recognized as those providing that education, or fulfilling that mission, so they are the designers of the product, disseminators of the product, and are the product itself. They’re most often full time and more often tenured, so they have the protections needed to resist unethical, customer-service based models. They can hold their students to meaningful standards without worrying about low grade distribution leading to poor course evaluations (it usually does).

So should you ever go to a for-profit college? I would say there are exceptions. Some trade and industry schools are exceptions: because they are beholden to the one specific industry that they serve, and because they are often run by stakeholders in that industry, they are sometimes internally motivated to provide a high quality education within that narrow field. The profit motive doesn’t hurt them because they have a knowledgeable customer base. In these situations, the customers aren’t students but their students’ future employers. That’s not a bad model.

But for-profit institutions of higher ed? Forget them. All of them. I don’t think any of them should be eligible for federal financial aid, and tighter pressures need to be placed on many non-profit schools as well. Does that expense really contribute to the school’s educational mission? Is this practice just profit-taking in disguiseFor-profit institutions of higher ed. are often much more expensive than state universities, and certainly more expensive than community colleges, so you are most likely to get a better education for a much lower price — often as little as 1/10th the price — at a state school. If you attend a state school, your money is paying for your education, not transforming your debt into someone else’s profit at the expense of a quality education.

What are the best colleges and universities? Private non-profits have the highest graduation rates, followed by state schools, followed by for-profits.

If you’d like to see a little more reporting on the horrifying practices at many for-profit colleges, check out John Oliver’s commentary on student debt. I’ve never seen a non-profit engage in these kinds of practices:

And Bill Maher has a few things to say about them too: