Twilight of the…

tax syphons.

Cheese it! The cops!

Shares of Apollo Education Group fell sharply after the market close after the company disclosed the U.S. Education Dept. plans a review of federal financial aid programs at the company’s University of Phoenix.

A whole new book about the tax syphons.

Congress, meanwhile, would occasionally hold hearings to allow elected ­officials to wring their hands over the growing scandal in for-profit higher education, but like any multibillion industry, its leading proponents answered by throwing around money in Washington. The Apollo Group (the University of Phoenix), for instance, made $11 million in political donations in 2007 and 2008, Mettler reports — about double the campaign contributions of Goldman Sachs, Time Warner and Walmart that election cycle. In her telling, John Boehner is speaker of the House largely because the for-profit colleges and private student-loan bankers gave so generously to his leadership PAC during his years as chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

(For more on America’s ongoing for-profit college scandal, click on this post’s category, CLICK-THRU U.)

“The act of typing effectively turns the note-taker into a transcription zombie, while the imperfect recordings of the pencil-pusher reflect and excite a process of integration, creating more textured and effective modes of recall.”

And no, it doesn’t matter whether students are connected to the internet during class or not. Research was done with

the laptops … not connected to the Internet. This means the results are not due to students spending time checking e-mail or surfing the Web. In most settings, such distractions will only impair performance even more. Indeed, prior research has found that laptop multitasking impairs learning and can even have negative effects on non-laptop users sitting nearby.

If you ask UD, who has been railing against classroom laptop use for years (see some of her posts here), this activity is on the face of it obviously any idiot can see plain as the nose on your face socially as well as intellectually destructive. A lot of professors – for murky reasons – have been sitting on their asses waiting for the research we all knew would come out to come out… But even with insane amounts of research confirming what anyone with common sense would have known a decade ago, plenty of professors will cleave to the laptop. Why?

(And by the way don’t even think about fully laptopped/online degree programs and their capacity to teach people anything. There’s a reason UD calls online programs cheesy.)

Well, the reasons aren’t pretty. Let’s see.

Do whatever you want! I’m afraid of you… I want a good course evaluation… The university is worried about attrition rates and has decided to give in to all of your demands… You pretend to be taking a class, and I’ll pretend to teach. This won’t put a strain on either of us… Lecturing is authoritarian. The last thing you want is some Hitlerian up here talking to you as if she has something to impart that you don’t already know or can’t find on your computer… You’re all too timid to look up from your screens and contribute to a discussion… Thank God for the laptop, which allows you to hide behind your screens and keep to yourself during class rather than be challenged in the unpleasant way of the seminar!…

And if you have a professor with a fully laptopped classroom who also depends almost exclusively on PowerPointed lectures where she (head down, monotonally) reads from each slide? Yikes.

America’s Tax Syphons: An Update

[F]or-profits entice students (particularly low-income students) with low upfront costs while offering little instructional support, thereby saddling them with large debts and few marketable skills.

…Education Management Corporation (EDMC)… was founded in 1962, and had long been reputed as one of the higher quality for-profits in an industry plagued by questionable practices. In 2006, EDMC was taken over by a private equity consortium led by Goldman Sachs along with Providence Capital Partners and Leeds Capital. Goldman and its partners installed new executives who promptly reallocated resources from instruction to marketing and recruitment.

… Total enrollment across EDMC’s brands, which include Argosy University, South University, Brown Mackie College, and the Arts Institutes, more than doubled between 2006 and 2010. By 2011, colleges in which Goldman Sachs was the dominant owner enrolled over 150,000 students, captured over $486 million in federal Pell Grant funds, and netted an operating profit of over $501 million. However, these financial successes were not mirrored in students’ outcomes: among those students enrolled in 2008, over 62 percent had withdrawn two years later without completing a degree. Yet two of EDMC’s Art Institute campuses were among the 10 for-profit colleges that that issued more than $25,000 in student loans per enrolled student in 2012.

… The takeover of the for-profit sector by investors has seen the principles and techniques of “shareholder value maximization” imported wholesale into a major segment of American higher education. This finance-driven model is very efficient at increasing enrollment and generating profits. It has a poor track record, however, when it comes to helping students successfully graduate and preparing them for a competitive labor market. Indeed, graduation rates for all four-year for-profit colleges for cohorts beginning six years earlier fell from 46 percent in 2002 to just 28 percent in 2012.


UD thanks Dirk.

‘Every university has admission standards and Trump University was no exception. The playbook spells out the one essential qualification in caps: “ALL PAYMENTS MUST BE RECEIVED IN FULL.” ‘

The saga of Trump tromps on. The American for-profit university par excellence.

The storied history of Trump U marches on as its king…

sues New York’s Attorney General for…




How Awkward for Berkeley. How Awkward for Senator Feinstein.

And how tragic for America. The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, in filing suit today against one of the country’s many tax syphons (put the phrase tax syphons in my search function for previous posts), calls the exploitation of America’s poor by for-profit colleges like ITT “truly an American tragedy.”

The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau this morning filed a civil lawsuit against for-profit college company ITT Educational Services, seeking restitution to students allegedly harmed by ITT’s private loan programs, a civil fine, and an injunction against the company.

Senator Feinstein’s husband, Richard Blum, has been a big investor in ITT. Which is… Okay, that’s her business, you might say, though UD would say that it represents at least an embarrassment … But the real scandal here comes from the fact that Blum is a University of California regent who presumably had something to do with that university itself investing in ITT. From a 2010 article in the Berkeley Daily Planet:

Blum’s firm, Blum Capital Partners, has been the dominant shareholder in two of the nation’s largest for-profit universities, Career Education Corporation and ITT Educational Services, Inc. The San Francisco-based firm’s combined holdings in the two chain schools is currently $923 million — nearly a billion dollars. As Blum’s ownership stake enlarged, UC investment managers shadowed him, ultimately investing $53 million of public funds into the two educational corporations.

The regents’ conflict-of-interest policy requires them to “avoid the potential for and the appearance of conflicts of interest with respect to the selection of individual investments … public officials shall not make, participate in making, or influence a governmental decision in which the official has a conflict of interest.” And the California Political Reform Act of 1974 provides civil and criminal penalties for officials who ignore conflicts of interest — as UC makes clear in ethics training presentations specifically created for university officials. The Board of Regents, however, is self-policing and it tolerates situations that cause others concern.

John M. Simpson of Consumer Watchdog, a nonprofit education and advocacy organization in Santa Monica, California, comments: “It is hugely inappropriate for the University of California to invest in for-profit colleges when it should be promoting public education. And something stinks when university investments end up in companies largely controlled by a regent. To the average fellow on the street, this would seem to be a conflict of interest. It is up to Mr. Blum and the UC treasurer to explain how it could not be a conflict of interest.”

Shades of Yeshiva University under the management of Bernie Madoff and Ezra Merkin! … Well, that university investment strategy ended badly, and I think Berkeley’s is about to come to grief too… But … look. You don’t need to be Thomas Frank to be sickened by the cynicism of America’s greatest public university getting rich off the backs of America’s most vulnerable student population…

Especially since it’s not only Berkeley. There’s Columbia University, already famous for its business dean’s starring performance in Inside Job. Columbia’s president, Lee Bollinger, sits on the board of the company that owns Kaplan. Students there were so disgusted by this that they started a petition calling for him to leave the board. The language of their petition pithily summarized the American for-profit ed business model:

Kaplan exploits the poor, the vulnerable, and the taxpayer to enrich itself.

In announcing the suit, the CFPB said this was just the beginning of a much wider action against the whole scummy industry. UD is skeptical. It has been scummy — reeking to high heaven, in fact – for a couple of decades, and no one with any power to really kill it off seems to have cared. That’s the American tragedy.

Tales from the Tax Syphons (A University Diaries Series)

It was the electronic monitor around a student’s ankle that first gave Kelli J. Amaya serious doubts about the Harris School of Business.

The young man with the monitor was studying to be a pharmacy technician, and Ms. Amaya, who worked at Harris, a for-profit chain of trade schools, knew that the most widely recognized certification for pharmacy technicians excludes anyone convicted of a felony or even a low-level drug offense.

But the student received federal financial aid, and for the school to keep collecting it, he had to remain in the program and complete an internship. So Ms. Amaya said she was told to find him an internship, even if that meant deceiving the employer.

“I saw students who never should have been there, students with whopping gaps in learning abilities and major psychiatric problems who were just not capable of doing the work,” said Ms. Amaya, an administrator at Harris’s Linwood campus, and then at its Wilmington, Del., campus, from 2009 to 2011. “The bosses were always like, ‘Stop asking why they’re enrolled, just get them to graduation however you can.’ ”

Fredrik deBoer on Online College Education.

I’ve tried all number of ways to [educate my writing students] outside of class meetings – marking papers extensively, using Track Changes, real-time online collaboration– and it never, ever works. Most them don’t look, and most of them don’t care, unless there’s the basic human accountability of sitting down with them at a table and going through the changes together. That’s how I drag them to the skills they want.

… [With the move to online education,] not only will we be erasing the very notion of individual instructor attention, we’ll be particularly targeting the most vulnerable, most difficult to educate students, the ones who now either never make it to college or drop out at huge rates. This is the perfect expression of an educational discourse that has no connection to the reality of what most schooling is like for most students.

… I’m dedicated to the task of getting as many marginal students in and through as possible, and I think that’s an absolute moral need for our colleges and our society. But … online models are precisely the opposite of what’s likely to work.

… We can build a vast edifice of online higher education where, as happens with for-profit online schools now, we all agree to juke the stats, grading and graduating students who lack even basic skills, and degrading the very notion of higher education. That’s an option.


UD would add two things to this.

1. It’s not merely the “basic human accountability” that only takes place face to face; it’s students witnessing and talking to, week after week, a human being they respect being serious about something. Wanting in some sense to be like your professor is not a contemptible desire; on the contrary, many people who become serious, reflective citizens probably got there in part through having been inspired by engagement with a serious, reflective teacher. Remember what Tony Judt wrote about one of his professors, who

broke through my well-armored adolescent Marxism and first introduced me to the challenges of intellectual history. He managed this by the simple device of listening very intently to everything I said, taking it with extraordinary seriousness on its own terms, and then picking it gently and firmly apart in a way that I could both accept and respect. That is teaching.

Which leads me to my second thing:

2. What good professors are ultimately serious about is their students. That is, this human mutual accountability or whatever you want to call it goes both ways. In the classroom, you are looking at me, and I am looking at you. I am looking at you as a young, smart, promising human being wanting to clarify aspects of human life. This sight moves me; and I want not only to talk to you about human complexities but to exhibit to you what one older person (me) who has had a reasonably disciplined exposure to some of those complexities looks like, sounds like, acts like. I want to do exactly what Judt’s professor did: Listen with great care to what you say and how you say it; and then analyze what you have said in a way that maybe moves you forward in your relationship to it. Maybe makes you less emotional, more analytically neutral; maybe makes you aware that other people before you have formulated things in a way similar to yours, but somewhat more nuanced, etc., etc. That is teaching.

“The industry fundamentals have deteriorated.”

What - you mean like this? You mean the raiders of the lost American college student are beginning to deteriorate?

You mean - like this?

You cursed wave of state probes by attorneys general and the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau! Look what you’ve done to my Goldman Sachs-backed tax-syphoning scheme! I’m melting! I’m melting! What a world! Who would have thought that a good little government like you could destroy my beautiful wickedness…

For-Profit Online University…

… a grand new American tradition.

“Having a camera watch you, and software keep track of your mouse clicks, that does smack of Big Brother,” he said. “But it doesn’t seem any worse than an instructor at the front constantly looking at you, and it may even be more efficient.”

Yes, test taking in the era of online courses is just like being in a classroom with a professor on exam day. Only the person quoted in my headline forgot to fill in the online anti-cheating picture:

Having a camera watch you;

having software track all of your mouse clicks;

having eye-tracking devices follow all of your eye movements;

having someone fingerprint you; and

having to answer a series of personal questions before you can begin writing.


And the good news is that as cheating becomes big business (there are now firms that will simply take entire courses for you; I gotta believe there’s money to be made in faking the work of the online professor, so she fills up her semester’s roster of courses while snorkeling in Cancun — I remind you that I can already outsource all my grading), anti-cheating technologies continue to evolve. We’ve rigged up the eye and the hand… surely our authentication techniques can become more … intimate. I mean, not just in the sense of asking probing questions, but… probing other body parts…

And yes, it’s really impossible to detect any difference – though this does rather smack of Big Brother – between this 1984 scenario and the totalitarian nightmare I lay on my students at the end of every semester, while I sit in the front of the room during the time that they write their final exam…

Although… here’s one difference! Students are permitted to approach me in all my Stalinist splendor — IF THEY DARE — and ask how to spell words or ask to be reminded of the full names of characters or whatever… And I guess it’s that whole he loved Big Brother thing, because they DO approach me… THEY DO NOT SEEM TO FEAR THE CRUSHING REPRESSION I AM CAPABLE OF UNLEASHING UPON THEM …

Yes, there’s no doubting it. Getting your body rigged up, getting fingerprinted, getting tracked, and getting surveilled by a camera inches from your mug is not only an ideal scenario for the act of independent thought that constitutes education, but is in fact superior to face to face. Game, set, and match.


And why would our students complain? After all, this is their world:

I called Kevin Haggerty, a criminologist at the University of Alberta, to learn about “surveillance creep,” the gradual expansion of the zone of scrutiny. We started, he explained, by electronically tracking the dangerous and the vulnerable — inmates, terrorists, Alzheimer’s patients, pets, and our own children — and we’ve wound up putting radio-frequency chips in students’ and employees’ IDs. Haggerty and I didn’t discuss the pernicious activities of the National Security Agency, which evolved over the same period of time, but the scariest endpoint of surveillance creep, it seems to me, will have been reached when the government’s yottabyte farms no longer strike us as sinister or illegal.

And there’s another, possibly even more insidious, consequence of eavesdropping on our offspring. It sends the message that nothing and no one is to be trusted: not them, not us, and especially not the rest of the world. This is no way to live, but it is a way to destroy the bonds of mutual toleration that our children will need to keep our democracy limping along.

“[A Senate investigation found] in 2012 that an online degree from the University of Phoenix cost six times more than a comparable degree from the Maricopa Community College system and that the university’s founder, John Sperling, was paid $8.6 million in 2009, 13 times more than the president of the University of Arizona. That year, Apollo spent $892 per student on instruction, $2,225 per student on marketing, and $2,535 per student went to company profit, a Senate report found. Even as his university foundered, Sperling retired as chairman of Apollo’s board of directors in December with a $5 million bonus and a $70,000 monthly annuity. Since July, other top executives with the company have acquired more than 300,000 additional shares of Apollo stock, but they have also sold about $1.3 million worth in that time, according to SEC records. Last month, for example, Apollo’s CEO, Greg Cappelli, sold $223,000 worth of stock, a small fraction of his disclosed holdings.”

If you can work up any tears over Phoenix cutting thousands of jobs you’ll cry at anything.

The proper response is good riddance.

UD‘s faith in scams remains strong; she’s sure some other outfit will figure out how to take billions of our tax dollars in order not to educate Americans. Perhaps Phoenix itself will regroup to scam another day. But for the moment, what good news.

But speaking of reputations…

… as I do here, there are educational institutions in America that do have pretty universally bad reputations, and these are the for-profits. When a legitimate secondary school or university proposes cooperating with a for-profit, its faculty and students (as in this latest case) often scream NO. Why?

[F]or-profit colleges received $32 billion from the US government in student aid in the 2009-10 academic year. They also charge far higher tuition fees than comparable state universities. Yet they spend much less per student on instruction. Indeed, they typically spend a lot more on marketing their courses than they do on teaching them. This may explain why the majority of students on their degree programmes drop out long before they graduate. In 2008-09 the median length of study for a student at a for-profit university was just four months. The inference is that for-profit universities recruit anyone who is eligible for Federal funds but care little about what happens to them afterwards.

The cynicism and nothingness of the for-profits is now a matter of public knowledge. No one who actually takes education seriously wants to be cheapened by association with these money-grubbers.

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