For-profits game the system and do real damage.

[The 2012] budget proposes no changes to traditional Pell grants, which are currently at their highest level ever. What it does is halt, after just two years, a program launched in the 2009-2010 school year that allowed students to apply for a whole second Pell grant for summer school or if they took extra credits.

That program turned out to cost 10 times more than expected, and there was no evidence it was helping anyone graduate from college faster. Instead, it appeared to be the case that for-profit colleges were gaming the system to encourage students to apply for the additional grants to take academically questionable courses.

The tax-profiteers play their games and ruin a good program.


Update: Trash talk.

“[F]aculty are being offered a new role consisting of regurgitation of pre-packaged material to hordes of diploma-mill students via impersonal technologies.”

… The result of these so-called budget pressures, as we try to educate increased numbers of students with ever-smaller budgets, is espousal by administrators of things like online education or larger class sizes or “distance” education despite evidence that these “changes” do not benefit students to the same extent as face-to-face education. For example, at one campus, administrators have encouraged faculty to teach yoked classrooms where the professor is only present in one but is broadcast to students in the other room — something tried and discarded in the ‘70s when TV teaching failed as an educational innovation.

I am regularly contacted by students at online universities seeking hands-on research experience in my lab, because it is not offered at their school and they cannot apply to graduate programs without it.

… This year I will be teaching face-to-face a class formerly taught only online. Students are grateful and tell me they hated the previous approach, that they avoid online classes whenever possible. Faculty who teach online have published studies showing that more faculty time is required to teach an online class effectively, not less, so class sizes cannot be increased even though there is no physical seat restriction.

But class sizes are increased and faculty thus are forced to teach less effectively. This kind of experience is being ignored by administrators because they care more about the efficiency of instruction than its quality. Then when professors point out these things, we are accused of resisting fundamental change, as if we have a collective personality flaw that makes us too rigid to recognize good ideas or “inevitability.” …

I hear you, baby.

A professor at a public university in California prefers to go unnamed in an Inside Higher Education piece about the poor white trash of education, online classes. The writer points out that among the spectacular advantages of online is that graduation rates at some schools improve markedly with them. This is largely because students can get a friend or family member who knows the material to take the course for them; or because the overworked person running the show isn’t very rigorous.

… But I mean I hear you when you complain that distance devotees call people who say the obvious out loud – these courses are dreck – rigid, flawed, regressive… Oh yeah.

You forget to mention the other thing, though – the thing for-profit distance devotees say about you and me: Elitist slime! You’re slamming the door to self-improvement shut in the face of people who have no option but to take out enormous loans they can’t pay back in order to sit at home and talk to a screen! That’s the only form of higher education available to these people, and you’re denying it to them!

Yeah. UD‘s heard them all. All the beautiful claims made for the superiority of a total separation between two human beings as one of them tries to learn something.

You know what that person learns? She learns that legitimate schools won’t accept her expensive credits from for-profit online schools.

Let’s think about what might be in the mind of schools that consistently reject her credits. Let’s take our time…

Actually, we can do this fast. Reread this post’s headline.

While having this morning’s…

… provision of food content (grilled cheese sandwich), UD read a letter in the New York Times about the provision of course content:

To the Editor:

… [W]e should be extremely wary of the move toward online education…

People cheat. All the time. Sure, they cheat on campus, but it is extraordinarily easy to cheat online. The easiest way is to simply have someone else do the course for you. Another way is by searching for information while taking a test.

… If the company or university is going online to save money, you bet it will try to cut corners as much as it can. That means a noninteractive, bottom-of-the-line course, with students able to cheat easily.

We are truly on the race to the bottom…

Diana Lambert

Bottom-of-the-line, race to the bottom — As you know, UD has for years called online the poor white trash of education. I believe the letter writer is getting at the same idea.

Or think about it this way: When all the university’s doing is providing course content in the quickest, most efficient fashion, students feel quite comfortable providing, in return, exam content in the very same way. Students are responding in kind to the pointed disdain for students, and for education, that online represents. It’s a right back at ya situation.

With online, everybody gets an A for contempt.


Online’s bold new idea: We’ll save money by not educating our students.


Hey, and here’s another problem on the horizon: Presidents of online universities make like forty million dollars a year. Eventually, presidents of massive public universities which have become almost entirely online will start demanding commensurate compensation.


UD thanks Dennis.

Online: The Poor White Trash of Education

From the front page of today’s New York Times.

… Is it possible to learn as much when your professor is a mass of pixels whom you never meet? How much of a student’s education and growth — academic and personal — depends on face-to-face contact with instructors and fellow students?

… Kaitlyn Hartsock, a senior psychology major at [the University of] Florida, [said], “My mom was really upset about it. She felt like she’s paying for me to go to college and not sit at home and watch through a computer.”

… [Ms. Hartsock, a] hard-working student who maintains an A average, she was frustrated by the online format. Other members of her discussion group were not pulling their weight, she said. The one test so far, online, required answering five questions in 10 minutes — a lightning round meant to prevent cheating by Googling answers.

In a conventional class, “I’m someone who sits toward the front and shares my thoughts with the teacher,” she said. In the 10 or so online courses she has taken in her four years, “it’s all the same,” she said. “No comments. No feedback. And the grades are always late.”

“[T]he student dropout rates for online courses are 15 to 20 percent higher than those for traditional face-to-face classes.”

This blog was born just as asynchronous (to use the pretentious word its advocates like) courses became the rage in American universities. University Diaries has chronicled the immense and ongoing public relations effort to make these cheesy offerings seem legit. Click on the category Poor White Trash for details.

Or just start with this detail, something that won’t surprise anyone who has thought even a little about the technology that has come to define America’s for-profit universities, and which even schools like Berkeley are considering.

…The researchers did everything from making students sign an e-mail course contract to placing personal phone calls to make sure they were on top of their class material, according to the study, which will be published in the International Journal of Management in Education in October. Students exposed to the strategies dropped out as frequently as those who were not, the authors said.

“We called them at home, sent them emails, quizzed them on the syllabus and made other efforts to try to engage them,” said Elke Leeds, an associate professor of information systems at Coles and one of six study authors, in a press release issued by the school…

And gee, nothing worked. Wonder why.

Wanna wait for the next round of studies on that one? Or wanna read the next paragraph?

Babe, you can’t even verify the identity of the person taking an online course. You can’t verify the identity of the professor giving the course. We’re in the twilight zone. Where are we? Who are we? Who took the midterm? Who gave the midterm?

Drift, drift, drift… I’m melting… Life is but a dream…

Okay so call the student! Put in a call! Place an actual personal phone call! Hellohello? Actual person? Here is another actual person. Come back! Why are you fading? Why are you dropping out….?….. Helloooo?… O tell me all about why you faded. I want to know all about why you faded…


Do not stand at your phone and forever weep.
I am not there; I make no peep.
I am a thousand courses that blow.
I am the students who nothing know.

I’m the dumbass emoticon on your screen.
An eager mind unheard and unseen.
The nightmare end of a bookkeeper’s dream.
The evil spawn of a cost-cutting scheme.

We are the students who might have shone.

Think of everything we’ve missed!
We are not there. We don’t exist.


Ooh la la!

The Poor White Trash of Education

A UCLA student writes in opposition to the proposed online UC Berkeley degree. He talked to the director of an online engineering program at UCLA.

… Christopher Lynch, director of the UCLA Master of Science in Engineering Online Program, said that distance students can get to the same level of understanding concepts as traditional students, but that the department spends much more money per student to achieve this goal.

The department hired a teaching assistant and professor as consultants to provide support for distance learners, who are unable to approach professors after lecture or go to office hours as traditional students are. This would be a similar situation for undergraduates because face-to-face interaction is an important part of the university experience.

To maintain a UC-level education, many faculty members will have to be hired for support positions, costing the university millions. If this faculty is not hired, the UC online campus will not provide a UC-level education.

He notes a variety of other disadvantages, among them:

Skipping class and cheating by having another student take an exam become easier as attendance, participation and identity verification are difficult, if not impossible over the Internet.

Another UCLA professor comments.

“This would severely hurt the reputation and prestige of a degree and call into question the (UC’s) commitment to undergraduate education,” said Robert Samuels, a lecturer in the UCLA Writing Program who taught a hybrid online and offline course last spring.

According to Samuels, there are ways to incorporate technology in the classroom, but a fully online degree has no place at a prestigious research university.


Costs more.

But only costs more if you care about maintaining quality. If you don’t care, it probably costs less.

Editorial, San Francisco Chronicle

All the PowerPoint slides and chat rooms in the world can’t replicate the power of an in-person learning experience, and it’s hard to see how a cyber UC degree would have the same status as a regular one. UC faculty members are skeptical now, but in the future, employers and graduate schools will be. Complaints about how a cyber college would dilute the university’s status and dumb down learning helped bring down a similar project at the University of Illinois after two years.

… [T]his endeavor could be profitable. There is also the possibility that it could be a disaster…

The editorialist reviews the growing research pointing to the distinct possibility that online learning sucks.

“Many UT students agree that online courses are best used as an easy way to opt out of unimportant classes–not as a way to contribute significantly to an education.”

If you want the truth about online university education, don’t ask administrators. They have obvious, unstated, reasons to adore it. Just ask students. They also adore it, but they tell you why.

From an article in a University of Texas newspaper about why online courses are so popular with students:

… Maura Ryan, a third-year UT Journalism major, [says,] “The lack of lectures makes online classes less educational. You really are teaching yourself the material so you aren’t able to get the expertise of a professor besides talking to him over email.”

Ryan confirms what many UT students regard as common sense — that online classes really are “so much easier than live.” Her current Psychology of Advertising class is “a lot less time” than her face-to-face classes, and consists of “really short lectures where everything is on PowerPoint.”

University faculty are also expressing concern. As student demand for online courses skyrockets, the level of faculty approval of this educational option remains low.

[A recent] report pointed out that less than one-third of chief academic officers believe their faculty accept the value and legitimacy of online education, a statistic that has been constant over the past six years.

About a third of contributing academic officers admitted that they believe that online learning outcomes are inferior to their live counterparts.

Public schools have a greater percentage of students enrolled in online classes than private institutions. They also express a higher level of confidence in these courses. In schools with more than 15,000 students, 61.3 percent of chief academic officers rated online learning outcomes as equal to face-to-face outcomes.

With one in four current college students taking at least one Internet course, online education programs are becoming a critical long-term strategy to many public schools.   [Keep movin’ movin’ movin’ – Though they’re disapprovin’ – Keep them doggies movin’…]

Sarah Frankoff is a senior Broadcast Journalism major who cites UT’s long list of required courses as a reason for using an online option to complete her foreign language requirement.

After trying to take a live Spanish course at UT, Sarah decided it was “way too difficult and time consuming,” and is now in an online course because Spanish is “not a priority” in her field of study. “I think online classes are a great way to get less important courses out of the way.”

UT Extension’s website touts the possibility of completing the Business Foundations Certificate or completing prerequisites online as benefits of online learning. They cite today’s economy as a reason to get ahead with online learning. [Gt yr diploma qwik! Tday! Y wait?]

Berkeley and the For-Profit Onlines: Cosmic Convergence All Over the Place

From its symbiotic relationship with shady online for-profit colleges [Background on the for-profit scandal here.] to its plan to make itself an online school, the University of California at Berkeley is moving smartly along the path to self-prostitution.

Step One:

University Regent Richard Blum has an investment 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.

… John M. Simpson of Consumer Watchdog, a nonprofit education and advocacy organization in Santa Monica, Calif., 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.”…

Blum’s not talking. He’s not talking to this guy, from Sacramento News and Review, and he’s sure as hell not talking to this guy, from the Los Angeles Times.

Should an important official of what is arguably the most prestigious system of public higher education in the world also be a leading financial backer of an industry that has been coming under intense regulatory scrutiny because of persistent allegations of fraud?

Or put another way: If the chairman of the World Wildlife Fund held significant investments in, say, BP, wouldn’t people wonder exactly what he thought about how to balance environmental protection and oil industry regulation?

Step Two:

Berkeley’s not only investing public money in the for-profits; it’s modeling itself after them. Put everything online; hire whoever to teach the stuff; advertise the Berkeley brand all over town.

Its professors are rightly worried. Some of them have written a worried opinion piece for the San Francisco Chronicle.

The UC Board of Regents will discuss this week a proposal by the University of California president’s office for an ambitious plan to market UC online. The proposal entertains the vision of an eventual online bachelor’s degree that could tap new students throughout the world, from “Sheboygan to Shanghai.”

In fact, the track record for online higher education is very uneven.

Uneven? UD, as readers know, is less diplomatic. She has long called online classes the poor white trash of education. If you want to know why, click on my poor white trash category.

The Berkeley professors can see what’s coming.

[T]he university runs the risk of destroying its reputation and excellence in the name of marketing a brand.

But hey. When a major big time regent has been kissing up to the for-profits for years — when, in a way, your university has become financially dependent on the kindness of the for-profits — you shouldn’t be surprised when administrators start suggesting that Berkeley should make them its model.


UD thanks her friend – once her student – James Elias for the initial link about Berkeley’s online venture.


Update: “[W]hat do these investments say about Blum’s vision for higher education?” asks Michael Hiltzik, author of a long article in the Los Angeles Times about University of California Regent and zealous investor in for-profit education Richard Blum.

Let’s think about that one.

Blum represents just about the most selective undergraduate institution in the world, Berkeley. Berkeley is simply the pinnacle of higher education — and it’s public. It’s one thing for small, insanely rich Princeton to offer a great education. I mean, Princeton does, it does offer this, and it deserves all the praise it gets. But Berkeley, to the enormous credit of California taxpayers, offers something similar. And it doesn’t have the legacy profile of the Ivies. It doesn’t make lots of special room for the children of the rich and well-connected. It doesn’t create the sort of culture Walter Kirn describes here.

Berkeley is, if you ask UD, inspirational. It’s probably the closest thing we have in this country to an admissions meritocracy.

What is the investment philosophy of Berkeley’s highest-profile regent? What does that philosophy tell us about what the LA Times reporter calls his vision for higher education?

Well, I’d say it’s a vision profoundly at odds with what Berkeley has long stood for. It’s elitist and cynical. Blum’s investment strategy says the following to UD:

I’m going to generate lots of money for a few of the most highly selected students in the country on the backs of millions of ordinary citizens being ripped off by substandard institutions. It’s a winner-take-all-the-education world. Let the losers pay the price.

The poor white trash of education…

… reaches its apotheosis.

… James Stoner, chairman of [Louisiana State University’s] political science department, recently taped three 30-minute constitutional lectures for the new “Beck University,” which was announced Monday.

… “I read [Beck’s] use of ‘university’ as ironic or kind of a TV thing,” [said Stoner].


Read all of UD‘s posts about online education by clicking on this post’s category. Or go here.

Online: Out of Sight, Out of Mind

A former professor takes issue with a local paper’s argument

that virtual classrooms with unlimited enrollment and little maintenance would assist state universities live within a restricted budget …

Designing interactive online learning modules increases costs for the time of faculty and technological experts. Add in server usage fees and the 24/7 tech support for daily student access and downloading problems. Research has shown that online enrollment should be maximized at 20 students for best student-faculty interaction, far less than the usual concrete classroom.

The time-intensive nature of online interactions add[s] to student and faculty workload and cause[s] problems for students who cannot balance work, family, friends, faith and school. To be successful in online courses requires good reading comprehension and writing skills. Students who do not have these skills drop out and need to re-enroll at a later date, creating more problems for student progression and class enrollments…

This writer overlooks, however, the boots-on-the-ground reality of many online courses: Hundreds of students handled by one professor; the professor so overwhelmed, and so incentivized to pass students, that she doesn’t much care (notice?) whether they’re learning anything; an insultingly low level of intellectual interaction; the system’s inability to determine whether the person who says she’s taking the online class is who she says she is… In short, if you want to make your university one big correspondence course which hands out degrees to the largest possible number of students without making them learn anything or even verify their identity, online’s the way to go.

“Why do we have to pay significantly extra to take these?”

Ah oui. Especially since they’re the poor white trash of education.

You know. On-line university courses. Most of them stink, for obvious reasons.

But one thing about them — because they don’t use up classrooms and equipment and campus time in the way of courses where you see and hear other human beings, they’re cheaper, that’s for sure…

Laptops in Class: Pricking Your Curiosity

From the University of Pennsylvania newspaper:

There’s no reason why students should use the Internet so heavily during class. Unless a professor asks everyone to navigate to a certain page, open laptops do nothing more than attract eyeballs that should be attending to lecture notes. Bright, shiny monitors in front of a college student during lecture are evolved bug-zapper lamps.

Sure, you may say that you’re not affected by it. That you can pay attention, take good notes and still catch up on the latest headlines at Or that you have the discipline to remain oblivious to your neighbor’s open PennLink page. But then you’d be lying to yourself.

The evidence? Take this annual example. Every spring, there’s that one fraternity pledge who causes a stir in a big lecture class because he’s watching porn in the first row. If no one was paying attention to the laptop ahead of him or her, the annual commotion would never occur – but it always does, without fail. Just wait a few weeks from now.

… [L]ast spring, the University of Chicago Law School … cut out non-class related computer use. As Dean Saul Levmore said in his letter to the school’s students and faculty, “we know that class time is not for shopping and e-mailing.”

… In the name of the New Year, let’s all make a resolution to cut our internet activity while a professor is talking. If not in the name of our own GPA, then for the sake of our classmate whose notes may suffer because they’re distracted by the porn two rows up.

Latest UD posts at IHE