Showing posts with label online learning. Show all posts
Showing posts with label online learning. Show all posts

Monday, September 14, 2020

Did colleges engage in a bait-and-switch scam to maximize revenues during the coronavirus pandemic?

According to a recent article in the Washington Examiner, American universities lured students back to campus this fall by deceptively promising to offer at least some in-person instruction. Then--after the students showed up and paid their tuition and fees--the colleges changed their policies and offered most or all of their classes in an online format.

In the Examiner's view:
[C]ollege administrators pulled a classic con artist's bait and switch. They asked college students to return to campus and bilked parents out of full-freight fees with the promise that at least some instruction would be in-person rather than online. Shortly before school opened, with the money safely in the bank, they shifted exclusively or at least nearly exclusively to online instruction, but asked student to come back to campus anyway.
Is this a fair indictment? I think it is.  Schools all over the United States shifted to online teaching for the fall semester, which almost everyone agrees is inferior to face-to-face instruction. Nevertheless, the schools did not discount their tuition, and they did not close their dormitories.

How can a college tell students that in-person classes are dangerous while continuing to stuff the kids into residence halls and frat houses, where the risk of contracting the coronavirus is unreasonably high?

In my view, American colleges responded to the COVID-19 crisis to maximize revenue at the expense of their students' health. It was nuts for universities to pack young adults into dorms at a time when the coronavirus pandemic is still not under control.

But the colleges were forced to adopt this reckless policy because they need the cash flow.  Many universities financed their dorm-building sprees by floating bonds or entering into partnerships with private corporations that funded the construction projects in return for getting a percentage of the room-and-board fees. These schools have got to keep their dorms full to meet their financial obligations.

Unfortunately for American higher education, the coronavirus disrupted its business model.  Parents are not going to pay fifty grand a year for their children to take online classes, and they are not going to pay room-and-board fees so their kids can live in crowded dormitories where they face an elevated risk of contracting COVID-19.

This cash-before-kids policy is not going to work for a lot of colleges. Many will close in the coming year.  And the upcoming shut-down of American schools is not just due to the coronavirus pandemic. A lot of families have figured out that that the universities are charging way too much for mediocre academic programs that don't lead to good jobs.

As James Howard Kunstler put it in a recent blog essay:
[T]he colleges and universities are [not] going down hard . . . just because Covid-19 has interrupted their business plan. Rather, because of the stupendous and gross dishonesty that higher ed has fallen into. The racketeering around college loans was bad enough but the intellectual racketeering around fake fields of study, thought-crime persecutions, and an epic sexual hysteria has disgraced the very mission of higher ed, turned it into something no better than a sick cult . . . .
I could not have said it better myself. Americans are awaking to the fact that much of our nation's higher education system is a big scam, and they are increasingly unwilling to subject their children to an education system that looks more and more like the Spanish Inquisition.

The penalty for saying "All Lives Matter" on a university campus








Thursday, March 26, 2020

"It ain't pretty, and it ain't effective": Expert urges colleges not to assess the quality of online instruction during coronavirus pandemic

Even before President Trump declared a national emergency, some American colleges and universities closed their doors, kicked students out of their dorms, and sent them home. In response to the COVID-19 virus, the nation's schools swiftly shifted from face-to-face instruction to distance learning.

Without question, it was the responsible thing to do. A few college leaders even framed their actions as almost heroic. The presidents of Harvard, Stanford, and MIT published an op-ed essay in the New York Times titled "We Lead Three Universities: It's time for drastic action." Yuh think?

Of course, the universities had no choice but to move to online teaching. Unless the colleges want to refund their students for missed instructional time and closed libraries, the coronavirus gave them only one option: immediately switch from face-to-face teaching to online instruction. And this they speedily did.

Jonathan Zimmerman, an education professor at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education, pointing out that the coronavirus outbreak provides a perfect opportunity to conduct research on the effectiveness of online learning. That seems like a good idea.

But a few days later, Thomas J. Tobin, a Wisconsin professor, rebuked Zimmerman in the pages of The Chronicle  "Now is Not the Time to Assess Online Learning, "  Tobin titled his rebuttal essay. Many professors are not adequately trained for online teaching, Tobin argued, and the "impact of throwing untrained or poorly trained instructors into online teaching" is not good. "The short version," Tobin emphasized: "It ain't pretty, and it ain't effective."

But I agree with Professor Zimmerman. American students have been lab rats for distance learning for more than 25 years. It's time we gave serious thought to what in the hell we are doing to the kids.

The for-profit colleges were the first to get in on the online-learning scam. They figured out that teaching hundreds of students asynchronously is considerably cheaper than teaching a few students on an actual college campus. Who needs all that ivy; all those drafty,  neo-gothic buildings; those grumpy, overpaid professors? Who needs all those union-wage cops and custodians, those dorm mothers, a book store?

 No, let's persuade pajama-clad kids to just stare at their computers all day in their own apartments. They can pay their tuition online and not show up on campus until graduation day!

Public colleges, alarmed by the competition from the venal for-profits, jumped into online learning as well.  Soon online degree programs were being advertised all over the country--especially on urban billboards and public buses.

Now--and this is literally true--an American student can get a bachelor's degree, a master's degree, and a doctoral degree without ever stepping inside a classroom.

And here's the beauty of the New Age when students and teachers don't need to meet.  Online education can be just as expensive as face-face-to-face! That's right: you can pay the price of a Harvard education without ever having to put your clothes on in the morning.

Let's return now to the debate between Profesor Zimmerman and Professor Tobin. Notice that Professor Tobin did not argue that we should stop online instruction.  In fact, I'm sure he loves it. No, Tobin is merely saying we shouldn't evaluate it right now.

I'm with Professor Zimmerman. Let's see if anyone is getting their money's worth from taking courses in front of their commuters. And why not do it now?

"Oh, my God! I forgot to fill out my FASFA application."