Wednesday, June 24, 2015


Gainful Employment for Graduate Schools?

Sometimes to really understand a story, you have to read it against another one.

This week, a couple of stories came out that didn’t seem all that surprising individually, but that clanged together in an unexpected way.

The first noted that Ivy Tech, the statewide community college system in Indiana, is coming under state scrutiny for low graduation rates in certain workforce training programs.  

The second was about a judge upholding the newer version of the “gainful employment” regulation.   That regulation, which applies mostly to for-profit colleges and community colleges, punishes colleges (or programs) of whom a significant number of graduates don’t make enough money to pay off the student loans they took out to get the training.

In both cases, institutions that provide services to the riskiest, lowest-income students are required, with varying levels of realism, to prove their worth.  Meanwhile, institutions that serve wealthier students have the benefit of the doubt written into law.

For example, I read recently that 40 percent of outstanding student loan debt comes from graduate study.  Yet graduate programs are exempt from the gainful employment rule.  Offer a one-year certificate in Accounting to train bookkeepers?  Prove your worth.  Offer an open-ended Ph.D. program to pour still more adjuncts into a saturated academic field?  No problem.

To which I say, hmm.

If I were an enterprising sort without a conscience, and I wanted to make serious money in higher education, I’d avoid the low-income students; there’s just too much scrutiny.  Instead, I’d go after the high end.  You can charge more, and you’ll get a free pass, so to speak.

Ivy Tech may or may not be doing a good job; I honestly don’t know.  But I’m not at all surprised to hear that the graduation rate goals legislators set for the programs were divorced from reality.  Given an exclusively high-risk population, even a brilliantly-run program will struggle to produce the kind of numbers that flagships, with exclusive admissions, produce as a matter of course.  Students with preparation gaps and complicated lives are harder to get through than students who are well-prepared, undistracted, and attending full-time.  That is not a reflection on the quality of instruction in either case.  Judging the former by the standards of the latter is setting up programs to fail.

I’d flip it around.  Want to hold programs accountable?  Great; start with the most expensive, and work your way down.  Make M.A. and Ph.D. programs -- and law, and MBA, for that matter -- prove their worth first.  That’s where the serious money is.

Alternately, hold state legislatures accountable for ensuring that community colleges and public four-year colleges are appropriately funded to achieve the increasing number of tasks they’re being asked to achieve.  Performance funding assumes a base level of funding high enough to enable good performance in the first place; absent that, it’s merely punitive.  Sometimes, in the rush to look tough, legislatures lose sight of that.  A good, strong Federal push to ensure that they don’t lose sight of that would make it possible for performance funding to reflect actual performance, rather than student demographics.

None of that is likely, of course.  In this climate, we have to get tough on people without money, so people with money can feel better about themselves.

That clanged.  It always does.

Bravo, Matt! Corresponds exactly what I have been saying about graduate school. Graduate school in many disciplines has become little more than a Ponzi scheme, one which depends for its survival primarily on the recruiting of more and more graduate students. These students are used as little more that cheap labor to perform the research for the senior tenured faculty. These senior faculty are often so busy in seeking external grant support or in reporting to their funding agencies that they have little time left over to actually perform any research, and must rely on their graduate students to do their research for them. Very often, these senior faculty members add little more than their names to the papers written by their students. The primary output of many graduate programs isn’t really scholarly papers or the pursuit of external grant support—it is the production of new PhDs.

The system has now produced so many PhDs that very few of them are able to obtain gainful employment in their fields of study. There are far more new PhDs out there than could ever hope to gain any sort of permanent employment in their chosen fields. I wonder if a study could be made of how many recent PhDs are in tenure-track positions at colleges or universities or who are working in industry in fields for which they spent so much time in training, versus how many of them are flipping burgers at Wendy’s, bagging groceries in the local supermarket, or who are freeway-flying adjuncts trying to cobble together a meager living while trying to land that elusive full-time academic position.

The government is spending so much money in supporting this system of graduate education that it would just and fair for them to insist that graduate students have a reasonable prospect of attaining gainful employment once they finish their education. Many graduate students are force to take out loans to finance their degrees. Why do this when the prospects of getting a decent full-time job in their disciplines are so small?

Case in point: Arizona State University's English Department, whose graduate programs exist mainly to turn out their own poorly-paid writing instructors, according to recent news stories.

Graduation is the important stage of educational career of a student. A student seeks admission in a University with lots of expectations and the university chamber must provide opportunities to students to develop their career and their extracurricular talents as well. The lack of facilities means that the university is not at all qualified to offer higher education. The Dean of student affairs must take care about it and it is his/her responsibility.
Rarely has a bit of illiterate and incoherent spam from a paper mill been more appropriately posted in this blog! Its mere existence suggests a market of people borrowing money to acquire paper rather than skills. There won't be any gainful employment for the person who buys their thesis from these folks unless it is in some higher ed staff position where the paper on the wall means more for pay than performance on the job.
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