Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Elimination of Higher Education

"You're going to see, over the next five years, a real increase in the number of schools in serious trouble."

In less than a week, Americans will be exposed — with practically wall-to-wall coverage at that — to 68 of our institutions of higher learning as they take part in the annual NCAA basketball tournament. Teams that outperform expectations will benefit from an uptick in applications, and although many of the schools participating are already household names, who doesn’t take pride in seeing their alma mater in “The Big Dance?”

Unfortunately for the high school Class of 2019, whose students are just now beginning to determine where they’ll go to college, there’s a different sort of elimination going on, with much higher stakes. A long-term downturn in enrollment, along with a decline in the number of Americans who believe a college education is worth the money, is beginning to affect many schools’ bottom line. While this won’t immediately affect a state-supported public university or Ivy League schools with their multi-billion dollar endowments, those who’d prefer a smaller campus and more intimate setting may find that many small colleges are the first to fold.

As an example, based on a Wall Street Journal ranking of more than 1,000 schools accounting for a number of factors, one observer painted a bleak picture for schools near the bottom of the list. “You’re going to see, over the next five years, a real increase in the number of schools in serious trouble,” said Ohio University’s Richard Vedder, who heads the school’s Center for College Affordability and Productivity. “A degree from one of these lower schools doesn’t mean much of anything.” These closings will also expand the so-called “education deserts” that are defined in part as areas outside a convenient radius from four-year colleges.

Truth be told, though, the “desert” seems to be on campus, and it’s a desert where independent thought and ideological diversity are all but impossible to find. We joke about the “snowflakes” who can’t seem to cope when events don’t turn out as they hope, but the information silo being created by these schools is no laughing matter. When left-wing professors outnumber their right-leaning colleagues by more than 10 to 1 — leaving their unemployable graduates with useless degrees and student loan debt for which taxpayers will ultimately be on the hook — more and more concerned parents and prospective students are looking elsewhere.

“An increasing percentage of high school graduates are moving directly into job-prep education,” writes Peter Heck at The Resurgent. “Either offered by a business itself, or channeled through a trade school or online academy, these innovative programs give students direct training in the field they want to work in rather than forcing them to fill 90% of their course schedule with classes that don’t pertain to their desired field.”

Why spend well over $100,000, they reason, when there are good-paying jobs that don’t require a degree or, if a more traditional degree is desired, online institutions that provide a good, basic education to “nontraditional students” for a fraction of the cost?

Over the last 75 years, college has evolved from a place where only the best and brightest went to pursue higher education to its current marketing as a basic necessity. However, while students, parents and (mostly) taxpayers have “invested” billions to make state-supported public schools a luxurious interim experience for those soon to join the “real world” beyond campus, the model and mode of education has changed. Today, thousands have gained their degrees without ever setting foot on a campus, while still others are making the companies that sponsored and provided their post-high-school education more successful as they apply the skills and knowledge they were taught in these programs.

While none of these schools and institutes for training will ever make the field of 68 for “March Madness,” they provide the key for stopping the madness of spiraling student debt and useless but politically correct degrees. And have we mentioned that the world needs skilled tradespeople and entrepreneurs that do well without setting foot on a college campus? Yes, we have. But it bears repeating.


Feds tell state officials to back off student loan debt collectors

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has a message for Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and officials in other states hoping to rein in student loan debt collectors: Back off.

The US Department of Education announced Friday that it considers state efforts to regulate collection companies — many of which have been accused of unfair consumer practices — inappropriate and that they “undermine” federal authority.

The notice from the Education Department and DeVos infuriated consumer advocates and Healey, who called it a move to protect debt collectors at the expense of student loan borrowers across the country.

“Secretary DeVos can write as many love letters to the loan servicing industry as she wants,” Healey said in a statement. “The last thing we need is to give this industry a free pass while millions of students cannot afford to pay their loans.”

Under DeVos’s watch, the Education Department has, in the past year, tried to unravel many of the policies and practices put in place by the Obama administration on everything from campus sexual assault to for-profit schools. DeVos has argued that many of the rules went too far or were too hastily conceived.

Mass. AG Maura Healey sues Betsy DeVos, againAs recently as 2016, the Education Department had told states that their regulation of student loan debt collectors would not conflict with federal law.

“There’s a pattern here of knee-jerk reversals,” said Suzanne Martindale, senior attorney for Consumers Union, an arm of Consumer Reports.

In Friday’s notice, the federal education agency singled out Healey’s ongoing lawsuit against the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency as a particularly egregious example of state officials overstepping their authority. The federal government has stepped in on behalf of the debt servicer in the state case.

Healey has alleged that the servicer, which does business as FedLoan Servicing, violated state and federal laws by causing teachers and others to lose benefits and financial help under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. Under the program, students can have loans forgiven after 10 years of public service, a benefit designed to encourage graduates to take jobs in government and nonprofits. But processing delays by FedLoan Servicing and errors in its billing systems caused thousands of borrowers to be overcharged and extended their loan periods, costing consumers more money, the state lawsuit alleges.

Legislators in other states have also adopted new laws requiring student loan collection companies to get state licenses, meet certain business standards, and comply with investigations launched by local authorities.

These new state requirements “may conflict with legal, regulatory, and contractual requirements, and may skew the balance the department has sought in calibrating its enforcement decisions to the objectives of the program,” the Department of Education said in its notice.

They may also cost taxpayers more money by piling regulations onto these companies, who are likely to pass on the cost to the Education Department, DeVos said in the notice filed on Friday.

The Department of Education hires companies such as FedLoan Servicing and Navient to collect payments on more than $1 trillion of the $1.4 trillion in outstanding student loan debt owed by Americans.

Trade groups representing these companies said the Education Department was right to step in and assert its authority.

“Clear, uniform student loan servicing guidance from the federal government will help borrowers avoid the frustrations of an inconsistent patchwork of policies from individual states,” the Student Loan Servicing Alliance said in a statement. “It is critical that we set aside political . . . rhetoric and focus on creating effective solutions for the biggest issues facing borrowers, like simplifying complex repayment programs and improving college completion rates.”

Alan Collinge: Trump is pushing the student loan system to the brink of failureYet borrowers have for years complained about these companies, and federal and state investigations have found problems in their collection practices and the Education Department’s oversight.

For example, an investigation by states and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau alleged that Navient, a major student loan collection company, encouraged struggling consumers into a short-term loan forbearance program that required less paperwork for the company but meant that borrowers who postponed payments accrued more interest on their debt. Many borrowers could have instead qualified for repayment options based on their incomes and how much they could afford, which would have lowered their monthly bill and put them on a potential path for loan forgiveness.

Authorities said Navient offered its employees incentives to get borrowers into forbearance plans, a move that allowed the company to collect $4 billion in interest charges over five years. Navient has denied any wrongdoing and said that 53 percent of the loan balances it services for the federal government are in income-driven repayment plans. Still, several states have sued the company.

Mass. AG Healey can pursue student loan debt lawsuit, judge rulesThe Department of Education, which contracts with these companies, hasn’t always been the best enforcer of consumer laws, said Persis Yu, a staff attorney at the National Consumer Law Center, a Boston-based organization that operates a borrower assistance project.

Errors and delays by these collections companies have extended borrower loan periods by years and cost them thousands of dollars, Yu said. “Having more cops on the beat to look out for student loan borrowers [is] better,” she said.

Healey said her office plans to continue its investigations into student loan collection companies, but consumer groups worry that other state authorities may be discouraged by the Education Department’s warning. Some states may abandon stronger consumer protection efforts as a result, they said.

Ultimately, legal experts said the courts will likely have to determine who has authority to regulate the industry.


Australia: The NAPLAN nervous ninnies

NAPLAN [national school tests] results are out and high gain schools are receiving their just recognition. Yet, critics are calling for a review of NAPLAN because results have not improved as much as we would like.

Criticising NAPLAN for poor literacy and numeracy is like blaming your thermometer for your fever. NAPLAN is not responsible for the deplorable differences in performance between wealthy and disadvantaged students. NAPLAN’s job is to expose the truth about those gaps, and that is what it is doing.

Perhaps it would help to see what NAPLAN really involves. Here are two sample questions:

* Ben collected 68 cans. Jack collected 109 cans. How many cans did Ben and Jack collect altogether?

* The following sentence has one word that is incorrect. We bought fresh bred. Write the correct spelling of the word.

These questions may appear harmless, but critics claim they traumatise our children, pervert classroom teaching and undermine education. They say that asking children to calculate sums and spell ‘bread’ can cause insomnia, stomach aches and nail-biting — and getting the answers wrong crushes students’ self-esteem. Teachers report they are forced to ‘waste’ valuable class time teaching students to spell and do arithmetic when they could be focusing on more important things such as ‘creativity’.

Ludicrous? Welcome to the surreal world of opposition to the National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy, commonly known as NAPLAN.

Questions 1 and 2 come from NAPLAN’s Year 3 numeracy and literacy assessments, respectively. To answer them, a child must know how to read, add and spell. These are vital skills. NAPLAN simply tells us whether children have learnt them.

Testing did not begin with NAPLAN. Teachers have always used assessments to monitor students’ progress and identify those who need extra help. In addition, state education authorities administered examinations to ensure that schools were preparing children adequately for further learning.

Unfortunately, the curriculum, the assessment tests and the standards children were expected to achieve differed across teachers, schools and states. As a result, students participated in a postcode lottery — the content and quality of their education depended on where they lived and which school they attended.

The Australian Curriculum and NAPLAN have eliminated these inequities. For the first time, all Australian children are taught the same content, undertake identical assessments and are held to common performance standards. The benefits have been enormous. Using NAPLAN, teachers can identify students’ strengths and weaknesses and plan lessons accordingly. In addition, because NAPLAN is administered in years 3, 5, 7, and 9, schools can see how their students’ learning grows over time.

Because their curriculum and the assessment methods are now comparable, schools in one state can compare their educational outcomes with those of similar schools in other states. Authorities can identify high performing schools and disseminate their successful teaching methods nationally.

NAPLAN will eventually move from paper and pencil to online assessment. When this occurs, results will be available much earlier in the school year, but that is not the only benefit. In contrast to the present one-size-fits-all paper test, NAPLAN online will be tailored to the abilities of each student. Teachers will be given a precise picture of each student’s strengths and weaknesses. Moreover, moving NAPLAN online will allow the test to be customised for the special needs of students with disabilities.

Instead of welcoming these benefits, the critics of NAPLAN have stepped up their attacks. In addition to lowering self-esteem, making children ill and occupying too much time, NAPLAN is also blamed for low levels of literacy and numeracy, and for not measuring creativity, critical thinking and ‘personal attributes’. These claims are all baseless.  Apart from anecdotes, there is no evidence that asking students how to spell ‘bread’ makes them ill.

Critics of NAPLAN believe that self-esteem is protected by never allowing children to fail. But the truth is precisely the opposite.  By preventing children from experiencing failure, we stop them from gaining the self-confidence that comes from overcoming it.

If we want young people to be able to handle life’s inevitable slings and arrows, then we should not encourage them to avoid difficult situations. Instead, we should teach children how to cope with them. If children find NAPLAN stressful, imagine the stress they will encounter trying to find jobs if they leave school unable to read, spell and do arithmetic.

Claims that NAPLAN takes up valuable teaching time are simply untrue. Over 10 years of schooling, NAPLAN testing occupies an average of 3 minutes per week. Surely this leaves enough time for teaching. Teachers claim that they are ‘forced to waste time’ drilling students on sample NAPLAN questions. It is not clear who is exerting this force, but drilling is not an effective teaching method.  The only way to prepare students for NAPLAN is to teach them to read, write and do mathematics.

And perhaps this is one reason that some educators are so critical of NAPLAN — it exposes the truth. By identifying good and poor performers (such as the high gain schools recognized this week), NAPLAN makes school learning transparent.  Some may find the spotlight uncomfortable, and criticise NAPLAN even as online delivery promises timelier and more useful tests. It is time for parents, policymakers, and community leaders to enter the debate.


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