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Lax Accreditation + Lax Government Regulation + Lax Governance = Opportunity for Corruption

May 29, 2016 Comments off

Buzzed reporter Molly Hensley-Clancy’s recent article, “Making the Grades”, describes how a non-profit school in CA recruited unqualified but affluent foreign students seeking entry into the United States, offered them a low quality low cost education, and raked in money for the “administrators” who operated the institution. Hensley-Clancy describes the scam the “college” set up in these paragraphs:

Spending millions on foreign recruiters, Northwestern Polytechnic University enrolls 99% of its students — more than 6,000 overall last year — from overseas, with little regard for their qualifications. It has no full-time, permanent faculty, despite having a student body larger than the undergraduate population of Princeton.

The school issues grades that are inflated, or simply made up, so that academically unqualified students can keep their visas, along with the overseas bank loans that allow the students to pay their tuition. For two years, top college administrators forbade professors from failing any students at all, and the university’s president once personally raised hundreds of student grades — by hand.

Those false credentials are all the students need to stay in the country. Many seek jobs in the tech industry, and their degrees allow them to remain working in the U.S. for years, avoiding the scrutiny of immigration officials that would have come if they had applied for a standard work visa.

The university operates as a nonprofit, with all the tax benefits that status confers. But its assets, which topped $77 million in 2014, have enriched the family that has controlled it for decades. The school has purchased homes for family members to live in, one of which cost more than $2 million. When it comes to educating students, however, NPU has spent astonishingly little. The $1.5 million it paid for a home occupied by the executive vice president and his family was more than it reported spending on the combined salaries of the school’s entire faculty and staff in 2014.

Even the university’s academic accreditation — which the school relied on in order to admit a flood of foreign students — is suspect: When the accreditor came for a site visit, the university staged a Potemkin village of a college, enlisting instructors to pretend they were full-time professors, prepping students with false answers to inspectors’ questions, and once even hiring a fake librarian.

The article then goes on to describe how a toxic combination of deregulation and/or underfunded regulation enabled the college to make a bundle of money without providing a sound education for its students. The accreditation process, intended to ensure that a post-secondary institution is providing a quality education, is deeply flawed:

Oversight of American higher education rests in large part on a group of independent watchdogs called accreditors, whom the government entrusts to vet a school’s academics and student performance. Schools that win the accreditors’ approval reap significant benefits: They can tap into the trillion-dollar federal student loan system, and, more importantly for Northwestern Polytechnic University, they can sponsor American student visas — a highly sought-after commodity across the world — with minimal oversight.

(B)ut accreditors are private entities, and despite their effect on public funds, there is little oversight of the work that they do. Schools choose which accreditor they wish to be judged by, and many institutions shop around in search of the one they feel will view them in the most favorable light.

This oversight model sounds familiar to anyone who followed the housing crash. So if the accreditors are suspect, couldn’t the governing board of the institution have done something? Couldn’t the federal government have done something?

A truly independent board of directors could have held NPU to its financial responsibilities to its students. (NOTE: The “board” consists of three individuals, all of whom benefit from the current set-up as elaborated in the article) The Internal Revenue Service might have been able to force some changes, too, if it had investigated the claims that NPU made on its financial disclosure forms. And the Department of Homeland Security could have, as well, if it had looked into the circumstances by which, somehow, every last one of NPU’s students managed to get the good grades that their visas required.

Yes, all of the regulatory agencies could have “done something” if they had sufficient staffing. But they don’t because they are woefully underfunded. The losers in this are not just the immigrant students who are awarded worthless diplomas: they are the citizens of our country who are denied employment opportunities and the taxpayers who underwrite the college that invests the revenues from this scam into strip malls and condominiums. But our current Congress doesn’t want to tithe hands of entrepreneurs with “red tape” and regulations… better to let the market sort things out and if a college fails and students can’t pay the loans back to banks, no worry… we’ll bail out the banks and punish the students. We’ve seen this movie before and we’ll see it again until we decide that paying nickels and dimes for independent government oversight is better than paying billions for bail outs….

 

Kansas Funding Redux: More Money Needed— Not More Smoke and Mirrors

May 28, 2016 Comments off

The NYTimes reported today that the Kansas Supreme Court has determined that the KS legislature’s latest gambit, the issuance of block grants instead of fully funding of the equalization formula, remains unconstitutional.

In a 47-page ruling, the court rejected that bill, saying the Legislature’s formula “creates intolerable, and simply unfair, wealth-based disparities among the districts.”

“This case requires us to determine whether the state has met its burden to show that recent legislation brings the state’s K-12 public school funding system into compliance with Article 6 of the Kansas Constitution,” the ruling said. “We hold it has not.”

But KS shouldn’t worry… because ESSA might provide a way for them to use federal dollars to supplant state funds and make things work out well in the end…. and if they do so I hope that the Democrats will think again about the “bi-partisan” bill they passed.

A Seemingly Intractable Problem: Rich Parents Segregate Their Children From Low Income Peers

May 28, 2016 1 comment

Earlier this month Washington Post writer Emily Badger wrote an article with the click bait title “The One Thing Rich Parents Do For Their Kids That Makes All the Difference” whose url provided the answer: “the-incredible-impact-of-rich-parents-fighting-to-live-by-the-very-best-schools”.

Using research by USC sociologist Anne Owens as a springboard, Badger writes:

Owens’s latest research, published in the American Sociological Review, suggests that wealthy parents snapping up such homes have driven the rise of income segregation in America since 1990. The rich and non-rich are less and less likely to share the same neighborhoods in the United States, a trend shaped more by the behavior of the wealthy than the poor or middle class. Owens’s work, though, adds another twist: The recent rise of income segregation, she finds, is almost entirely caused by what’s happening among families with children…. 

That means that a typical childless household lives among more diverse neighbors from across the economic spectrum than does the typical family with children…

Owens additionally argues that as wealthy parents are spending their added resources on housing, they’re choosing that housing with schools particularly in mind. In her data, there’s wider income segregation among families with children in “fragmented” metropolitan areas that have more school districts for parents to choose from, allowing greater sorting between low-quality and coveted districts.

It’s highly likely this same pattern exists within school districts, as wealthy parents compete for housing within the attendance zones of the best schools (again, think Northwest Washington). But Owens doesn’t yet have the data to show this at the smaller local level…

I have witnessed both cases in my career. In the two districts where I worked in NH were among the most affluent in the State and both had housing values that exceeded those of surrounding communities. In both districts, there were instances where once the children left home for college parents sold their higher priced homes in the “desirable” communities, moved into a lower priced home in a nearby rural community, and used the price differential to fund college for their children.

In the county school district where I worked in Maryland and the large Upstate NY districts where I worked homeowners paid a premium to reside in a community that fed into the “most desirable” elementary and high school with “desirability” determined by socio-economic status of the parents. The link between real estate values and “desirable” schools came to the forefront in both communities when it was necessary to redraw the boundaries for attendance zones— “redistricting” in the parlance of school district management. Badger touches on this inner concluding paragraphs:

Politically, the two topics that most enrage voters are threats to property values and local schools.  So either of these ideas — wielding housing policy to affect schools, or school policy to affect housing — would be tough sells. Especially to anyone who has secured both the desirable address and a seat in the best kindergarten in town. Parents in Upper Northwest, for instance, deeply opposed the idea of ending neighborhood schools in Washington. And Gray’s proposal never came to pass.

But, Owens says, “I feel more hopeful in studying these issues today than I did five years ago.” At least, she says, we are all now talking more about inequality and segregation.

It HAS been a long time coming to even begin talking about inequality and segregation… but moving from talk to action will require more than a change of minds… it will require a change of heart… and THAT  requires more than politics.