Quote of the Day – Degree Mill Edition
“I’m afraid that the ease with which these outfits hand out diplomas is matched only by the disappointment of their graduates when they find out how little their degrees are actually worth.” – Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers in Washington
He’s talking about the rise of for profit “universities” that are absorbing nearly half a billion dollars a year from the U.S. taxpayer providing “degrees” to American servicemen. Daniel Golden for Bloomberg:
For-profit online colleges are taking over higher education of the U.S. military, lured by a Defense Department pledge of free schooling up to $4,500 a year for active members of the armed services, costing taxpayers more than $3 billion since 2000. The schools account for 29 percent of college enrollments and 40 percent of the half-billion-dollar annual tab in federal tuition assistance for active-duty students, displacing public and private nonprofit colleges, according to Defense Department and military data.
The shift is leading to educational shortcuts and over- zealous marketing, said Greg von Lehmen, chief academic officer of the University of Maryland University College in Adelphi, the adult-education branch of the state system and one of the earliest and biggest providers of military education. “In these schools, the rule is faster and easier,” von Lehmen said. “They’re characterized by increasingly compressed course lengths and low academic expectations. One has to ask: Is the Department of Defense getting what it is seeking?”
Mike Shields, a retired Marine Corps colonel and human resources director for U.S. field operations at Schindler Elevator Corp., rejects about 50 military candidates each year for the company’s management development program because their graduate degrees come from online for-profits, he said in an interview. Schindler Elevator is the North American operating entity of Schindler Holding AG in Hergiswil, Switzerland, the world’s second-largest elevator maker. “We don’t even consider them,” Shields said. “For the caliber of individuals and credentials we’re looking for, we need what we feel is a more broadened and in-depth educational experience.” He does hire service members with online degrees for jobs on non-leadership tracks, he said.
Online schools such as American Military University have relocated their headquarters to obtain certification from regional boards with less demanding standards, according to interviews with for-profit college officials and accrediting agencies. Or they’re approved by less established organizations, leaving students hard-pressed to transfer credits to other colleges or find jobs at major corporations.
Bradford Rand, chief executive of Techexpo Top Secret in New York, which runs job fairs for defense contractors recruiting recent veterans, said a degree from an online for- profit is a disadvantage. “You have two people of the same caliber, one has a degree from a real college, one has a degree from a computer, I’m going to favor the one from the live college,” Rand said. “It’s more verifiable, more credible.”
I taught some online graduate courses, aimed mostly at overseas military officers, at Troy when I was teaching full time at their main campus. Trying to treat it as if it were a legitimate graduate class was a constant source of frustration. Students simply didn’t have the time to do the reading and research — they were, after all, on active duty in a military with a high operations tempo. But they’d been led to believe that the courses would be easy — there wouldn’t be much work and they could do it at their leisure. The school got a lot of money, paid its faculty quite generously, and the students got the credentials they wanted. Those of us who resisted the degree mill model were messing up that model. (I’m reliably informed that the rigor has picked up, although not to the level one would expect in a traditional on campus graduate program even at Troy.)
But the military is as much at fault here as the degree mills. They quite literally treat college education as a check in a box. A master’s degree from Harvard or one from Walden both get officers over the “must have master’s degree” hurdle for promotion to lieutenant colonel. And, since few officers are given the time to attend classes at a real school, the incentive to get a dubious degree in the little spare time available is powerful. The same is true, to a somewhat lesser extent, in the federal civil service and for teachers in many school systems across the country: It’s the degree that matters, not the learning.
The obvious solution is to start allotting time for people to go to school, if getting an education is really important. The less obvious solution is to quit rewarding the attainment of educational credentials if, as it would seem, a bogus degree is as valid as a real one. To the extent that the skills imparted by higher education are valuable to an employer, they should be apparent in actual job performance. So just reward people who do their jobs well and don’t worry about what degrees they have.
Story via Margaret Soltan.