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Arne Duncan’s Entitlement of a “Public” Education

September 27, 2010

The U.S. Department of Education commenced an effort in 2009 to rein in for-profit education companies.  The for-profit companies, organized to offer degree programs to students using U.S. government subsidized loans and grants, used new technologies, flat organization charts, and capital markets to flood higher education with accessible degree programs that cut student time in degree programs by half.  Begun as “night schools” operating from leased offices and attracting adults seeking to improve their lot by earning college degrees, the for-profit education companies quickly transited to the Internet.  Some earned regional accreditation, others purchased failing colleges that were regionally accredited, and some were registered with the SEC and capitalized through sale of publicly traded stock.

Corinthian Colleges, University of Phoenix, Capella, American Public University, Kaplan Education, Grand Canyon University and Bridgepoint are some of the powerhouses in the for-profit education industry.  Others, equally powerful but privately held, operate on a smaller scale in every town and city of America usually focusing on training students for gainful employment.

Their actions have left their public college competitors in the dust largely because the government subsidized public university system of colleges and universities–best known for basketball and football championship teams–are not organized to operate on the level of professional businesses.  Rooted in the late 19th century system of academic tenure that protects an instructional corps of dissident left-wing intellectuals, the citadels of public education have been captured by a New Class of intellectuals who disdain the culture that supports them.  A recent “Report Card,” issued by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, reveals how devastating has been the retreat from standards that passes for higher education in America today.

Several years ago I served on a panel established to review the practices of Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Our panel found that the institution served the tenured faculty first and students last.  Faculty was tenured and represented by a union.  In the Business School tenured instructors refused to teach Word processing and insisted on only teaching typing.  In ten years the community college never reached out to the business community to ask what skills they wanted new employees to master.  A competing institution, the for-profit Pittsburgh Technical Institute, had four full time employees who did nothing but engage in discussions with Pittsburgh businesses.  The poorest of the poor in Allegheny County attended the local community college because tuition was low, but the education offered was worthless.

CCAC was in deplorable condition, but much like the District of Columbia where voters recently rejected education reform,  the Republican and Democratic political and union Establishment of Pittsburgh rallied to CCAC’s defense and defended it from critical reviews and a call for privatization.

What is “public” in public education today is government ownership of assets, not public access.  At Penn State and most major public universities tuition, room and board, and book costs are the equal of equivalent private colleges.  So the only “public” aspect of Penn State is the state’s claim to own it.  That applies to SUNY of New York, the Colorado State University system and every public higher education Establishment in the United States.

Unchanged in structure, resistant to replacing the system of Faculty tenure with term limited contracts, charging high tuition, and conducting sport extravaganzas that are not supported by ticket sales, public higher education in America today is the equivalent of “bread and circuses” of the late imperial Roman empire.

In an environment of such educational decline, moral and intellectual corruption and failure to serve the American nation by educating citizens for responsible citizenship, the Obama Administration proposes to close down for-profit higher education!

On Friday the U.S. Department of Education announced that it would delay publication of new “gainful employment” regulations until 2011.  The regulations, which go into effect in July 2011, will limit the total amount of student loans that students may borrow at for-profit colleges to a percentage of the average income of their chosen vocations.  Public universities are exempt.  U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan believes that “some bad actors are saddling students with debt they cannot afford in exchange for degrees and certificates they cannot use.”

If you parse that sentence, you wonder why the “bad actors” are only found at for-profit colleges. Are only the for-profits offering useless degree programs?  How many “Criminal Justice” programs are there in all the community colleges and public universities in the United States?  At Daytona Community College in Florida, the most popular program is “Photography.”  How many photographers can the economy of Daytona, Florida absorb?  And what about the many gender studies, women’s studies, black studies, Chicano studies and other Politically Correct and useless programs that waste public resources and student’s time?

The list of useless, intellectually weak, and unnecessary programs at public universities today far exceeds the number of such programs at for-profit colleges, but that hasn’t been picked up by the Obama Administration’s fine-tuned, socialist radar.

“Public education” is an entitlement, you know.

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