Hiring cheap teachers to offer cheap courses and cheap degrees is rapidly becoming a problem. Governing boards that are supposed to oversee quality show little appetite for doing anything about it.
Finally, this last month, the Inspector General’s Office of the U.S.D.E. issued an alert and criticized the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), an accreditor of over 1000 U.S. institutions, for its decision to accredit the for-profit American InterContinental University (AIU). According to the January 3, 2010 issue of Chronicle of Higher Education, this alert “calls into question” the HLC’s system for verifying quality education. Among the problems, AIU offered nine credit hours for a five-week course.
But you do not have to go out-of-state or to virtual programs to find the cheap-teacher, cheap-course, cheap-degree problem. Turn on your car radio while driving through central Kansas and you will hear advertisements for 3-credit-hour general education courses completed in just a few weekends. Power up your computer to go online and you are hit with offers of a bachelors degree in as little as a year—and while you work full time!
This rise in cheap “academics” is recent, accompanying our shift to tuition-driven enrollment. Kansas public higher education as being managed like a private business. Every warm body is a customer. The cheaper the courses, the better. Quantity counts. Quality doesn’t.
This is not a problem with the Kansas on-campus research universities, where faculty undergo peer evaluation and generating genuine research is a primary duty. It is not a big problem at the regional universities campuses where some research is also expected and faculty and chairs oversee teacher and program quality. And for the most part, it is not a serious problem at community college campuses where full time teaching faculty prepare students in their first two years, and likewise have input in evaluating their colleagues.
But outreach (off-campus) community college courses can be another matter. Hire-a-profs are aware that if they maintain rigor in their evening courses, students will go elsewhere for easier A’s.
Kansas universities and community colleges hold an annual “core curricula” meeting each year. For several years, community college faculty have complained that part time teachers they would never approve are nevertheless hired by higher administrators for outreach courses, and this hurts their on-campus reputation. These concerns have had no response from the Board of Regents. Concerns for enforcement of the minimal masters credential and credit hours in field have also been ignored.
Even worse is the decision to allow tech schools to offer academic general education courses in English, mathematics, biology and other fields. Technical schools are staffed with vocational training specialists. It is a duplication-in-program problem and it is a quality-of-teacher problem. When tech schools are given jurisdiction for general education, they have to go out and hire part timers, again without peer faculty evaluation or quality control. Universities know this because they get inquiries for such teachers without regard for masters degrees or hours-in-field.
Who is watching the shop? Not the Board of Regents—they plead they just “coordinate” our community colleges and tech schools.
Kansans deserve a system that connects Kansas students with the best minds available, not discount- store education.
In 1999, with the passage of Senate Bill 345, the Kansas Legislature moved jurisdiction for community colleges and tech schools from the Board of Education to the Board of Regents. Is it time for the Legislature to consider moving them back where they will be governed?