Crony College Capitalism, Chicago-Style

There is (and has been for quite a while) a move afoot to cronyize colleges -- that is, reward the key segments of the college industry that vote and contribute money the "right" way (which is actually the left or politically correct way!), and punish those whom the cronies of the administration in power wish to punish -- most especially, for-profit colleges.

This also occurs at the state level, of course.  A choice example of this is in fact Illinois, the state that spawned our current corrupt neo-socialist regime.  Two reports, both from Inside Higher Ed, highlight the problem, and a third piece (from the WSJ) elaborates some of its consequences.

The first report is that the Illinois attorney is going to sue the for-profit college chain Westwood College.  Westwood has four campuses in Chicago alone, and campuses as well all across the country.

The suit charges that Westwood misled students into enrolling in its criminal justice program, when in fact the degree they receive would qualify them for a law-enforcement career in Illinois -- and Illinois state requires police to be graduates of legally accredited colleges (which Westwood is not).  The AG further accuses Westwood of charging too much, noting that a CJ degree at Westwood costs over $71,600, while at the accredited non-profit College of DuPage, it only costs about $12,700.

But the Illinois AG is himself misleading people.  First, he doesn't note that Westwood CJ grads can get jobs in private law enforcement, or in public law enforcement elsewhere.  Second, he fails to point out that the College of DuPage is publicly supported, meaning that tax dollars flow into the system.  So it is deceptive to claim that students pay only $12,700 -- that doesn't include what the taxpayers have to kick in.

It is funny that AGs and congressional panels are investigating only for-profit colleges for overcharging for worthless degrees.  These investigators never want to investigate public and non-profit private colleges to find whether their grads fail to get jobs for which their degrees were necessary, run up needless tuition loan debts, or fail to graduate at a decent rate.  There is a lot of interesting stuff they could uncover.  But then, those latter colleges are bastions of administration support, aren't they?

The second story bears on this point.

The report gives us the amazing news that the graduation rate at Chicago's City Colleges (i.e., public community colleges) is pathetically low.  In fact, of full-time students in the Chicago City College system attending for the first time, only a laughable 7% graduate -- in three years!  Remember, an Associate of Arts degree can easily be gotten in two years. (The report notes that this is only about one third of the national average of 22% -- itself a major scandal).  Fifty-four percent of the students drop out in the first six months alone.  If you add in part-time students, the graduation is slightly better -- at 8%.  If you go out to six years -- that is, three times the length of time needed for a full-timer to get an AA degree -- the grad rate is still a miserable 13%.  And only 16% ever transfer to four-year colleges.

This is, by the bye, consistent with California's experience.  We, too, have a wretched rate of retention and graduation at our massive community college system (the biggest in the nation).  (Indeed, even America's four-year colleges are plagued with retention and graduation problems.)

Chicago's new mayor, Rahm Emanuel -- who fancies himself a reformer -- said recently to Cheryl Hyman, chancellor of the City College system, "You cannot continue with a 7% graduation rate.  We owe the taxpayers -- and most importantly the students -- a better community college system."

Yeah -- no kidding!

Hyman, to her credit, is trying to address the problem.  She required six out of the seven college presidents to reapply for their jobs, and she rehired only one.  She then hired from outside the system.  And she wrote into the job description for City College president metrics for achieving goals -- increased transfer rates, more credentials earned, improved remediation performance, and "better success numbers" (whatever that means).

Predictable opposition has come from the teachers.  One professor, Polly Hoover, Faculty Council president, whined childishly, "We're the enemy. That's the way we feel. We have been represented as the problem."

Sorry, Polly -- but teacher unions and professor guilds are indeed the chief enemies of school reform.

Of course, the nostrums that Mayor Emanuel and Chancellor Hyman are bringing to bear will likely fail, for they involve increasing full-time teachers and student advisers -- i.e., more staff -- as well as opening...wellness centers!  Yes, every college will soon have a wellness center.  This will doubtless increase the graduation rate dramatically.  Count on it!

Completely unmentioned in these pieces is the central role our incredibly dysfunctional K-12 school system plays in causing the many problems in our post-secondary educational system.  In particular, students who never learn basic skills at the time when they should can never keep up with college level work -- not even the very low-level college work found in the average public community college.

One last article -- this one from the WSJ -- points out an unintended (though absolutely predictable) consequence of the failure of the American educational system.  It reports that American companies are shifting their R&D labs to Asia because of the increasing dearth of scientific talent here and the explosive growth of it there.

The story notes that companies such as 3M, Caterpillar, and GE are expanding or moving operations overseas, especially to China, because of the swelling mass of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) students there.  As George Buckley, CEO of 3M, ruefully puts it, his company is expanding its R&D facilities in Asia "... in preparation for a world where the West is no longer the dominant manufacturing power. Given the moribund interest in science in the U.S., this is strategically very important."  3M historically has had one of the largest R&D budgets in the world, so this is dismal news, indeed.

The piece notes that from 2004 through 2009, 85% of the growth in R&D jobs by American companies occurred abroad.  During that period, the percentage of foreign R&D workers employed by American firms went from 16% to 27% of all such workers.  This is no surprise, given that currently, 56% of the engineering degrees were awarded in Asia, compared to 4% here.  And many our engineering grads are from abroad: in 2009, more than half (i.e., 57%) of U.S. Ph.D.s in engineering were awarded to foreign nationals, mainly Asian.  (The piece doesn't note that under our crazily restrictive immigration system, most of these great students are forced to return home rather than become citizens here.)

This dearth of indigenous talent is doubtless a big part of the reason why the American share of high-tech manufacturing (aerospace, computers, telecommunications, measuring equipment, medical devices, pharmaceuticals, and so on) has dropped 28% since 2000.  And while our R&D spending is still the highest in the world (at $400 billion), Asian spending ($399 billion last year) will soon blow by us like a missile.

No problems here.  Keep moving.

Philosopher Gary Jason is a senior editor of Liberty, and author of Dangerous Thoughts (available through and Amazon).

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