Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Faculty at For-Profits Allege Constant Pressure to Keep Students Enrolled

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that faculty at for-profits colleges are under constant pressure to keep students enrolled.

Faculty report that they were pressured to ignore plagiarism and inflate grades to keep enrollments high and federal funds, the source of up to 90% of for-profit college revenues, flowing. Not surprisingly Corinthian College's trade school, Everest College, and the Educational Development Management Corporation's (EDMC) Art Institutes are two of the diploma mills whose practices are scrutinized in this front page expose. Both recently opened operations in Milwaukee.

Kelly Field writes:

In interviews with The Chronicle and lawsuits filed around the country, more than a dozen current and former professors from six of the seven largest publicly traded education companies say they were leaned on to dumb down courses, offer lengthy extensions, and change failing grades. They describe a system in which expectations are low, cheating is tolerated, and faculty are under tremendous pressure to keep students enrolled.

"We were supposed to keep students in the classroom by any means necessary," says Luccia Rogers, a former professor at Career Education Corporation's Collins College, who says the college fudged grades and forgave repeated plagiarism—claims that the college denies. "It was all about keeping people in the seats to keep the federal money coming in."

In interviews with The Chronicle, current and former professors from a wide range of for-profit colleges said they were pressured­—and in some cases ordered—to offer extensions, forgive plagiarism, and inflate grades to keep students enrolled and the federal aid flowing.

Kate M. Burkes, who has taught online courses for the University of Phoenix, said plagiarism is widespread at the college. She said she reported one student for plagiarism seven times.

Faculty complaints about grade changes are widespread in the for-profit sector. In recent years, faculty members from several for-profit colleges have filed lawsuits alleging that they had been fired after reporting altered grades or refusing to raise grades. Two such lawsuits are pending against ITT Educational Services, which paid $725,000 to California in 2005 to reimburse the state for Cal Grants awarded to academically ineligible students. The payment settled the state's portion of a lawsuit filed by two former employees that accused the company of falsifying grades to qualify the students for the grants, a claim the company denied.

At some for-profit companies, the link between faculty compensation and retention is explicit. The American Public University System pays adjunct faculty members by the student rather than the course, offering $130 per student in undergraduate courses and $150 per student in graduate courses. But students must complete 60 percent of the class for the faculty member to receive the full amount; if a student drops the course before then, the professor gets only 45 percent of the fee, or $58.50 for an undergraduate. Full-time faculty, which make up a quarter of the total, receive a salary.

At Everest College Phoenix online, 15 percent of a professor's evaluation is based on his or her efforts to track down absent and at-risk students to offer "assistance and encouragement."

Some campuses of Heald College base 20 percent of each faculty evaluation on "student outcomes," a category that takes into account student surveys as well as retention and pass rates. The target rate for each is 85 percent, according to Ayn Embar-Seddon O'Reilly, an instructor who has taught online courses for both Everest College Phoenix and Heald. She says professors with high retention and pass rates are rewarded with pay raises and additional classes.

Both colleges are owned by Corinthian Colleges Inc, which enrolls 102,000 students at 120 campuses in the United States and Canada.

The entire expose is linked here.

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