Thursday, March 27, 2014

How For Profit Schools Hurt Their Own Employees (Part 2)

This part in particular is pretty long, so if you read the whole thing, you win internet happiness points from me.  I tried to keep it brief, but it all felt equally important.

Academic Freedom is Non-Existent
All, and I mean ALL decisions regarding curriculum, textbooks, even grading are made on the corporate level.  When I first started, teachers had some freedom to determine student grades, weights, and assignments.  By the time I left, that was expressly forbidden.  At the beginning of each quarter, each instructor would get a packet that included his or her syllabus, quizzes, tests, and project assigments.  Many were even given power point presentations for each lesson.  Deviation from the provided material was not allowed.  Grades were weighted for teachers, which helped make sure that students could pass simply by showing up.  Instructors had very limited freedom to add in material they thought might help students in the real job world, and they certainly weren't allowed to test or given any grades relating to materials not strictly covered in the materials.

Teachers Are Saddled with Out of Date and Faulty Materials
Not only did the standardized curriculum mean that the teachers weren't able to adjust any course material or choose to focus on a particular aspect of teaching that they felt most applied to their students, it also meant that they were forced to use standardized materials that were often, well, sub-standard.  

In some cases, curriculum was being developed as the quarter progressed, meaning the instructors would get their lesson plans and materials on a week to week basis, giving them no time to prepare.  Student labs, which the school pushed hard in its marketing as hands-on learning, more than often didn't work.  It would take half a quarter for students to even be able to attempt their labs, which meant large quantities of information weren't covered.

Teachers had no control over this, but took all of the blame.  If a student complained and the teacher told them that the problems with textbooks, labs, or curriculum were caused by corporate headquarters, as opposed to taking personal responsibility, the teacher would be reprimanded by administration.

Finally, the custom textbooks used by the school (usually made up of watered-down material from "real" textbooks) frequently came late and, when they did arrive, were full of errors and misprintings.  No one on a campus level had control over these issues.  The best we could do was tell students that we had submitted the problem for review by corporate headquarters.  I worked closely with the curriculum, syllabi, and textbooks, and the mistakes and issues submitted were not addressed.

I want to stress that NONE of these issues were the fault of our instructors.  We had, for the most part, an amazing group of instructors (almost all adjunct) who cared about students and, despite the fact that they were paid next to nothing, put in long hours working with our students on both academic and personal issues.

Faculty Are Required to Focus on Hand-Holding Rather Than Teaching
I've mentioned several times that the target demographic at for profit schools is uneducated, unschooled, and poor - students who haven't attended or succeeded at a traditional college for a reason.  Many of the students have been out of a school setting for years.  One of our selling points was a non-traditional approach to helping students succeed by getting involved with them one-on-one.  In theory, this is a great idea, but it didn't play out as well in practice. 

First, instructors were expected to call every student who didn't come to class before they left campus for the night - preferably before the first scheduled break, eating into course instruction time.  At the end of the night, close to 11, instructors had to log every student "contact" (conversation or interaction) into the student reporting system.  This could only be done from the campus, which meant instructors were either required to stay late or end their classes early to finish their reports.  I'll let you guess which happened most frequently.

In addition to calling students who couldn't come to class, instructors were strongly encouraged to give students their cell phone numbers and add them to social media sites such as Facebook.  They were also held responsible for assisting students in resolving personal problems that would keep them from attending class. If a student had childcare issues or transportation issues, it was up to the instructor to help the student find a solution.  If these personal situations weren't resolved, the student could be dropped, and the instructor's success rate and engagement rate (measuring how many students attended class) would suffer.  Again, any of these type of interactions had to be entered on the instructor's own time in the student database system on campus.  

What this wound up meaning is that adjunct instructors with a four hour/week teaching load (for which they are already underpaid) could wind up spending 10-12 hours/week or more per class in actual work time.  They had to prepare material for class, conduct the class, monitor attendance, report their student contacts, grade papers, tutor any students falling behind, and assist students during off hours with personal problems.

Many teachers I was friends with regularly received calls from students late at night or on weekends with problems ranging from being incarcerated to drug abuse issues to actual school-related problems.  While there was no written requirement that they handle these problems, failure to do so could result in low student success or student engagement rates, which put the instructor's job in jeopardy.    

And these are just the requirements for adjunct faculty, most of whom had day jobs in the field.  Our full time program chairs were required to teach up to five classes per week (20 hours of teaching time), maintaining all of the above requirements, while also monitoring attendance and success of every student in their program and consistently providing the school with "re-entries".  In addition to calling any student who missed class, the program chairs called every student who had been absent from any class for more than two consecutive class meetings.  

By the time I quit, I was no longer making re-entry calls, but for several years I helped with these.  I had to call students who had been incarcerated, just to see if they had been released yet.  I had to call students who had left to attend other schools, to try to persuade them that our school was better.  I spent hours calling numbers I knew were disconnected, just to check.  It was a requirement and an enormous time waste, and my job wasn't dependent on its success.  Program Chairs were required to spend hours on this each week, and if they didn't make the numbers, they could lose their jobs.  

We were also required to call every student after any holiday or break in class schedule to remind them to come back to class.  We treated our students like they were absolutely incapable of coming to school on their own, and then were shocked when they were unable to maintain jobs in the real world, where employers don't call you after Christmas to remind you to come back to work.

Rather than spending their time developing curriculum, determining best practices for working with non-traditional students, or delving deeper into subject matter that could help students get jobs, faculty members were forced to hand-hold students through every step of the education process.  It created a school full of entitled students who refused to be held responsible for any aspect of their own education and, at least on my part, faculty who resented the students' constant complaints over issues that we couldn't control or personal problems we had no way of resolving.

How For Profit Schools Hurt Communities

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