When higher education becomes a racket

The following is from the Albany Times-Union.

The State University of New York at Cobleskill is a dropout factory that lures sub-par students to help it meet the bottom line.

At least that’s how it was portrayed in a federal courtroom this week.

newcoby_logoAs recently as 2007, 70 percent of the school’s entering freshmen never made it to their sophomore year, according to recent testimony in a federal whistle-blower trial. That means of roughly 1,200 freshmen, 840 dropped out.

The revelations came in the middle of the two-week trial in which former arts and sciences dean Thomas Hickey accuses the school of actively recruiting and stringing along students it knew would fail or had no hope of completing degrees in order to get their tuition dollars. Hickey said that included many black students; he also claims he was stripped of his dean position after he raised a red flag.

He called retaining failing students, many with mounting loan debt, to fund school operations a massive “fraud,” and his lawyer, Phil Steck, said it is “low-level corruption.”


Evidence shows that Anne Myers, former vice president for academic affairs, wrote a number of emails in which she said she would lower academic standards to keep students enrolled because the school had bills to pay.

In one email about sub-par students, she said: “We are admitting them to make budget.”

There’s nothing wrong with giving young people a second chance at education if they failed to get a good education in high school.   The problem is that:

  • A college degree is seen as a requirement for getting a decent job, so colleges are filled with students who need the credential of a college degree, but aren’t necessarily interested in getting a college education.
  • College tuition is so high that most young people have no choice but to go deeply into debt to pay college tuition.  Enrolling in college becomes a high-stakes gamble on whether your improved career prospects offset your debt burden, and, inevitably, some people lose.
  • Unethical college administrators admit students that they know aren’t capable of doing college work in order to collect their tuition.  When the mission of the college is to maximize revenue, education suffers.

I think American state governments should create a system of community college and state universities that would provide free or affordable college education to anyone who is capable of doing college work.  This is not a utopian dream.  It was reality when I went to college in the 1950s.  Students who need remedial education should be able to get it in community colleges, and they should bed able to get it without mortgaging their futures.

Click on One and done at Cobleskill to read the full Times-Union article.   Hat tip to Rochester Business Journal for the link.

Click on Bad Education for a broader picture of exploitative higher education in n + 1 magazine.

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5 Responses to “When higher education becomes a racket”

  1. Chico Says:

    Reblogged this on The Deliberate Observer.


  2. Thoreau Says:

    I will say this much for the school: It doesn’t bother me as much if 70% leave after a year. They had a chance, it didn’t work out, they moved on.

    It’s the ones who are in the third years and beyond, with no hope of graduating but still racking up debt, that should disgust us.

    Mind you, the right reason to give students a chance is to give them a meaningful chance, not to collect a year of tuition. I’m not defending their attitude toward students. I’m just saying that there are a lot of schools that would string the students along even longer. 70% freshman attrition within a year is, in many ways, comparatively humane.


  3. mark adams Says:

    Predatory lending is a similar scam along with payday loans and the housing market collapse. Let us not forget the purpose of a business is take, I mean make money, including colleges and hospitals.Yikes. The very fringes of what is legal collapses during hard economic times.Send me $20 and I’ll explain more.


  4. Mark Adams Says:

    Thoreau said:
    “It’s the ones who are in the third years and beyond, with no hope of graduating but still racking up debt, that should disgust us.”
    I have a foreign friend who obtained an undergraduate scholarship. He did well and was accepted into an Ivy League professional school because he was a trophy token and the student loan was waiting for him. His wife did the same. They graduated with pride.The diplomas look good on the wall. The couples combined sixteen years of living expenses in a major city, forty semesters of Ivy League tuition created a debt and student loan due of $900,000. In what should be a happy event, they just gave birth to a child which just adds more financial stress. The student loan rate just went up 100%. They said they will never be able to pay it off, unable to declare bankruptcy on student loans unless claiming total disability.

    Many events in life paint us into a corner. I used to think this was due to poor choices. This well educated couple made good choices and selected good careers. Yet they are in financial stress and miserable. What of similar student loans and the impact of recruiting ?


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