There has been an interesting spate of “news” recently regarding the nation’s public community colleges. The timing of articles appearing in March and April seem suspicious as they all follow on the heels of the defeat of California Assembly Bill 515, which would have partially privatized the California community college system.
The bill would have allowed for the creation of an internal governing board within community college districts that could then be authorized to sell college courses based on a students’ ability to pay. This proposed pay-to-play system would have semi-privatized the 112 community colleges. The fact that it did not pass has infuriated the corporate press, eager to see all education privatized.
The corporate articles also come after a wave of opposition to the Student Success Task Force (SSTF) recommendations developed by the California community colleges chancellor’s office, recently announced on January 11, 2012. The recommendations, if adopted, would centralize control of community colleges, impose assessments developed by for-profit corporations and develop target assessments. SSTF also would set up a rationing program for students, giving students the bum’s rush by limiting the amount of time and number of classes students could take at a California community college. SSTF is basically “Race to the Top” for the California community college system with the same onerous privatization and financialization schemes.
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America’s community colleges are in a near-death cycle after decades of budget cuts designed to weaken the public commons. Underfunded, lacking the ability to offer access or classes to students seeking an education and continuously hiking fees and tuition, public community colleges cannot handle the millions of students who wish to receive a reasonably priced education.
Rather than acknowledge the years of economic neglect and the new austerity that have left the public community colleges in a most precarious fiscal position, the recent swarm of corporate news articles instead seems aimed at demonizing public colleges, their faculty, students and staff. This is troubling and also fishy, for at the same time that the public colleges and universities are experiencing an inability to serve students due to years of economic starvation and slash-and-burn budget priorities, the for-profit colleges are ginned up to take over the educational “market” at costs over six to seven times the tuition costs at public institutions. So, while the neglect of the public sphere is devastating to students, the private for-profit subprime colleges can hardly contain themselves now that they have helped foster and create the material conditions for future profits.
Like a beast that smells blood, for-profit colleges such as Kaplan, Corinthian, Educational Management Corporation, the Apollo Group (University of Phoenix), to name just a few, see a hemorrhaging public sector as a business opportunity – a grand crisis just waiting to be exploited. Like private pike in a public lake, the for-profits are poised to take over even more of the $40 billion higher educational “industry.”
In order to soften up the public to the idea of for-profit higher education and a euthanized public sphere, carefully crafted propaganda is an absolute necessity, along with lobbying. The former is done in multitude of ways. The for-profits, like predatory Kaplan, have The Washington Post to disseminate propaganda and bury meaningful coverage.
The Washington Post Poses as a Friend of Education
The first article about community colleges in this category was from The Washington Post and penned by David C. Levy. It was in the opinion section on March 23, 2012. The piece, entitled, “Do college professors work hard enough?” lamented that, generally, teachers in higher education hardly put in a good day’s work, but Levy aimed his vitriol specifically at public community colleges. According to Levy, faculty at community colleges are simply lazy and draw high salaries:
“Though faculty salaries now mirror those of most upper-middle-class Americans working 40 hours for 50 weeks, they continue to pay for teaching time of nine to 15 hours per week for 30 weeks, making possible a month-long winter break, a week off in the spring and a summer vacation from mid-May until September.”
Levy is repeating the same cruel drivel the public has heard for decades; public school teachers are lazy and simply do not want to work, so we should replace them with people who do (at half the cost and without pensions or collective bargaining, of course); teachers get summers off while the rest of us have to work; they also get all the holidays off that we don’t; they really only work half a year; they are protected by onerous collective bargaining agreements and are the beneficiaries of costly pension plans, and so on and so forth. Of course, pundits like Levy don’t mention the long hours teachers spend on weekends, evenings, mornings and throughout the year planning lessons, grading papers, responding to students and otherwise preparing for teaching classes.
Levy knows his argument resonates with some of the less informed members of the public, especially now, due to the ravages felt from the Great Financial Crisis and its papering over by the corporate press. Pitting public workers against private low-paid workers or against people with no work at all is the old divide-and-conquer strategy the 1 percent has used historically. Levy is no exception.
Perhaps the most important thing Levy failed to tell readers is the fact The Washington Post owns for-profit Kaplan University and Kaplan Prep, which are the big revenue producers for the group.
Levy doesn’t stop there, though; he goes on to bemoan that community college teachers are not only lazy, but they are overpaid and he aims his fury at Maryland’s Montgomery College:
“For example, Maryland’s Montgomery College (an excellent two-year community college) reports its average full professor’s salary as $88,000, based on a workload of 15 hours of teaching for 30 weeks. Faculty members are also expected to keep office hours for three hours a week. The faculty handbook states: ‘Teaching and closely related activities are the primary responsibilities of instructional faculty.’ While the handbook suggests other responsibilities such as curriculum development, service on committees and community outreach, notably absent from this list are research and scholarship.”
Arguably, Levy is being subsidized by taxpayer monies – the student loans for tuition that bring in revenue for The Washington Post Group – for writing opinions for the Kaplan/Post. This is the same newspaper that refuses to publish any news about Kaplan’s legal settlements, school closings, Department of Justice investigations, Department of Education investigations, General Accountability Office probes, EEOC law suits for racial discrimination, and the other countless investigations conducted and currently being conducted by various state district attorneys.
Perhaps, not coincidently, Kaplan recently opened a “learning center” near Montgomery College, the subject of Levy’s wrath.
The Public Broadcasting System (PBS) Exploits the Community College Calamity
Just one week after the student protests and beatings by the police at Santa Monica Junior College, on April 10, 2012, PBS weighed in. The protests were over a proposed two-tier system that would have promoted inequality, corporatized the college and raised the cost of classes by 400 percent. PBS reporter, Spencer Michels, writing for PBS online stated:
A hundred or so students made a ruckus recently at Santa Monica College and – unlike many student protests – they achieved their goals. In the face of a noisy demonstration and disapproval from the state, the college administration backed down on tuition increases it had proposed, that would have boosted the cost per unit from $46 to $200 for some popular courses needed for graduation.
But it is a very troubled system. Despite increased demand, enrollment in California is down by 300,000 students. People have been turned away because the funding for community colleges has been cut by the state and there aren’t enough teachers or classrooms to accommodate those who want to attend.
Michels made reference to the SSTF that was formed by some California educators to “reform” the community college system, but Michels never mentioned California Assembly Bill 515 (AB515), which is what the protest was all about.
AB 515 was the California legislative bill responsible for the proposed two-tiered fee system, which would have set up an “access hierarchy” for students based on the ability to pay or, in most cases, borrow. Instead of directing readers to this fact and other budget woes at the college, Michels seemed to defend the community college’s attempt to institutionalize and promote inequality:
“The basic thrust: to get students to announce goals early in their community college careers and to take courses mostly to achieve those goals. The task force and now the administration of the college system want to move students along as fast as practicable, so they will get their associate’s degrees or certificates and can get a job or transfer to a four-year college and not take up space for others who want to attend classes.”
This was not the basic thrust at all. The “basic thrust” of the bill was to have the public college compete with for-profit colleges by setting up a misguided pay-for-play system using a new governing board that would then sell classes to students based on their ability to pay. Yet, there was no mention of this material fact in the article.
What PBS, like the Post, failed to report was that The Washington Post executive Boisfeuillet (Bo) Jones Jr. became president and CEO of MacNeil/Lehrer Productions back at the end of 2011. Jones now produces the “PBS Newshour.” Jones was the chairman of The Washington Post for three decades (“Longtime Washington Post exec Bo Jones to MacNeil/Lehrer,” October 27, 2011). They also fail to report that PBS’ nightly business report was purchased by Atalaya Capital Management, the owner of Washington City Paper, which charges $150 for prostitution ads.
All of this suggests that “Newshour” was never a public news program in the first place. The line between the corporate world of media and the so-called public news hour is not blurry; it is virtually nonexistent.
Koch-Funded “Tollbooth” Economists Inveigh Against Public Community Colleges
Mark Schneider, a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and vice president at the American Institutes for Research (AIR) (both right-wing, Koch-brother-funded think tanks along with Lu Michelle Yin, an economist and researcher at the American Institutes for Research, were the next to weigh in on the community college tragedy.
Writing for The Los Angeles Times on April 12, 2012, Schneider and Yin argued that community colleges simply aren’t graduating the bulk of their students and they stated this was problematic as taxpayers are left holding the bag. The problem:
“Community colleges are subsidized through direct state and local government appropriations and through student grant programs. Every student who drops out represents an investment loss by the taxpayers in that student’s uncompleted education.”
Both authors pose tepid solutions that, not surprisingly, do nothing to raise revenues for public institutions. That would be anathema to their reactionary positions. Instead, they write what one would expect reactionaries to write:
“… for-profit institutions embody a host of ideas that community colleges should emulate. Despite being the subject of negative scrutiny over the last year or so, many for-profit colleges are leading the way in developing innovative online learning platforms and redefining an approach to curriculum development and faculty training to encourage uniformity in instruction across multiple sites and instructors.”
Never mind the fact that those for-profit institutions of higher predation are funded by the very same “direct state and local government appropriations” Schneider and Yin decry. Never mind the fact that the for-profit colleges also offer up to taxpayers untold levels of fraud, sucking up billions in public monies illegally while graduation rates are as low as 6 percent; never mind the history of for-profit college waste.
Nor did the authors mention the enormous CEO pay and bonuses; nor the onerous student debt ratios at the for-profits. And the Koch-funded authors don’t say a word about the high cost of for-profit tuition, the use of taxpayer funds (Title IV) for million dollar out-of-court settlements, lobbying the coin-operated politicians and the political operatives who serve them so well, not to mention the subprime curriculum and lifeless educational opportunities these corporate companies sell as a “product.”
It seems a well-orchestrated pack of faux reporters and faux news organizations have been busy impregnating the public’s mind with false news and disinformation. We shouldn’t be surprised. In fact, if you think the articles read like a brochure for a product or sound like an infomercial for for-profit colleges you wouldn’t be far off.
In a hostile educational environment of enterprising hustlers, disappearing classes at public colleges, high fees and tuition, mounting student debt, limited access for admission and a deracinated faculty and staff, the for-profit colleges and their sophistic bedfellows are circling the wagons around the last vestiges of public education like so many vultures.
In a world of affluent depravity, these for-profit, drive-by colleges are capitalizing on disastrous economic crises they and their cohorts helped to shepherd and create. Along with other privatizers bent on profits before people, they are the engineers of a new Darwinist “tollbooth” economy and the parasitic corporate culture that accompanies it. The fact that these institutions employ sophistic propagandists to confuse and otherwise dupe the public should be of no surprise, and testifies to why we need an educated public citizenry that can think critically.