Archives for category: Higher Education

A group of investors with close ties to the Obama administration have taken control of the University of Phoenix and other for-profit “universities.”

“The troubled for-profit education company that owns the giant University of Phoenix agreed on Monday to be bought for $1.1 billion by a group of investors that includes a private equity firm with close ties to the Obama administration.

“The university and its owner, the Apollo Education Group, have been subject to a series of state and federal investigations into allegations of shady recruiting, deceptive advertising and questionable financial aid practices.

“In recent years, many for-profit educational institutions that have received billions of dollars in federal aid, including the University of Phoenix, have been pummeled by criticisms that they preyed upon veterans and low-income students, saddling them with outsize student loan debt and subpar instruction.

“Moreover, at many of these schools, enrollment has been falling and profits shrinking, casting doubt on the future health of the industry.

“The investors in the Apollo Education Group include the Chicago-based investment firm Vistria Group, the Phoenix-based Najafi Companies, and funds affiliated with Apollo Global Management, which is not connected to the Apollo Education Group….

“Vistria’s founder is Marty Nesbitt, one of President Obama’s closest friends and the chairman of the Obama Foundation. Mr. Nesbitt is also a longtime business partner of Penny Pritzker, the commerce secretary.

“A Vistria partner and its chief operating officer, Tony Miller, was deputy secretary of the United States Department of Education between 2009 and 2013. He has been tapped to become the new chairman of Apollo Education Group in August, when the deal is scheduled to be completed.”

If you watched the video of the congressional panel quizzing John King about the ethical “lapses” of Chief Information Officer Danny Harris, you may recall that King said that deputy secretary Miller had cleared Harris.

Now we understand why the for-profit higher education industry has gotten a free pass.

Dr. Barbara Gellman-Danley, president of the the accrediting agency, the Higher Learning Commission, wrote to the governor and state legislative leaders in Illinois and warned them that every public college and university in the state may be required to close because of the legislature’s failure to act on the budget. 


She wrote:



I am writing on behalf of the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), the regional accrediting agency for nineteen states, including Illinois. HLC is recognized by the United States Department of Education to assure quality in higher education and to serve as the gatekeeper to federal financial aid for students in our region.


As your role in Illinois includes consequential decisions regarding the governance and funding for colleges and universities, I am notifying you of the potential accreditation outcomes that may result from not approving a budget that will provide funding to Illinois colleges and universities and their students.


A criterion for accreditation is demonstration of the availability of financial, physical, and human resources necessary to provide quality higher education. HLC is aware that the colleges and universities in Illinois may need to suspend operations because financial resources from the state are not available. HLC is obligated to move swiftly to protect Illinois students and to ensure the quality of the colleges and universities they attend.


Following federal regulations, HLC has notified all Illinois colleges and universities that if they believe they will have to suspend operations or close in the next several months, they must provide HLC with a plan for how students can continue at another college or university to avoid eliminating their access to higher education. For students to continue at another institution, it could mean having to transfer to private universities or leave the state. It is also probable some students may drop out of college. The plan also must explain how students will be informed about this urgent situation, including how they access transcripts if operations have been suspended due to lack of state funding.


Will Illinois’ elected officials act responsibility to protect public higher education in their state?



Peter Greene reports a sad story about a small university in Maryland. The president, recruited from the financial sector, was given a goal: raise retention rates. He realized that the best tactic was to kick out 20-25 of the likeliest not to succeed early in the semester. He called the students “bunnies” and asked a faculty committee to draw up a list so he could “drown the bunnies.” 
What really made him and the Board of Trustees mad was that the student newspaper revealed the plan. Then the faculty refused to assemble a list of students to kick out. 
This is an illustration of Capbell’s Law at work. The goal (raising the graduation rate) became more important than the mission (educating students). 

Jonathan Lovell is a professor of English at San Jose State University in California. In this delightful post, he portrays his development as a writing teacher and how he learned to teach without teaching. It is beautifully illustrated (using graphics to illuminate the text). And if you read it, you will see a teacher at work, learning and growing and refining his craft. 

Margaret Spellings, who will assume the presidency of the University of North Carolina system in March, will begin with a report from the Boston Consulting Group. The management consultants are known for their dedication to privatization and profit. They were advisors in the project that led to the elimination of public schools and teachers’ unions inNew Orleans. Spellings served as their education advisor after her stint as Secretary of Education in the administration of George W. Bush. In that administration, she was one of the architects of No Child Left Behind.


Although Spellings lacks any scholarly credentials (she received a bachelor’s degree at the University of Houston), she should be an effective fundraiser among wealthy conservative benefactors. Since ideological donors often give with strings attached, UNC faculty will have to be wary.


The faculty is not at all pleased. They know what is coming down the pike: NCLB at UNC, data-driven management, corporate reform, cost-cutting, job training. Will academic freedom be respected? Stay tuned.

This is a paradox. New federal data show that the four-year high school graduation rate is up to 82%. But at the same time, college-going rates are down.

The high school graduation rate is at a historic high. The state with the highest graduation rate is Iowa, at 91%. The jurisdiction with the lowest graduation rate is the District of Columbia, at 61%.

The 82% rate understates the proportion of students who receive a high school diploma. Reformers decided a few years ago to pay attention only to the four-year rate, without exception. This, students who graduate in August instead of May or June are not counted. Students who took five or even six years to get their degree are not counted. When the U.S. Census Bureau counts the percentage of high school graduates in the age range of 18-24, the numbers are much higher for every group because the U.S. Department of Education’s methodology excludes anyone who required more than four years to graduate.

Jon Marcus writes in “The Hechinger Report” about the decline in college-going rates, especially in community colleges and for-profit “universities.”

He writes:

“Enrollments at colleges and universities dropped for the eighth semester in a row this fall, down nearly 2 percent below what they were last fall, new figures show.

“The number of students over 24 continued to decline sharply—more than 4 percent—according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, which tracks this. Enrollment at four-year for-profit institutions plunged by nearly 14 percent.

“U.S. university and college enrollment has fallen 6 percent in the last four years….

“In all, U.S. university and college enrollment has fallen 6 percent in the last four years, even as policymakers push to increase the proportion of the population with degrees.”

Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress at the City University of Néw York, reports that Givernor Cuomo vetoed an increase for CUNY. This affects the education of the city’s neediest students.

Dear Members,

We got the news at midnight last night that Governor Cuomo vetoed the Maintenance of Effort bill. We had been receiving signals for more than a month that there would be a veto, but we continued to press till the final night.

Governor Cuomo’s veto represents a decision not to invest in sustaining top-quality college education for the working people, the poor and the people of color in New York. His position is now absolutely clear.

Cuomo had the chance with this bill to take an action that had huge bipartisan support and that would have resonated not only in New York City but across the state. He deliberately refused that chance, despite his repeated claims of being a leader in progressive policy. He cannot be a progressive while systematically withholding funds from CUNY.

No doubt Cuomo ‘s defense–which will soon appear in the veto message–will be that the bill would take spending over the 2% cap he has imposed on any increases. But what is the justification for the 2% cap? Nothing. With State revenues up by 5.6% this year, there is no fiscal justification for imposing such a cap. It is simply austerity politics: the decision to transfer wealth from the many to the few and call it “necessity.” And like everything else in this country, austerity policy cannot be separated from the issue of race.

Austerity policy means that we in the faculty and staff have been subsidizing New York State as our salaries have not kept up with inflation, and that students have been forced to facilitate the State’s disinvestment in their education as they pay an ever-greater share of the costs. It means that CUNY and SUNY are prevented from making enhancements desperately needed after decades of fiscal starvation, and that endless tuition increases are demanded just to keep the universities afloat.

You, as PSC members, did an exceptional job of supporting this bill. The bill would not have been passed and sent to the Governor without our collective work. You mobilized to get thousands of messages from members, first to the Legislature and then to the Governor. You collected 40,000 postcards on the MOE from students. You traveled to Albany and organized here in the city.

And the bill’s sponsors, Assembly Member Deborah Glick and Senator Kenneth La Valle, deserve our thanks. They went beyond sponsorship to tenacious support.

The union’s work is not wasted. We have made it clear to Albany that the issue of CUNY funding has deep support and that it will not go away. We will not be stopped by one veto. The PSC already has in place our response to the veto and the next steps in our campaign. The fight will continue–and escalate.

With enough depth among our own membership and breadth among our allies, it is a fight we can win.

Barbara Bowen
President, Professional Staff Congress/CUNY

Dozens of protestors swarmed the meeting of the University of North Carolina governing board, protesting the appointment of former Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings as president of the UNC system.


“The protesters — students, faculty, staff and others within the UNC community — come from a number of organizations, including the Faculty Forward Network, Scholars for North Carolina’s Future, UnKoch My Campus, the UNC Board of Governors Democracy Coalition, Greenpeace USA, Ignite NC and Progress NC.


“Leaflets passed out by the protesters said they want the Spellings appointment to be rescinded and for the school’s governing body to have a transparent process to find a replacement, a reference to what many said was a secretive process in the selection of Spellings. She was tapped last October to run the system of 16 universities, with 222,000 students, and awarded a $775,000 base salary for each of five years in a contract that also gives her deferred compensation of $77,500 annually and potential performance bonuses, and use of a presidential home.”



State Senator Chris Larson regularly reports to his constituents. This newsletter describes the latest assaults on Wisconsin’s public institutions and traditions by Governor Scott Walker and his allies.

“Many of you have contacted me regarding your support for investing in education in Wisconsin. Wisconsinites take great pride in supporting their local neighborhood schools. Underinvesting in education causes our schools, teachers, and — most importantly — our students to struggle. This is worrisome and will likely have costly consequences for generations to come. Like many of you, I believe we need to get Wisconsin back on track by ensuring our future leaders have equal access to quality education.

“For-Profit Voucher Schools Continue to Be Unaccountable, Take Away Resources from Traditional Neighborhood Schools

“Communities across Wisconsin are starting to see the negative consequences of intentionally disinvesting in our traditional neighborhood schools and expanding unaccountable, for-profit voucher schools. Further, the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) recently published new figures on enrollment, which showed that the number of students receiving public money to attend private schools doubled from the previous school year and is now over 2,500. Further, 75% of students receiving public money for private school have already been attending a private school prior to being publicly subsidized. This expansion has resulted in an overall increase of state expenditures on vouchers to $18.3 million during the 2015-2016 school year. In the 7th Senate District alone (excluding the city of Milwaukee), we have seen $171,860 diverted away from our public schools and funneled into private institutions. This weakens our school districts and limits the resources they have to educate our children. I have been, and will continue to be, a vocal opponent of the voucher program because of the direct harm they do to our local public schools.

“Restricting Communities from Investing in Students

“Over the past few years, Republicans in control of the Legislature have been relentless in their attacks on local control. This session, legislative Republicans introduced a bill that strips away the ability of local communities to invest in education at the local level. Assembly Bill 481 would, in certain instances, take away the right for a school district to bring funding proposals to a referendum. With fewer state resources going to school districts, the referendum process is more crucial than ever. In fact, last April, 76% of all school referendums appearing on the ballot statewide passed because our communities recognize that we cannot continue to underfund our children’s future. Taking this tool away from neighborhoods is not only an infringement of local control but could have severe impacts on cash-strapped schools.

“Community Schools: A New Vision for Education

Access to quality public education is a right that every child deserves and is enshrined in our state constitution. However, the Republican majority in our state continues to rollback local control and intentionally underinvest in our public schools, putting our children at risk. The community school legislation that I introduced with Representative Barnes addresses the complex range of factors that lead to underachievement, while strengthening local communities in the process. This forward-thinking legislation will help guarantee that our children, as well as future generations, have the necessary support to succeed year-round.

“We need to make our schools a haven, not only for educational achievement, but for all aspects of our children’s lives. A multitude of studies have shown that if a child comes to school sick, hungry, homeless, or afraid for their safety they cannot learn. We can address these problems by restructuring the way we look at education in our state.

“Higher Education

“Since the passage of the last Walker budget, our university system is having to try to find ways to deal with the $250 million cut they have been faced with. This requires flexibility and innovation on the part of administrators, as well as student leaders, and I have been proud to see the cooperation throughout the UW System. I am continuing to meet with administrators from UW-Milwaukee, as well as various technical colleges, in an effort to work together to address their funding and resource concerns.

“In a recent visit to the UW-Milwaukee, I had the opportunity to see the amazing work they are doing, despite the decrease in state investment. The new Innovation Campus in Wauwatosa is up and running, creating a unique opportunity for graduate students to work with industry professionals. The new campus houses a variety of facilities that are researching topics from early, portable Ebola detection to mobility options for neighbors with disabilities. With nationally renowned professors and industry leaders working in the lab with students it is promising to see the real-life work experience students are getting. Projects like the Innovation Campus are a direct result of the dedication of university staff and students to higher education; let us all work together to ensure their continued success.”

Faculty members, staff, and students are unhappy with the selection of Margaret Spellings as the new president of the University of North Carolina. Her experience as Secretary of Education for President George W. Bush propelled her into this position.

In this article, two faculty  members–Altha Cravey,  associate professor of geography at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Robert Siegel, associate professor of English at East Carolina University–challenge Spellings’ lucrative association in recent years with predatory for-profit institutions and a debt-collection agency. They believe that her background does not fit the needs of a world-class institution that seeks to provide high quality at relatively low costs for students.

They write:

UNC needs a president who will help the university system continue to give students the best education possible while avoiding unnecessary tuition hikes. Unfortunately, Spellings’ background of supporting for-profit colleges who prey on students – and then profiting off those same students when they default on their loans – suggests that she and the Board of Governors have very distinct priorities.

Spellings made over $330,000 working for the Apollo Group, the parent company of University of Phoenix, a for-profit online college that has been widely criticized for taking advantage of its students and delivering poor results. Although federal education funds account for nearly 90 percent of the company’s revenue, graduation rates were as low as 4 percent under Spellings’ tenure.


The Apollo Group’s corporate goals are to increase shareholders’ profits by lowering standards and raising admission and fees. The company has even come under fire for targeting veterans to obtain G.I. Bill funding. After a federal investigation into the Apollo Group’s practices, the for-profit company laid off 600 workers and closed 115 “campuses” – while its founder received a $5 million “retirement bonus.”

The investigation found that students who attend for-profit colleges end up defaulting on their student loans at nearly three times the rate of students who attended public and nonprofit schools. As a result, nearly half of all student loan defaults nationwide are from students who attended for-profit colleges.

That’s why it is particularly troubling that Spellings also served as board chair of the Ceannate Corporation, a student loan collection agency. Student loan debt now accounts for the highest percentage of consumer debt, and despite widespread calls to reform the student loan industry, Spellings and the Ceannate Corporation have simply profited off of it….

Spellings’ defense of for-profit colleges is perhaps just as disturbing as the predatory practices these institutions use to fleece students. “(For-profit colleges) invented higher education in a way that was more convenient for working adults, and many in traditional higher education have responded,” she told the Board of Governors. “The reason I did it was because I learned a lot about how we can serve our students and think of them as customers in providing a product in convenient ways for them.”

In another article, Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, a professor of history at Yale University who holds UNC degrees, cites statements that Spellings has made recently and in the past that cast doubt on her willingness to welcome gay students and faculty on campus. Gilmore insists that Spellings must publicly accept UNC’s non-discrimination policy  or resign.

Spellings seems unwilling to do that. When asked at the news conference about her past comments regarding gay citizens, she responded, “I’m not going to comment on those lifestyles.” Then she explained her demand as secretary of education that PBS refund federal money spent on the animated program “Buster the Bunny” because it included four gay characters among many. Her opposition, she said, was “a matter of how we use taxpayer dollars.”

Part of her job as president of UNC will be to “use taxpayer dollars” to foster a welcoming environment and combat discrimination based on sexual orientation. Moreover, she actually has the responsibility to “comment on those lifestyles” by demonstratively welcoming them to UNC.




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