Having closed academic programs and laid off several thousand employees, shucked off almost all graduate student support, and inflicted six months’ of furloughing on faculty and staff, the powers that be in Arizona higher education have decided it’s time to “improve” the universities.
Their idea of improvement? Privatize entire colleges. Bloat enrollments still further. Eliminate small and politically unpopular programs. Expand online course offerings by a factor of nine. Graduate still more students who can barely spell their own names.
Noting that, at 25.3 percent, Arizona’s ratio of college graduates among adults 25 and older compares dismally with the nationwide figure of 27.5 percent, the Board of Regents proposes to tie university funding to each institution’s number of bachelor’s degree graduates. The more ignoramuses you turn out, the greater your share of state funding!
Remember, we’re already graduating seniors who don’t know what a preposition is, who think Wisconsin is a Rocky Mountain state, and who believe that World War I happened in the 19th century. Not that these minor shortcomings should affect your ability to flip burgers and stock the shelves at Walmart…
Arizona State University, with almost 70,500 students, is a hectic, overcrowded zoo. Some young Arizonans choose to attend the community colleges as long as they can specifically because they perceive such an environment is counterproductive to real learning. ASU proposes to increase its brick-and-mortar enrollment by 15,000, create a three-year “college lite” program with a limited choice of majors and lower tuition, and to add 27,000 students to its online programs.
Think of that. We’re talking about 112,000 students plus an unknown number in the college lite program, all riding the conveyer belt through a single learning factory’s assembly line.
You know, there’s a reason Arizona’s graduation rate is so low. Actually, one can readily find two reasons.
First, the poverty rate in this state is sky-high. Overall, 24.2 percent of Arizona children lack access to enough safe and nutritious food to ensure an active, healthy life. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 21.2 percent of Arizonans live in poverty, compared to 14.3 percent nationwide. Poverty levels are even more extreme on the reservations: in Apache County, 29.8 percent of the population lives in “critical” poverty; in Graham County, the rate is 22.3 percent; in Navajo County, 23.7 percent. When you’re wondering where your next meal is coming from, matters like literacy and education don’t rate very high among your concerns.
And second, thanks to a long history of neglect, legislative short-sightedness, and underfunding, Arizona’s educational system ranks at the bottom in terms of quality, nationwide. Depending on how you look at it, our K-12 system is either 46th in the nation or 50th.
Now the Board of Regents proposes that our colleges and universities be funded according the number of ill-prepared kids they can push through four years of education lite: i.e., by the number of bogus bachelor’s degrees they can hand out.
They propose to privatize the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, one of the very few facets of our higher education system that has managed to achieve a decent reputation, 38th among the nation’s law schools. Its tuition is already $19,225 a year for in-state students and $32,619 a year for out-of state students, exclusive of an estimated $10,660 for room and board. This will cut off professional training in the law to even more of our impoverished citizens, as tuition will rise into the stratosphere. Phoenix already has a proprietary law school, proudly ensconced in its artificially gentrified downtown, and so the new owners will have to compete with an outfit that provides night-school and online law degrees. We’ve already seen the quality of education in proprietary schools; this strategy will bring that level of excellence to the Sandra Day O’Connor school.
Thirty thousand students will float through online programs (the university already has 3,000 people in online programs). I’ve been teaching courses online for a long time; after several years of online teaching at ASU, last summer the community college district certified me as an instructor of its online courses. Lemme tell you something: a good online course can’t hold a candle to a good face-to-face course.
Good learning requires good mentoring. It is based in discourse. That would mean conversation, observation, discussion, understanding. These things exist only in altered form in the online environment.
An online course is to learning as Facebook is to friendship.
Online courses are correspondence courses, barely adequate to the task of reading a textbook and taking a test on it. They do not suffice for studies that require lab experiences or field research, for learning that requires people to develop the ability to reason and argue on their feet, for thoughtful give-and-take.
Certain academic disciplines are, not surprisingly given the atavistic climate, politically toxic. Ethnic studies and women’s studies rank high among these. State Superintendent of Education Tom Horne, a crass pol of the demagogic kind, wrote a legislative bill that his fellow fruitcakes passed, banning ethnic studies classes in Arizona high schools because, said he, they promote the overthrow of the U.S. government.
I just know you think I’m kidding. Who would believe such a story if they were sober?
At any rate, the result of this performance—designed to pander to the widespread bigotry in the mob mentality here—ethnic and women’s studies faculty in the universities watched their programs run right down the drain. The sociology department at ASU, which had already been all but shut down (full of socialists, you understand…you can tell by the “socio” part, and because it’s housed in the school of “liberal” arts), has no place for these idled tenure-track and tenured faculty. So…quite a few junior and even senior faculty are wondering how much longer they’ll have jobs in the New American University.
You think I’m kidding about that socialist business, don’t you?
No. Not at all. It’s our version of reality.
Words fail me.