Our University: Fiscal Integrity

Second in a series on integrity.

This is not about double dipping as was reported last week in the Seattle Times; lavish trips to distant lands under the guise of recruiting additional students; fancy offices and luxury cars; incessantly increasing tuition and fees; or uncontrolled pensions and contracts for the friends of the institution.

Too easy.

This is about a lack of integrity far more malignant and complex eating away at U.S. public higher education.

The mortgage industry fell apart because political leadership wanted to make homes available to everyone in America, regardless of the borrower’s predicted ability to repay a loan.   

Only a misguided integrity-less sense of entitlement could allow such a course of events.

Political leadership helped the process by setting up agencies that would guarantee poorly conceived loans from economic missionaries committed to giving everything to anyone who wanted it.  Lenders and borrowers were both happy for the responsibility-less environment created by people trying to please people. 

In the absence of fiscal integrity universities are doing likewise by selling opportunity to those who have not earned the right to pursue it.

When students are able to secure a loan for an education without having demonstrated that they have the determination or ability – and I can attest that a small measure of either will carry the typical student a long way – we have lied to them.

With a high school record like this: sub 20 score on the ACT, lower-quarter of the class, and poor college preparatory course selection, the odds are less than 50-50 that the students with these earned credentials will continue into the sophomore year.

They will flunk out, with a bundle of unpaid bills.

Unfortunately, for nearly 75% of these unprepared, undedicated, property-right pursuing students, they will leave with enough debt to have financed a car, which could carry them to gainful employment, community college, or some other more productive way to spend limited resources and time.

But universities accept such students without warning that the students’ “Credit Score” is very low and they are poor risks for a student loan.

Universities could give Academic Success Probabilities, based on statistics and history.

Community colleges offer college preparation opportunities, and the University of Arizona found, in a recent study, that students who completed associate’s degrees in community colleges graduated at a higher rate than did the students who were admitted straight away at high school graduation.

This doesn’t say much for the ability of college admissions offices to predict success.

Here is a five-option multiple choice question that you will not see on a civics exam:

Question One:  Universities admit students who, by their past performance, show a less than 50-50 chance of completing their freshman year and continuing into the sophomore year, and through an admission letter, provide students authority to borrow money with no promise of helping them pay it back should they be unsuccessful.  Moreover, unlike a house, a student loan survives bankruptcy forever.  It never goes away.

Why do universities do this?

a. Because the misguided short-sighted notion that enrollments are more important than quality or integrity rules.

b. Because the university never has to assume responsibility for high risk loans to students.

c. Because of the pervasive pressure to never really reduce costs.

d. Because the university has a heart for the underdog, or lacks the courage to tell anyone no, even in the face of facts, science and reason. 

e. All of the above.

Universities that lack fiscal integrity have less than a 50-50 chance of attaining intellectual integrity, but will falsely perpetuate hope and heavy debt on young people who are their prey.

8 thoughts on “Our University: Fiscal Integrity

  1. In the case of SIUC we are chasing after MAP grants. I see no hope of us getting real about who can benefit from a university education. The State needs to restrict MAP grants to high performing low incoming students. These students may also need help getting acclimated to university life, but the investment will pay off for them and for society.

    I’d be a little leery advising students to start at a C.C. While this is a good option for some the intensity of being in a true university environment is important for several reasons, not the least of which is the synergy created by bringing many smart, creative, hard working young people together in one place.

    If you have not read Beyond College for All: Career Paths for the Forgotten Half by James E. Rosenbaum, I highly recommend it. He has a newer book on community colleges that also looks interesting although I haven’t read it yet.

  2. I agree that SIUC is chasing MAP grants, but we have certainly demonstrated the “lack of integrity” that has been identified in this piece. Over the last 20 years, 2 out of 3 undergraduates at SIUC have not earned a degree within 6 years. Our 6yr graduation rate has hovered around 40% since 1987. It seems that raising admissions standards is not the answer either. Back then, a student could enter SIUC with an ACT composite of 16 (without going into the Center for Basic Skills), whereas a minimum of 22 is required today. While I will offer that ACT scores are inflated today, I also have to conclude that we do what we do because we are in the business of enrolling students to pay our bills. We know most of them will not graduate and we don’t do anything to change the culture of our institution.

    Most faculty will assert that we need to admit students who are more “college ready” and that raising admission standards even more will “weed out” students who do not have what it takes to succeed. As we can see, all that we have done by raising the minimum ACT is shrink the pool of candidates that can attend SIUC and entered a market (of students) in which we are not competitive. Our declining enrollment is all the evidence we need to prove this fact. We at SIUC need to stop deluding ourselves about the type of institution that we have. Blaming our students’ lack of motivation, or blaming the K-12 system for the substandard preparation that our students have received, will not improve our performance. We need to look within and change the way we practice our profession.

  3. RC: Our so called admission standards are ignored. The number of students admitted below our published standards has exploded. You are right that simply enforcing admission standards will not be a quick fix. For example, many of our better students transfer out. But when this is raised at meetings about retention one gets nowhere. There is little interest is figuring out how to retain these students. There is major pressure to dumb down courses.

    I was on the “First Year Experience” task force. In going through survey data I found that most Freshman reported studying 10 or fewer hours per week – some much less. I tried to get this fact into the final report. No way. Any FYE program that does not address this issue head on is worthless.

    The research shows that even when low performing high school graduates manage to get a college degree they see no income gain; see Rosenbuam book mentioned above. But there are shortages in skilled professions; see http://slatest.slate.com/id/2259525/?v=1#3.

  4. MS: For the most part, I agree with you; I believe in maintaining high academic standards, but this does not necessarily require “skimming the cream” of our candidate pool. There are many institutions that do more with less (less qualified students and less resources). I am also aware that there are many students leaving SIUC in good academic standing. However, having interacted with hundreds (if not thousands) of students over the last 10 years, I have to conclude that many leave for financial reasons rather than dissatisfaction with the quality of the education they are receiving. I’m sure some will take a parting shot at our faculty and administration, but I seriously doubt that leaving would have been the resolution if money was not an issue.

    With regard to “dumbing down” courses, I truly believe it is possible to improve both retention and the quality of our courses with something as simple as requiring that all instructors take attendance and make it a part of their grading policy. I’m sure this would not go over well with anyone who believes “academic freedom” amounts to instructors not having to meet specific standards or students having the right to choose not to go to class. Yet, it is impossible for a student to perform well if that student is habitually tardy or if they are in their dorm room asleep. Setting a campus-wide attendance policy would create a culture of accountability that will facilitate the development of an internal motivation to succeed in many of our students. Why do I believe this is so? Again, because there are many institutions within this state and across the country that admit students who are less prepared than those attending our university, and they have higher graduation rates (consistently).

    Given that our reputation as an institution is inextricably tied to the performance of our students, I think a paradigm shift is in order. Alternatively, we could admit far fewer students, eliminate programs (or colleges) with low or declining enrollment, and terminate tenured and tenure-track faculty, instructors, and support staff. In truth, I am not opposed to choosing either path (improving educational quality via radical change or admitting fewer students and down-sizing).

  5. RC: Some students leave college because of money and may or may not return. The state should do more to help them if their grades are good. But, students are not transferring to other institutions to save money.

    Encouraging faculty to take attendance into account is fine. My pass rates are higher when I do this, so I now do this in my 100 and 200 level courses. But the difference is not huge. Some faculty are using clickers in the bigger classes for attendance or quizzes.

    In Illinois Chi St U and NEIU have six year graduation rates just below 20%. They should be closed. SIUE & C hover a little above 40%. The state should give campuses five years to get up to 60% or face closure and the state should stop giving MAP grants to students with ACT scores below 20. I do not think that change will come from within.

    I don’t buy your statement that “there are many institutions within this state and across the country that admit students who are less prepared than those attending our university, and they have higher graduation rates.” Be careful when you compare ACT scores: we only report the average for our Regular Freshman (last time I checked it was 23 which is not bad); the Special Freshman are are not included; they are “special” because they have low ACT scores.

    I agree we are not UIUC ad have a different focus. But students are leaving Illinois for other states. See: http://mediarelations.illinoisstate.edu/news_releases/0607/march/studentmigration.asp

    UIUC is a great school, but is not for everyone and it is likely too big. Illinois is lacking in having a good series of second tier schools. SIUC is 4th tier.

  6. MS: I apologize for the delay in responding. To substantiate my claims, I’ve decided to download some data from the National Center for Education Statistics Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Unfortunately, I could not obtain data on ACT requirements. However, I was able to sort Illinois institutions according to admission rates. Altogether, there were 56 bachelor degree granting institutions in our state (public and private). According to IPEDS, SIUC has an admission rate of 69% and a six-year graduation rate of 45%. There were 22 institutions with higher admission rates. I’m inferring that these 22 institutions have lower standards, but I could be wrong (I will check their websites when I have time). Of these, 16 had six-year graduation rates that were higher than SIUC (range of 47% – 70%). Among the public institutions in our state, only SIUE and Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU) have higher admission rates. However, SIUE has a higher six-year graduation rate than SIUC (49% compared to 45%). Only Chicago State and NEIU have lower six-year graduation rates among public institutions than SIUC (13% and 18% respectively). In the interest of conserving space, I will only list the data for public institutions below.

    INST ADM RATE 6YR GR
    NIU 58 51
    UIC 60 48
    CSU 61 13
    ISU 64 70
    WIU 68 55
    EIU 69 56
    UIUC 69 82
    SIUC 69 45
    NEIU 71 18
    SIUE 89 49

    Based on your criteria (60% grad rate or closure), only UIUC and ISU would remain open. From what I have heard, the six-year grad rate for SIUC students admitted through CAS is comparable to that of the general population. If this is so, changing our admissions standards will not have a substantial impact on our graduation rates. Besides, we’ve already done that. Special admit students in 2010 would have been regular admit students 10, 15, or 20 years ago. Increasing admission standards has had little impact other than lowering our enrollment.

    So again, we return to accountability on our part. We know the characteristics of our students; are they deserving of an honest effort on our part or do we continue blaming them for not being prepared? There are proven methods for improving undergraduate academic success, but they require commitment.

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