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As education opportunism trumps productive output, Texas economy at risk

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How is it that opportunism – not a learned or otherwise prepared student body – seems to be the greatest output of the education industry? Troubling enough that higher education puts out a questionable product including potentially dumb-down degrees helping to spawn devastating debt and other harmful economic impact for generations to come, but now the Dallas Morning News warns of new academic fraud through private accredited schools “peddling useless high school diplomas.”

From the article:

Literacy advocates say there’s a burgeoning market of groups that claim to be private accredited schools peddling useless high school diplomas.

“For $89, they get a graduation, a photograph, a cap and gown, and a piece of worthless paper,” said Lisa Hembry, president and chief executive of Literacy Instruction for Texas. “People are told to get a job you have to have a GED. So when someone offers a quick fix, they pay it, but it’s another setback.”

While some shell out up to $300, Shatandra Saulters paid $100 for her quick fix. After dropping out of high school as a freshman, she held a few jobs but figured getting ahead hinged on earning a diploma or its equivalent.

She found a flier outside a church that promised a high school diploma from an accredited school that was accepted by colleges. She signed up and, a few homework packets and six weeks later, graduated in March.

Saulters, 20, paid an extra $55 for a cap and gown and attended a graduation ceremony where about 300 people walked across a stage and were told they now have a path to higher education.

In reality the only official path to high school equivalency in the state is the official General Educational Development test, adult education advocates say.

While Texas theoretically has commendable high school graduation rates, these rates in light of grade inflation believed inherent in many school systems aren’t necessarily so meaningful. That belief is further supported when only about one-quarter of Texas seniors taking college readiness exams are prepared in the four key areas of English, math, reading and science.

Adding another means as the Morning News reports by which students can attain the appearance of a high school education without a demonstrated academic foundation is harmful to the individual student as well as to our overall economy. Employers rely on an educated, skilled or at least trainable work force and it’s not occurring to the degree required.

The problem is compounded as schools continue pushing more ill-prepared students toward college attendance - regardless of academic performance or other demonstrated aptitudes. This practice is especially tragic when directed at students better suited to a less academic, more vocational path.

Education, however, is big business and no companies or institutions want to see enrollments – i.e., their customer base – diminished. Student loans generated a $41.3 billion profit for the federal government in 2013 reportedly $3.6 billion less than the previous year but still “a higher profit level than all but two companies in the world: Exxon Mobil cleared $44.9 billion in 2012, and Apple cleared $41.7 billion.”

In recent years, free-flowing student loans have worked in tandem supporting the contrived “everyone needs a college education” position and that’s been a boon to colleges. More students help justify new faculty and staff, new programs and new facilities – also new tuition and fee increases.

As discerning education consumers slowly awaken to the realities of products and services “sold” by the education industry in both K-12 and higher education venues, school administrators face new problems - competition in the form “school choice” becomes the nemesis for lower grades where competition for a smaller student population becomes higher ed’s concern.

A recent CNBC report noted the Bureau of Labor Statistics citing that despite a net 204,000 new jobs created in October, the unemployment rate rose to 7.3 percent. One reason: employers say qualified candidates for the open jobs can’t be found. Job applicants’ inadequate communication skills – an inability to speak and write clearly – is a frequent complaint.

Experts differ on why job candidates can’t communicate effectively. Bram Lowsky, an executive vice president of Right Management, the workforce management arm of Manpower, blames technology.

“With Gen X and Gen Y, because everything is shorthand and text, the ability to communicate effectively is challenged,” he said. “You see it in the business world, whether with existing employees or job candidates looking for work.”

Others say colleges aren’t doing a good job. In a survey of 318 employers published earlier this year by the Association of American Colleges and Universities and conducted by Hart Research Associates, 80 percent said colleges should focus more on written and oral communication.

William Ellet, an adjunct professor teaching writing at Brandeis International Business School, says the problem starts even earlier. He points out that when the Department of Education in 2012 published what it called “The Nation’s Report Card: Writing 2011,” just 24 percent of eighth and 12th graders were proficient in writing. From colleges on down, he said, “nobody takes responsibility for writing instruction.”

We do things big in Texas and that includes education. The education industry has become big business, but not with the big output needed. Perhaps it’s time Texas takes a new look at this opportunistic growth industry – funded in part by taxpayers – enjoying business success rather than creating an output of academic performance benefiting its consumer base and contributing to our state’s economy with a competent, prepared workforce.

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