The future is bleak for U.S. higher education | Opinion … – Lockport Union

I thought that my jam writing days had ended, but I am so brutally (angered) by the savagery of current decline in higher education that I feel compelled to comment further.

I do not claim original research in the following findings. Rather, I am indebted to regular reports from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, National Association of Scholars, Intercollegiate Studies Institute, Young Americans for Freedom, the American Heritage Foundation and various university clearinghouses. Facts are alarming, especially the abysmal understanding of our history and traditions.

Whether or not American education can recover remains to be seen, but it is doubtful that it will occur in my lifetime. I am grieved to say it because the profession was very good to me and my associates and, most notably, our students. The future is bleak not only for the profession but for our higher education institutions and therefore the country as a whole.

In authenticated reports:

— 34 percent of recent college graduates, aged 18 to 34, could not identify when election day is held.

— 50 percent could not name Franklin Roosevelt as the last president to win more than two presidential elections.

— 52 percent of college graduates could not identify George Washington as the American general at the Battle of Yorktown.

— Only 28 percent named James Madison as Father of the Constitution in a multiple choice survey.

— Ten percent thought TV’s Judge Judy was a member of the U.S. Supreme Court.

— Less than 20 percent could correctly identify on a multiple choice survey the significance of the Emancipation Proclamation.

— A Yale University survey found that 51 percent of college students favor speech codes.

— A Pew survey found that 40 percent of students think that the government should be able to punish speech considered offensive to minority groups.

— Widely reported is the appalling incident at Middlebury College which prevented Dr. Charles Murray from speaking and resulted in campus violence and the hospitalization of a faculty member. Dr. Murray is a distinguished political scientist and scholar and the author of Losing Ground, which has been credited as the intellectual foundation for the Welfare Reform Act of 1996.

— Other renowned speakers such as Condoleeza Rice, Ben Carson and George Will have been disinvited to deliver commencement addresses because they make some students feel “unsafe.”

Bad as they are, these facts do not tell the whole tale of loss and corruption. Following are some examples of how the curriculum has been destroyed across academia. Replacing previous requirements for history courses:

— The University of Maryland offers “Zombies, Fear and Contagion” (the big question addressed is, “why do we fear zombies?”).

— To fulfill their history course requirements, Bowdoin College allows “Lawn Boy Meets Valley Girl,” Williams College allows “Soccer and History in Latin America: The Beautiful Game” and Swarthmore College allows “Cigarette Smoking in the 20th Century.”

When I taught history, we required the History of Western Civilization or U.S. History. Now, of the top 25 liberal arts colleges, only seven require U.S. History to graduate. Of the top 25 national universities, only four require U.S. History to graduate.

Summarizing the carnage, the Washington Post recently reported that it’s possible at colleges like Harvard, Yale and Stanford to obtain a degree in history without ever studying U.S. history.

Sadly, American colleges no longer require rigorous liberal arts / general education that used to be the hallmark of a collegiate career. A recent ACTA report revealed that only 35 percent of schools require a course on literature, and only 18 percent of schools require a course in U.S. history or government.

It is absolutely astonishing to me that American colleges and universities have fallen into such Orwellian sinkholes. Students and faculty who tear down the American flag or shred copies of the U.S. Constitution are celebrated as champions of open-minded multi-cultural acceptance while those who defend the flag and the Constitution are labeled as racists, xenophobes and bullies.

But all is not lost! Fortunately, there are still some stalwarts of freedom, leading organizations such as ACTA, NAS, ISI, YAF, the Ashbrook Institute, all striving to keep constitutional liberty and commitment to principles of democracy alive on our college / university campuses.

Until they have clearly turned the corner and regained lost ground, as a past president of four colleges and emeritus professor of history and government, my advice to parents and prospective students is to shun the liberal arts and turn instead to vocational / technical education programs.

 Newfane native John O. Hunter is a retired college administrator and teacher of history, residing in Hornell.

Western Connecticut State University receives federal mental health funding


Western Connecticut State University will receive more than $1.6 million over the next four years to expand and improve programs focused on training students to respond to mental health crises.

The funding is part of a federal grant awarded to the Danbury-based university and the University of Connecticut on Friday.

WCSU is expected to received $421,000 each year for four years, making it the largest grant the university has received.

The money was awarded through the Health Resources and Services Administration and the Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training Program, which was reauthorized as part of U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy’s Mental Health Reform Act. The program expands the behavioral health workforce and trains new mental health providers, such as psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and paraprofessionals.

UConn received nearly $179,000 to recruit, train and place social workers in underserved areas of Connecticut with a focus on integrated care.

As grant recipients, UConn and WCSU are expected to help close the gap in access to behavioral health care services by recruiting new behavioral health professionals and providing opportunities for field placement, job placement, and career development services, according to the news release.

“Too many kids and adults with mental health needs in this country don’t get the timely care they need for one reason: we don’t have enough trained behavioral health specialists to care for them,” Murphy said. “I worked hard to reauthorize this grant program as part of my Mental Health Reform Act because I believe that it should be as easy to access a doctor or get prescriptions for an illness of the mind as it is for an illness of the body.”

Dr. Gabriel Lomas, professor of education and educational psychology at WCSU, applied for the grant.

“A key aspect is to grow our program so we can increase the behavioral health workforce in the area,” Lomas said. “We will be able to place more students in primary care with physicians and train all students in the behavioral health program in trauma and crisis models. If we have space, members of the community will be able to take the training, too.”

Lomas came to WCSU with a deep background in helping communities respond to crisis. He was a member of a school-based crisis response team and clinical crisis response team in Texas, and he helped to create a Regional Crisis Team in the western part of Connecticut to assist area schools in crisis response preparation.

“WCSU prides itself in being a community partner, developing curricula that are responsive to regional needs,” said WCSU Provost Dr. Missy Alexander. “This grant is just another example of our commitment to Danbury and the surrounding area. We are extremely proud of Dr. Lomas and the work that he has done to secure these funds.”

Board of Regents discuss diversity plan, budget at committee …

The Board of Regents discussed the new diversity, equity and inclusion plan and the budget committee during its Sept. 22 committee meeting.

The diversity, equity and inclusion plan was presented by Lynne Holland, chief diversity officer.

Holland said diversity, equity and inclusion are not just values of the institution, but the entire Bowling Green community. She said the purpose of the plan is to create an environment where every student can be successful, which will lead to greater persistence and graduation.

“This institution can be a place where students can come and be successful,” Holland said. “I really want to be a place that is student-centered and embraces students and staff.”

Student Government Association President and Student Regent Andi Dahmer asked Holland how the plan will create accountability for all minority and underrepresented group. Holland said there have already been conversations with groups such as HOLAS, the Hilltopper Organization of Latin American Students.

With the plan, Holland said she hopes to create a “global village.” She said the plan will move away from specific “boutique” safe spaces on campus, and move toward making the entire campus a safe space.

Board of Regents Chair Phillip Bale said Holland’s vision for the campus is one the board can and will embrace. The plan will be voted on by the entire Board of Regents at the next meeting, on Oct. 27.

Changes to the budget council were discussed during the finance and budget committee meeting. President Timothy Caboni said he has redefined the purpose of the budget council and hopes for a set of recommendations in February and to begin implementing ideas soon after.

Caboni said the new set of goals involve discussing budget models from other universities to be implemented at WKU, the performance based funding model, handling past and potential revenue shortfall that weans off the use of carry forward funds and realigning expenditure investments in a way to reward performance.

The carry forward policy previously allowed programs to determine how to use their unspent money in an upcoming fiscal term. Now, the budget is estimated to use $28,819,000 from carry forward funds to make up for any budget shortfalls.

“It is advisory to the president,” Caboni said of the budget committee. “But I’m pushing them for more advice than they may have delivered previously.”

Members of the academic affairs committee discussed new graduate certificates in biology and health education. Speaking on the new Health Education certificate, Caboni said it will provide flexibility in pursuing a Master’s degree.

Regent John Ridley, during a discussion on the certificates and colonnade courses, said these courses make students a good citizen of the commonwealth, which was discussed at Gov. Matt Bevin’s Conference on Post Secondary Education, which board members attended. Ridley said the job of the university is to not only get students job ready but also make them a well rounded citizen.

Provost David Lee said general education courses in multiple areas of study makes the American higher education system unique.

“This is what makes American college education so special,” Lee said.

During the meeting, the board went into closed session to discuss the “future acquisition or sale of real property by the University.” They discussed the transfer of ownership of several areas of land to the university.

If approved by the full board at the October meeting, the university will accept ownership of properties on Normal Drive and Nashville Road, as well as the Clinical Education Complex on Alumni Avenue.

Reporter Rebekah Alvey can be reached at 270-745-6011 and rebekah.alvey660@topper.wku.

Former Gov. Mike Leavitt blasts federal audit of Western Governors University

SALT LAKE CITY — Former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt says a newly released audit of Western Governors University by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General was a “sneak attack by the past on the future.”

The audit report recommends that the nonprofit online university repay $713 million in federal student financial aid claiming faculty did not have “regular and substantive” interaction with students, something WGU officials dispute. Moreover, the audit says the university, based in Salt Lake City, should be ineligible to receive any more federal aid.

Leavitt said in an interview Friday that federal auditors are taking a requirement in the statute and “torturing its meaning to draw its conclusion,” referring to a 1992 law that defines federal financial aid eligibility for distance education programs.

“It’s just Neanderthal thinking that has been revealed in this report,” he said.

According to the report’s findings, many courses offered by WGU do not meet the distance education requirement because they were not designed for “regular and substantive interaction” between students and faculty. The audit says the courses should have instead been labeled as correspondence courses.

The whole thing turns on the question “how, and not if, you have contact with a student,” Leavitt said.

“I would ask you, how do you have contact with your bank? We all interact electronically now. With our family, we all interact frequently over Facebook and we feel like we’re in better touch. That’s the issue here,” he said.

But the overarching concern is that financial aid regulation has not evolved as the number of higher education institutions that exclusively offer online instruction proliferate.

“I think that the Congress will come to understand they need to change this statute, and I would think the secretary of education should step in fairly quickly or they’re going to discourage innovation,” Leavitt said.

His sentiments were echoed by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, who, as the state’s top elected official, serves on Western Governors University’s board of directors.

“State innovation in education has moved quickly. It’s time for Congress pick up its pace and support successful innovations in higher education, including distance, online and competency-based education. This is especially important in states like Utah, which have large rural areas,” Herbert said in a statement.

Leavitt predicted that the now 20-year-old institution, of which he played a key role in founding, “will be fully absolved of any requirement to pay.”

WGU, a pioneer in competency-based education, has paved the way for a growing number of online universities, he said.

“Emulation is high flattery. The reason people are looking at it is because it produces a high-quality outcome for a very low cost. A library now in higher education will cost $100 million minimum. The entire investment in this institution is $45 million, $50 million,” he said.

But beyond cost savings, the competency-based model has vastly expanded access to high-quality higher education, Leavitt said.

“The institution is now 20 years old. It has now had 85,000 graduates. It is growing by 20 percent a year. It’s been praised by two presidents of the United States. It’s seen by virtually everyone as a model that is sustainable to provide high-quality higher education to a group of citizens who up to this point are denied access,” he said.

“One really does have to ask the question ‘Why now?’ It’s beyond explanation as far as I’m concerned,” Leavitt said.

The Department of Education will conduct a 30-day comment period after which Leavitt said he believes WGU’s appeal will succeed.

“The thing about it is, the record just speaks for itself. Anyone looking to see how you produce high-quality results for less money and it’s not shareholders, it’s stakeholders, students, employers, accrediting agencies and anyone in a position to judge quality or value, who have lauded this model,” Leavitt said.

“I’m annoyed by it but I’m not worried about it.”

Federal funding to allow Richmond students to learn from James River

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Board of Regents discuss diversity plan, budget at committee meeting

The Board of Regents discussed the new diversity, equity and inclusion plan and the budget committee during its Sept. 22 committee meeting.

The diversity, equity and inclusion plan was presented by Lynne Holland, chief diversity officer.

Holland said diversity, equity and inclusion are not just values of the institution, but the entire Bowling Green community. She said the purpose of the plan is to create an environment where every student can be successful, which will lead to greater persistence and graduation.

“This institution can be a place where students can come and be successful,” Holland said. “I really want to be a place that is student-centered and embraces students and staff.”

Student Government Association President and Student Regent Andi Dahmer asked Holland how the plan will create accountability for all minority and underrepresented group. Holland said there have already been conversations with groups such as HOLAS, the Hilltopper Organization of Latin American Students.

With the plan, Holland said she hopes to create a “global village.” She said the plan will move away from specific “boutique” safe spaces on campus, and move toward making the entire campus a safe space.

Board of Regents Chair Phillip Bale said Holland’s vision for the campus is one the board can and will embrace. The plan will be voted on by the entire Board of Regents at the next meeting, on Oct. 27.

Changes to the budget council were discussed during the finance and budget committee meeting. President Timothy Caboni said he has redefined the purpose of the budget council and hopes for a set of recommendations in February and to begin implementing ideas soon after.

Caboni said the new set of goals involve discussing budget models from other universities to be implemented at WKU, the performance based funding model, handling past and potential revenue shortfall that weans off the use of carry forward funds and realigning expenditure investments in a way to reward performance.

The carry forward policy previously allowed programs to determine how to use their unspent money in an upcoming fiscal term. Now, the budget is estimated to use $28,819,000 from carry forward funds to make up for any budget shortfalls.

“It is advisory to the president,” Caboni said of the budget committee. “But I’m pushing them for more advice than they may have delivered previously.”

Members of the academic affairs committee discussed new graduate certificates in biology and health education. Speaking on the new Health Education certificate, Caboni said it will provide flexibility in pursuing a Master’s degree.

Regent John Ridley, during a discussion on the certificates and colonnade courses, said these courses make students a good citizen of the commonwealth, which was discussed at Gov. Matt Bevin’s Conference on Post Secondary Education, which board members attended. Ridley said the job of the university is to not only get students job ready but also make them a well rounded citizen.

Provost David Lee said general education courses in multiple areas of study makes the American higher education system unique.

“This is what makes American college education so special,” Lee said.

During the meeting, the board went into closed session to discuss the “future acquisition or sale of real property by the University.” They discussed the transfer of ownership of several areas of land to the university.

If approved by the full board at the October meeting, the university will accept ownership of properties on Normal Drive and Nashville Road, as well as the Clinical Education Complex on Alumni Avenue.

Reporter Rebekah Alvey can be reached at 270-745-6011 and rebekah.alvey660@topper.wku.

Where Does Personalized Learning End and Special Education Begin?

It’s the start of a new school year and the air is full of promise. I’ve set up my room, made my copies and attended all of my meetings. As students flood into the school, I’m charged with positive energy and hope.

But as I peruse my class list and the academic data that accompanies it, anxiety sets in. I’ve committed to personalizing learning, but how can I do that for every student in my inclusion classroom when the range of abilities among them is so vast?

This is my third year teaching at William Penn High School in the Colonial School District in New Castle, Delaware. Dually certified in special education and English Language Arts, I teach an ELA inclusion class to 11th and 12th graders, which means I serve students with and without Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) in the same setting. Additionally, I manage a caseload of 18 students with IEPs, and enter goals and progress for over 60 other students.

A core element of my job has always been to consider how I can tailor instruction to meet the needs of each student—that’s the crux of special education. IEPs are legal documents designed to include specific goals, objectives and strategies for how to modify instruction to meet each student’s needs. Personalized learning doesn’t seem that far off—but meeting the needs of every student in an inclusion class when some have IEPs and some do not can get hairy.

It also raises some questions around where special education practices and personalized learning intersect. Does personalized learning mean every student gets an IEP? Does it mean that students who had an IEP no longer need one because now every learner is receiving tailored instruction? Can I use the same measuring tools to gauge growth for all students? Should it be different than how I was teaching before?

Special education is a gray area when it comes to personalized learning, so it has been a learning curve.

Class Makeup: Rules and Ratios

There are different types of learning environments that serve students with special needs. Some of them are separate settings, and others are inclusive, which means that general education and special education students are served in the same learning environment. There are laws and regulations that exist to ensure that the ratio of students with and without IEPs maintains a specific balance for some special education settings in Delaware—but they don’t apply to my classes.

I am a “SAM” teacher, which stands for Single Approach to Mastery. It’s a relatively new position in the Colonial School District. In many ways, it resembles a Integrated Co-Teaching (ICT) classroom—but I play the role of both special education and general education teacher. The position was more widely assigned out of necessity after state budget cuts, and currently, there is no law that explicitly states how many students may be enrolled in an inclusion class like mine.

However, in most states by law, “the number of students with disabilities in an Integrated Co-Teaching class may not exceed 40% of the class with a maximum of 12 students with disabilities.” That means the makeup of an inclusion class is required to have at least 60% of students without IEPs. But that’s not always the way it goes down.

Enrollment, funding, and a slew of other factors push administrators to build classes that don’t quite add up to the ideal 60:40 balance. In my classes the ratio is closer to 55:45. Most of the students I teach have failed several classes, so they are already behind the 8 ball when it comes to graduation. Many of my students need to take two English classes simultaneously—which is difficult considering their schedule is usually overloaded with repeat classes across all subject areas.

Teaching students with learning gaps is daunting. To be successful at it, it’s important to recognize that there are a number of reasons why a learner might be delayed. Attendance struggles, a difficult family situation, a learning disability, a set of behavioral challenges, becoming a parent—any one of these obstacles could set a student back, and each one warrants its own unique set of instructional approaches.

I teach three sections of English III to juniors and three sections of English IV Contemporary Literature to seniors. All of my classes are inclusion sections and I work with over 120 students a week—so I see quite a spectrum of learners. My students with IEPs have unique needs with special education classifications including learning disabilities, emotional disturbances, blindness, and medical conditions diagnosed by physicians such as ADD, ADHD, anxiety and depression. Their IEPs have accommodations such as behavior charts, extra time on assessments, reduction in answer choices and opportunities for revision or re-testing.

Though my general education students do not have IEPs, they still have learning gaps and require special consideration as I plan curriculum and assessment. About 20 percent of my students are reading on grade level according to SRI College and Career Ready Assessment, and are planning on going to college. I get the occasional overachiever who is reading above grade level, but the bulk of my students are reading texts that range from a first-grade reading level to ninth-grade reading level.

Recognizing the range I’m serving is always my first step to working with students. To set myself up for success, I will likely need to differentiate the workload based on student ability, or give some learners extra time to grapple with higher-level texts.

How Tech Has Helped Me Reach the Spectrum

I used to do everything manually—differentiating curriculum and assessments, providing student feedback, and managing hard copies of classwork and homework.

For each class section, I found at least six different texts and made all of the copies so students would have a choice regarding what they read in class. I created multiple versions of tests, quizzes and classwork assignments, and I manually gave feedback using a pen and paper. To combat the inevitable student response—“but I turned it in, you must have lost it”—I developed systems for managing hard copies of classwork and homework.

It wasn’t sustainable.

Accepting technological support has been pivotal for me. There are two tools that have allowed me to scale differentiated supports for students: Google Apps and Schoology.

Google Drive has helped me manage student work and provide more efficient feedback for students. Google’s ReadWrite app lets me scaffold the texts I use, making higher-level texts accessible to students with lower reading levels. The app has eliminated the grunt work of manually differentiating texts. It has features that support struggling readers and writers including word prediction, text-to-speech, talking dictionary and picture dictionary. Students can pop any text into the app for extra support when they need it, which means that I don’t need to generate alternative versions of every text we use.

Schoology has allowed me to experiment with pacing. I can differentiate the workload for each student, which helps me individualize pacing for each lesson. It also allows me to assign work individually or in groups—this feature helps me meet the specific needs of each learner discreetly, without damaging anyone’s dignity.

With these tools, I’ve been able to increase student choice in my classes. I always knew offering choice was a good thing—but it’s no easy feat. Offering more choice means finding more texts, preparing more materials and making more copies. But Google ReadWrite helps make texts accessible, and Schoology lets me curate materials that are appropriate for each learner and present them all in one place so students don’t get lost in web surfing, which is enticing for teenage students. This makes it possible for me to create more opportunities for students to select which text to read, choose what topic to investigate and make decisions about the sequence in which they learn.

The Struggle is Still Real

Although I’ve had a lot of success over the past three years, there are some unresolved challenges.

There are logistical difficulties like the school server failing, internet connectivity issues and lagging wifi—which apparently is a common occurrence when more than 400 phones are on Snapchat. Last year during a critical lesson with high-stakes due dates, the internet on the entire Eastern seaboard went down. These issues make working online frustrating for students who just want to get their assignments done. To complicate things further, device and internet access at home is quite limited for some students, which makes homework a whole other animal.

Managing pacing is always a struggle—with or without technology. This is even more difficult in an inclusion class because many learners have accommodations for extended time, which often applies to curricular activities as well as assessments.

Of all the challenges, tracking goals and progress is what keeps me up at night. It’s my responsibility to support all students with goal setting, to gauge growth, and to accurately reflect student progress for every student. This means entering goals and assessment data on Schoology. For students with IEPs, it also means measuring progress toward each IEP goal, updating the document four times a year, and collecting hard copies and digitized versions of work samples as evidence.

Codeswitching between managing IEP goals and the personalized learning goals that every student has remains sticky. Making sure that every IEP folder in my trusty filing cabinet is up to date and double-entering some of that data into Schoology isn’t ideal—but it’s what needs to be done.

Down the road, I’d like to see special education take a front seat in conversations about personalized learning. When used correctly, IEPs should play a role in guiding instruction and supporting the learner by ensuring that specific accommodations necessary for student growth are in place. The IEP is a sacred document—there are legal issues and privacy issues that every teacher needs to consider. And my hope is that schools, districts and the entrepreneurs building tools to support personalized learning models consider them as well. 

Stefanina Baker teaches 11th and 12th grade English Language Arts inclusion classes at William Penn High School in Colonial School District in New Castle, Delaware.

This story is part of the EdSurge Fifty States Project (representing the state of Delaware) and made publicly available with support from the Bill Melinda Gates Foundation. The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the individual contributors alone and do not reflect the views of the Bill Melinda Gates Foundation. Note: the students’ real names were not used in this story.

Concho Elementary School gets additional federal funding | Apache …

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Feds offer compliments to Western Governors University in response to report urging school to repay $712M

bwood@sltrib.com

GAO Report Should Trigger Rethink Of Accountability In Higher Education

To borrow $43 million and pay it back almost immediately may appear a rather pointless exercise. But for Corinthian Colleges, a now-defunct chain of for-profit colleges, it was a clever way to bamboozle regulators and keep federal subsidies flowing with no strings attached.

For all private colleges that receive student aid funds from the federal government, the Department of Education calculates a measure of “financial responsibility,” intended to identify which schools might be in choppy financial waters and thus at risk of closure. But the financial responsibility score formula rewards rather than penalizes colleges for borrowing, so long as the debt they take on is long-term. That creates strange incentives for a college with a middling score.

According to an Education Department Inspector General report released earlier this year, Corinthian manipulated its financial score by borrowing $43 million in long-term debt on the final day of fiscal year 2011. It recorded the debt as long-term, boosting its score to a level that would not trigger additional federal oversight. Then, fiscal year 2012 rolled around and Corinthian immediately repaid the loan. The exercise worked so well that Corinthian repeated it in 2012 and 2013 with larger loan amounts, while the Education Department remained three steps behind.

In 2014, the Education Department subjected Corinthian to increased financial oversight, but never secured any collateral from the school for the risk it placed on taxpayers. Less than a year later, Corinthian shut down for good. Thousands of its students had their student loans canceled under a rule that grants loan forgiveness to the students of closed schools. Even more students had their loans canceled after Department officials determined that Corinthian had defrauded many of them.

At last count, Corinthian’s failure has cost taxpayers $550 million in student loan discharges, a number expected to rise. The pace of college closures, both for-profit and nonprofit, has accelerated in recent years, putting students and taxpayers at risk. And if Obama-era regulations to expand loan cancellations (currently delayed and under revision by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos) go into effect, the cost of school closures will only go up.

All this heralds a boondoggle that would put Solyndra to shame. Yet according to a scathing Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released on Wednesday, the Department of Education’s established method of predicting which schools are likely to close is out of date at best and completely useless at worst.

The “financial responsibility composite score,” ostensibly a gauge of each college’s financial health, has a poor track record of predicting school closures. Schools which receive a failing score must undergo additional federal oversight and post collateral to protect taxpayers from losses in the event of closure. But according to GAO, half of schools that closed in the past six years (including Corinthian) received a passing score from the Department, meaning they were not required to post any collateral. And 80% of schools that received a failing score in 2011 were still open as of 2016.

The Department’s formula for calculating financial responsibility scores was last updated in 1997. In the intervening years, accounting boards have updated financial reporting standards and a global economic crisis has upended what we know about the determinants of financial health. Schools such as Corinthian have figured out ways to manipulate their scores. Among the problems GAO identified with the Department’s scoring:

  • Changes to accounting practices have affected how institutions report financial metrics. But the financial responsibility formula is tailored to old reporting practices, meaning audited financial statements do not contain all the information necessary to calculate a score. The Department must therefore solicit some unaudited information from schools to calculate scores.
  • Financial responsibility scores do not emphasize liquidity. Even wealthy institutions may face financial troubles if they do not have easily spendable assets, a danger now better appreciated following the global financial crisis. Failure to understand the importance of liquidity contributed to the collapse of Lehman Brothers, among other things.
  • The scores focus on a single fiscal year, rather than looking at each college’s finances over time. Studying past and anticipated performance is standard practice in the private sector, since analyzing trends makes it easier to pick up on early signs of trouble. GAO notes that private credit rating agencies gave “junk bond” ratings to 30 colleges with passing financial scores from the government.
  • Scores do not consider nonfinancial factors, such as accreditation and legal problems, which nonetheless have an effect on a school’s chances of closure.
  • Colleges can manipulate their scores, as Corinthian did for years. A disproportionate number of schools have scores just above the passing threshold, which is consistent with some score manipulation.

Despite these problems, the Education Department sees little need to update the financial responsibility score formula. The Department argues in its response to GAO that “any financial measure that the Department would use for evaluating financial health could be manipulated.” While the Department should not dismiss its ability to improve the formula, it does underscore a larger point: the government does a poor job of identifying and protecting itself from risk.

Bureaucracies move slowly by nature. Even if the government had updated its financial responsibility formula after the invention of the iMac, it would still face a fundamental incentives problem. The Education Department does not go out of business if it loses money on a fiasco like Corinthian Colleges; taxpayers take the hit instead. The Department thus has no financial incentive to make sure its tools for predicting school closures, and the massive taxpayer costs that come with them, are up to snuff.