Rip-off

Published by rudy Date posted on January 29, 2009

The problem: The quality of college education keeps declining. The solution, according to the Commission on Higher Education: Keep students in college for an extra year.

Ched’s proposal to extend nursing and education courses to five years immediately and to add a year to all other four-year courses soon afterwards as part of its overall plan to “reform” college programs is so breathtakingly stupid that it should be dismissed out of hand, if it also weren’t so clever. It’s a plan that only a school owner—the same ones who are already making money hand over fist with their irrelevant and useless programs— could love.

Then we remember that the head of Ched, Dr. Emmanuel Angeles, is the owner of Angeles University Foundation in Pampanga. And we wonder if, as a school operator, Angeles isn’t really convinced that since the quality of education can’t be improved, then the owners of colleges and universities might as well make more money by providing some more of what passes these days for an “education” to their students.

(How a school owner can become the head of the government agency that regulates colleges and universities is an entirely different question altogether. While Angeles’ appointment to Ched seems to have escaped the criticism it should have deserved at the time, it seems that the chairman is now revealing his true colors—that of a fox that’s been told to guard the hen house.)

Indeed, unless the Palace, Congress or even the courts immediately slap down Ched’s school owner-friendly plan, the government will be an unwitting accomplice to this grave injustice about to be committed against students and parents alike. Especially in these hard times, adding a year to college is like telling the young people in our schools that they should drop out and forget about getting meaningful employment, which these days requires at least a college degree.

Furthermore, the basic premise of Ched’s proposal seems to be that the fault lies in the students, who apparently can’t seem to learn everything they need in four years. That’s why the solution is to keep them in school longer, to give our so-called educators more time to get more education through their wards’ thick skulls.

The extension blithely overlooks all the other documented ills of our schools like the lack of quality instruction (the direct result of low wages and the exodus of qualified teachers to other countries), the dearth of adequate educational materials and facilities, the mostly irrelevant and outdated tertiary curricula and the avarice of the owners of our colleges, who are enriching themselves in a deregulated tuition environment. As a welcome side-effect (if you happen to own a school), you make 25 percent more money from every student.

Adding a year more to college isn’t going to solve the ailing college system’s problems any more than an additional year in jail is sure to reform a convict. But at least the upkeep of a jailbird is shouldered by the state, not by already-burdened parents and students.

It’s the quality, not the quantity, of education, stupid.

* * *

Ray T. Vincent, who says he is a Filipino engineer formerly employed by Nasa in the space shuttle program and by aircraft-maker Boeing, has a Web site (www.raytvincent.com) which illustrates the fallacy of adding one more year to college to improve the quality of students’ education. Vincent cites Professional Regulatory Commission documents which show that the passing rate in government-administered licensing examinations for a single degree program (mechanical engineering) fell from 60 percent to the current 30 percent since the course was extended to five years in 1952.

Vincent says that in that year, the decision was made to extend the program by representatives of the leading colleges of engineering in the Philippines, the Director of Private Schools and some members of the engineering boards for civil, electrical, mechanical and mining engineering. “Since the law only stated [that an engineering course should take] ‘no less than four years’… they felt no restriction to extend the courses to five years. [V]ested interests granted the colleges one extra year of tuition fees without justification,” he writes.

Vincent estimates that an additional year in college costs every student P56,000 in tuition on average. And if 200,000 students graduate every year from five-year programs, that’s an additional cost overall, he says, “that is more than 14 times bigger than the P728-million fertilizer scam,” he says—and the “rip-off” happens every school year.

Focusing on mechanical engineering, Vincent says that the program is a four-year course in most colleges in the world. “A BSME degree is [worth] only 134 semestral units at the best foreign colleges. [The academic load of] 200 semestral units here is a joke and solely intended to enrich the colleges,” he says.

Instead of adding a whole year to current four-year programs, Vincent wants government to review the current 13 five-year courses being offered by local schools, with a view to implementing an academic “rollback” to four years. He appeals to education authorities to “review all five-year courses and see how you can honestly justify their fifth year.”

But, like the Big Three oil companies, school owners are allergic to the word “rollback.” Every year, with government education-sector agencies’ consent, schools raise their fees—and Ched (which is headed by a school owner) can only offer the excuse that tertiary education is “deregulated.”

And now, apparently unsatisfied with merely raising fees, the school owners have apparently convinced Ched that they have to add one more year to college. It is telling that the first target of the extension is nursing—which just happens to be the most sought-after degree these days.

Can anyone stop Ched from acting like it’s the mouthpiece of the association of school owners, whose only interest is to make more and more money while providing less and less education? Anyone? — Jojo Robles, Manila Standard Today

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