an analysis by Chris Horne
If you’ve cared about the goings-on at the University of Akron, you’ve noticed the work put in by the staff of The Buchtelite, the editorially independent campus newspaper. For a university without a journalism program, these students have done some impressive reporting and have actually beat legacy media a couple times, which is no small feat between taking classes and the whole not-being trained or experienced in the field.
Unfortunately, they’ve wrapped up operations for the semester, which means they can’t do much with the 200+ pages they received from a January 13, 2016 public records request their managing editor Grant Morgan finally received. (Note: Their request was made about two weeks before we posted our ITT Tech story.) To make sure they see daylight, Morgan shared these documents with The Devil Strip and a few (unknown) others. You’ll find a link to the full set of documents, after a little summary of what it contains. Perhaps, an outlet with more resources than The Devil Strip, or the student-run Buchtelite, will take this lead and dig into it a little deeper.
ITT Tech, like other for-profit colleges, has been charged for deceptive practices, accused of luring students in with promises of better jobs and better lives, but charge them obscene amounts for sub-par programs paid for with federal money that accounts for upwards of 90 percent of the budget while students leave them deep in loan debt for degrees they didn’t receive or were virtually worthless on the job market.
The scary part is that this seems to be the model the University of Akron is increasingly moving towards. Currently, about half of UA’s operating budget comes from federal sources, but only about 42 percent of the total student body graduates within six years. For all the bluster the administration makes about the Black Male Summit and the partnership with the LeBron James Family Foundation, some of the deepest cuts last summer hit academic support programs that had been proven to increase retention and graduation rates for UA’s black and African-American students, only about 15 percent of whom graduate within six years. The students who drop out, according to statistics from the US Department of Education, leave with an average of $10,000 in loan debt. That’s a significant burden.
Whether intentional or not, this reality makes it more “cost-effective” for the administration, provides a better margin. It’s cheaper to focus on getting students to enroll, take classes with adjuncts, temporary/visiting professors and non-tenure-track faculty, and then drop out after two years than to provide support services that help them stay, taking upperclassmen courses with the more expensive tenure and tenure-track faculty, and graduating.
As you read through these emails, keep that in mind because this partnership would have only advanced that practice — no one in these emails are documented questioning the morality of that potential impact. It’s about “workforce development” and the new revenue streams the deal would have yielded. You get a little lip service about the students and nothing else. If things had gone as they planned, the public wouldn’t have known about it until the deal was done.
The tl;dr edition:
- Dr. Scarborough’s stated motivations for the deal include:
- “The University and the political leadership of Ohio are also very aware of the challenges affecting the for profit sector at present and welcome the opportunity to become part of the solution. We believe that our involvement in this transaction, combined with the resources and expertise of US Skills and Pearson, will act as a catalyst to first and foremost protect the 50,000 students currently enrolled in ITT and (redacted partner).”
- Providing “future students a path to a valuable education but with much needed transparency as to costs and outcomes.”
- Belief “this project can become a major economic creation and job creation project.”
- Conversations about a deal to take over ITT Tech began no later than last July and the documents end around January 10, 2016. Perik at one point suggests the deal could be ready to announce in the first week of January 2016.
- By November, according to “talking points” attributed to Board of Regents Chairman Vinny Gupta, who referred to the deal as “a very good business opportunity for all the partners at the table,” the high-level statewide support for this deal included “Governor’s (sic) Kasich’s Office, The Speaker of our House Cliff Rosenberger, The President of our State Senate Keith Faber, The Attorney General Michael DeWine and John Minor the head of Jobs Ohio. We have also consulted with Senators Portman and Brown and Akron’s Congressman Ryan.”
- Pearson Learning, a large education publishing company which offers blended learning solutions, was a partner along with Michael Perik’s US Skills and Higher Ed Partners to make this deal with ITT Tech.
- There are multiple mentions of at least one other partner, seemingly another large post-secondary institution of higher learning, whose name was redacted from the records release either under the “trade secrets” or “attorney-client” exemptions.
- Gupta suggested hiring former Speaker William Batchelder’s lobbying firm, Batchelder Company, which has worked on behalf of the state’s largest charter school, ECOT (Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow), to work with the chairman “behind the scenes” and leverage Chancellor Carey’s friendship with Batchelder for support.
- After Scarborough, Gupta, Perik and others met with the Under Secretary of the US Department of Education, which had placed ITT Tech on the federal version of double secret probation, the group received clearance to pursue the deal by “clearing the regulatory and legal hurdles” ahead.
- Though the financials and specific elements of the deal are discussed in the email chain, the details have been redacted under the trade secrets and attorney-client exemptions.