A Chicago community college system is under fire after a new report accused the school of inflating graduation rates through data manipulation and curriculum changes.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has repeatedly bragged about reinventing City Colleges of Chicago, which went from having a 7 percent graduation rate when he took office to a 17 percent graduation rate today. Emanuel has challenged City Colleges Chancellor Juan Salgado to increase this to 25 percent by 2019. Of course, no goals are too lofty when you can skew the data.
The nonpartisan Better Government Association found that, since 2010, “City Colleges has watered down its curriculum, violated its own rules on what constitutes a degree, changed the way it counts statistics and bestowed thousands of degrees — sometimes in multiples to the same person — to current and former students who in many cases neither requested nor wanted them.”
Enrollment has dropped since its so-called “reinvention,” which is interesting, considering that Chicago offers free community college tuition and textbooks to eligible public high school graduates. Meanwhile, degrees awarded have “more than doubled.”
If that isn’t fishy enough, the college system allegedly uses a “call center” to sell current and former students “unsought degrees.” BGA discovered that hundreds of retroactive degrees were given to students “who hadn’t taken classes in years,” and some students weren’t even aware of the degrees they received.
From reducing credit hour requirements to violating its own policy that students can’t recycle course credits to obtain multiple degrees, City Colleges has also made it much easier for students to stack degrees.
In response to the investigation, Chancellor Salgado released a statement defending City Colleges’ reform efforts.
“Today, students are graduating and completing at more than double the rate prior to the launch of City Colleges’ reform efforts,” he said in the statement. “We will continue to build upon national best practices to reduce barriers for students and increase the value of City Colleges credentials so that even more students reach their transfer and career goals.”
Apparently, completing college-level coursework was too much of a “barrier” for its students.
City Colleges’ administration has not disputed the fact that it lowered its standards, but argues that the changes were signed off on by state regulators. No word yet on why they were giving out unsolicited degrees like candy.
Brendan Pringle (@BrendanPringle) is a freelance journalist in California. He is a National Journalism Center graduate and formerly served as a development officer for Young America's Foundation at the Reagan Ranch.