RICHMOND – Independent audits of fifteen state and private colleges have shown them to be involved in charging students tens of thousands of dollars in “tuition” to read books and then listen to instructors restate the content of the same books, called “lectures.” “We’re finding students falling for this hoax at more and more institutions of higher learning,” said Debbie Watterston, lead investigator for the Center for National Auditing.
The fifteen exposed colleges had all enticed students to pay thousands in tuition on top of the price of a book by convincing them that only specially trained people could properly identify lists of informative books. The audit explains that colleges then promised students well-crafted pieces of rolled paper confirming that students had read the books and listened to explanations of the books.
At the same time, educators had elaborate schemes in place to convince students that the books by themselves were unreadable, even though the lecturers themselves were often the authors of the assigned texts. “Explanations to explain their own explanations,” said Barry Narveson, a chief author of the audit. “It’s a sort of an incestuous Ponzi scheme of explanations.”
“Having teachers made more sense in the middle ages, when they didn’t have textbooks readily available,” said Watterston. “Now, to have both books and teachers makes the system very redundant and invites the sort of sad exploitation we’re seeing.” Narveson noted that some students leave college hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, “when they just could have read the books and exercised their minds a bit more.”
Several students from the audited colleges, however, defended the system. “It’s important for my future employer to know that I can listen to explanations of explanations,” said Marjorie Atkinson of Bremerton-South University, Virginia. “College is like a four-year labyrinth,” said Jake Dowd of Middle College, Iowa. “And I always pay good money for expensive mazes.”
When asked why not just read books, and the books those books recommended for a fraction of the cost, some students gave blank stares. “That’s just silly,” said Marjorie Adams of New Suffolk Tech. “What would teachers do if they couldn’t explain things for thousands of dollars? That would be so sad.” The audits suggest that students have often become co-dependents or enablers for the system.
Most students interviewed agreed that they simply wouldn’t read if they didn’t have to pay someone to get them to read. “Knowing that I paid an institution to tell me what books to read really motivates me to keep reading,” said Mallory Simpson of Westchester College. “And paying thousands makes me read more and more difficult material. I’ll probably pay people my entire life to let me read.”
Several of the audited colleges denied their institutions perpetrated scams. “Teachers do much more than just repeat and explain books,” said Sid Toller of Illinois-Brace College. “We show students how to think and read critically.” Toller conceded that thousands of books already exist which teach students how to think and read critically. He replied, “but books don’t smoke or come late to class or lose their train of thought or tell you tedious stories about their glory days. Books have all that stuff edited out,” he said.
Some of the colleges are considering dropping books altogether in order to avoid fraud indictments. Nathan Braxton, Dean of Westbridge College, Kentucky, said his college has plans to eliminate the redundancy of books and teachers. “We are considering having teachers themselves function as books. Students will have to focus on the wisdom and depth and character of each teacher. It will be more of a mentoring or discipleship program.” Several teachers have already resigned over the possibility. “That sort of system is fine for monks and people with souls,” said Jenny Jacobson, assistant professor at West State College, Ohio. “But I learned from people without souls, and I was never required to have one before. They didn’t give those out at my college. It’s just not fair. My job is to explain explanations.”
Other colleges are considering dropping teachers and just offering books. “Some would say that is just another name for a book store, but we’ll provide well-directed lists, too,” explained Ralph Peterson of Stenner University. “And bookstores don’t give degrees. Our bookstore will, and our teachers will like stocking shelves.”
Watterston says the audits have been handed over to the respective authorities. The previous set of audits led to the indictment and closure of thirty-seven colleges. “I suspect this is just the tip of the iceberg,” she said. “These sorts of scams used to target the elderly, but now they’re suckering the young and obedient.”