Blizzard '11 is passing across the US. In some cities the snow is being cleared. In others the snow is being put down. Some of us spent our research days buying no cook food and returning videos. Some of us will spend our snow days on research. Others will stare blankly out the window seeking a glimpse of the next house over.
In the midst of it all, I received an email from someone claiming to be from Western Governors University. Since I have a Ph.D. I've somehow made it onto their hit list. No, they aren't offering me a job (which I wouldn't take anyway). Well, I guess they are offering me a "job" just not the kind I think should exist.
Here are a few excepts:
"We are currently recruiting 8-10 Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) with degrees in Basket Weaving or Basket Weaving Education to participate in a review process known as Standard Setting. This review will take place during February and March. If you are interested, please forward a current vita. Details of this review follow."
"SMEs will be paid for completing the Standard Setting Training (Step 1—1 hr.), the first pass of the test items (Step 2—abt. 10 hrs.), and attending the second pass web/conference call sessions (Step 3—abt. 12 hrs.). This should take a total of 23 hours. SMEs will be paid according to their education and experience."
Last year when I received a similar letter, I looked these people up. It claims to be a uni started by some governors of some western states to provide education to all who come. They've got lots of "normal" sounding majors in their Teacher's College. It's online only as far as I can tell. But the real kicker is that each class is worth a certain number of "Competency Units (credit equivalents)". That's right folks!!! Competency Units. There are some things that I'd like to write here about transfers, etc but you all know what I would say and, frankly, I desire to keep my posts clean.
My second experience with this regionally accredited university took place on an online forum for a Basket Weaving related (BWr) recruiting firm. This other forum I read has occasional gems on which I, a professor, can comment and give advice. On this forum a person posted a question about what s/he had to do to get BWr job. The usual "talk to your professors" advice was given. Then s/he said s/he was going to WGU and described the way the school worked. Basically you buy the book, you read the book, you do the suggested HW problems, you study for the multiple choice final exam. As I recall they don't give you letter grades just Pass or Fail. So there is no GPA to put on your resume (vital on resumes for BWr jobs, by the way). But supposedly a Pass was equivalent to at least a 3.0. So this person wanted to know if s/he could compute what the GPA would be. I, of course, posted a copy of the first letter WGU has sent me, explained that this wasn't a normal university, and that would likely create problems when this person applied to BWr jobs. I was firm but nice.
After these first two experiences the conclusion that I reached is that WGU has NO faculty in house who are qualified to write exams. So they pay $10-15 per question for professors at other schools to write their tests for them. Since there is no one qualified to write an exam there is no one qualified to assign grades. Since there is no instructor of record there can be no grades. Since there are no grades they must award "Competency Units" as opposed to credits.
But like I said this week's letter was merely similar to the first. The first letter was an offer to write exam questions. The new letter was a offer for what seems to be checking exams for errors. They want 23 hours of my time and would pay me about $800. I would do things like discuss the problems and their solutions was 8-10 other SMEs and finalize what the exam should be. As you see above it would be a three step process.
While I unenthusiastically applaud their careful planning of exams. I can't believe that they are paying up to $8000 dollars plus $15 per question to write a exam. OK, maybe I'm giving them too much credit and it's that much money for all their Basket Weaving exams.
It appears to me that they don't trust their exam writers. So they hire exam checkers. But they don't really trust their exam checkers so they make them "meet" several times (so, I guess, the exam checkers have time to check their own checking?).
I'll be honest with you, CMers. I spend maybe 1 hour writing, checking, and taking each exam before I photocopy it. Which means I haven't spent 23 hours creating exams for my own university over the last 2 years.
I don't even know what else to write about this university. There is a wordless swelling within the pit of stomach. Perhaps some of you can put in words the things I am currently thinking.
Maybe the following thought can put a shape on my swelling:
The University of Phoenix gets more of my respect. (P.S. Misspelling intentional, please pronounce it out loud).
Of course, I truly hope that some of you will reassure me that this is just a Nigerian scam.