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Sunday, February 19. 2012
From Herb London:
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I've been following your series on colleges with interest and disagree with little you have said. That being said, IYO, how long would it take and what do you see as the logistics required to change the curriculum to mirror the market realities out there?
IMO, there are 1/10 the tool and die makers and 10 times the lawyers being graduated than our North American economy requires/demands.
Letting the free market set college tuition is a splendid idea and it echoes the early, primitive arrangements that college instructors had in the colleges in Oxford. I've always thought that there was a certain beauty in the simplicity of it. The professor/instructor/teacher started talking to the students gathering to hear him. If, at the end of the hour or whatever time limit was imposed, the students felt that what he said was interesting and valuable to them, they walked up to the teacher and paid him then and there. If they didn't like what they had tried, and failed, to learn, they "stiffed" him. All very neat and simple.
Kept the teachers on their toes, it did...
half sigma and others have repeatedly pointed out that one of the most important, if not only, function of colleges is to credential people. In this regard, the supreme credentials are (1) admission to and (2) graduation from an elite school. What is learned is largely irrelevant, but passing stringent admissions criteria and competing successfully against other who also did so is essential. It is not clear what if anything can replace these two necessaries. And, it is clear that great credentials are indeed worth $250,000 and maybe much more. That is, Harvard could charge several times what Northeastern (my alma mater) does, and it would be worth it.
The other issue is proof of learning via internet courses. Obviously, some sort of rigorous testing is needed. But how can the tests be protected against fraud. It is well-known that even SAT, GRE, LSAT, MCAT etc can be defrauded by ringers.
And more importantly, what about "disparate impact"? Is it not clear that if blacks pass at a lower rate than whites or women than men, that the courts will throw out the tests? Then what? What good are your online courses?
We are stuck with the current system. Ride the tiger.
"The President could make a difference if he said it is time for the federal government to get out of the way so that market forces can flourish."
Snigger. Guffaw. Absolutely correct, but why even write it? Better to say "The President could make a difference by flying to the moon."
Oddly, there is an alternative to the current system in existence. See here for the prospectus:
The University of London International Programmes offers a university degree in myriad fields under the English 3 year format for just about $5000 for the degree.
The quality is good. The London School of Economics (one of the many schools under the University of London bumbershoot) is commonly rated in the 10-20th best economics degree worldwide and is rated much higher for econometrics. This means it is a bit below Harvard but in line with the lower Ivy’s and the first few high end public schools. Testing occurs locally for the student for a fee (calculated into the $5000 total cost).
It is all in the prospectus. I am not affiliated with the University.
While the program is essentially self-study, the University does have partner programs which allow students to attend and take classes or tutorial programs for a more university like experience (this must be paid for separately and would likely raise the cost considerably). However, programs like the Kahn Academy, Stanford’s and MIT’s free courses offer high quality study programs for many areas of study covered by the University of London degree programs: http://www.khanacademy.org/ http://www.openculture.com/freeonlinecourses
Generally the problem today is matching a credential with the free online course material like that offered from the Kahn Academy, or the myriad other free educational sources. It seems that University of London offers the credential for a VERY low cost and could be paired quite nicely with the free sources to result in both a high quality education and a highly respected credential. Frankly, the student should only care about the education and the employer only about the credential but today both seem to only care about the credential which leaves actual education adrift.
What I would like to see now are people like Mr. Kahn focusing tutorial courses on the specific curriculum of something like one of the University of London degree study programs. In essence, creating a core of lecture and study format videos for (let’s say) the degree in economics, then continuing to build upon that in related areas like finance, etc. It would not take long for the core courses within a number of study areas to be covered in high quality tutorial courses to help students more fully understand the material they are studying.
While the Higher Education bubble is ripe for the collapse it is unlikely to do so until there is some alternative for the students. Offering low quality credentialing and/or low quality education has not created enough of an alternative to attract students. I think something like the University of London credential paired with the highest quality online education just might be enough.
Having gone to college and put three kids through (two public, one private) I've seen the beast close up. My personal opinion is all the increase in the past 30 years is in overhead (or G&A).
In the Army, one of the things we agonized over for years was what we called the "tooth to tail ratio". The number of supporters required to maintain one trigger puller. Even going back to WWII, the US Army had the most lavish "tail" possible. It was, to steal a phrase "The American Way of War". As a practical matter the Army's tail has always made a significant contribution to our success. If your enablers make effective contributions you get "combat multipliers".
Contrarily, how effective are the combat multipliers at the average university? How much in salaries and expense is waste? As Dr. Victor Hanson has pointed out, where he used to teach there were platoons of diversity administrators and other emphemera pulling down significant wages while the students were being taught by non-tenured adjunct professors who were barely making more than the salary of a McDonald's assistant manager. The time is ripe for a new paradigm.
The new form(s) might be online, or certification programs or Kahn academies or maybe something I haven't even considered.
We are running out of other people's money.
Online virtual universities.
Courses immerse students in virtual worlds, such as a DNA molecule, the Roman Empire, foreign cultures/languages, computer motherboards, etc., etc.
Amortized over millions of students, such a university would be able to thrive with a minimal tuition.
It would offer degree programs as well as continuing education.
An open-source university might be more interesting.
There is such a thing as a "community of scholars." One can learn and be stimulated mentally by being around other students and professors. At least I did in the 70s while in college and wish I had more of it.
That's very hard to replicate on-line since part of the mental activity took place over a pitcher of beer in the campus Rathskellar.
My daughter is in college now studying physics and gets to mingle with the staff of a famous observatory and with people who work summers at a top-notch defense contractor. This is good.
Unfortunately, I'm getting the impression that most of current college life is just beer in the Rathskellar and little of the community of scholars with an overload of political correctness.