“The price of college is going to fall, and the Internet is going to cause that fall. The rest of it is really difficult to figure out.”
So begins an article about the coming higher education revolution in the Atlantic that Historiann sent me since, you know, higher education is in crisis. [Cue scary music.] I think you can imagine the argument, but here’s a taste nonetheless:
Despite college costs rising faster in college than any institution in the country including health care, we have the technology to disrupt education, turn brick and mortar lecture halls into global classrooms, and dramatically bring down the cost of a high quality education.
Entrepreneurs like to say there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come. Is education innovation that next big idea?
It’s like Walmart, right? Stack the education high and sell it cheap! We’ll make millions! To be fair, there is a hint of the alternative point of view in the piece:
[Yale classics professor Diana E. E.] Kleiner reads from the same script, if more cautiously. “If the best economics teacher in the world creates a course that is better than any other, would there be merit in having that course be the only course?” she asks. “Maybe, but you would still need teachers. There’s no substitution for personal education.”
Maybe? The last time they tried to tried to to treat students like a bunch of raw material, Mario Savio and his pals took over the Chancellor’s office. Why does anyone think it’s going to go any better this time when they’re not even getting an education from Berkeley (except, of course, for those poor online suckers who actually will be getting an online education from Berkeley)?
The assumption that college is too expensive is certainly correct. The problem with this article is that it assumes that online education is the way to solve that problem. As I’ve noted before, it is possible to do some really interesting things with education online. However, if you’re just doing it to save money so that your university can keep more money for other things, your online courses are going to be awful. As a result, nobody will learn anything and they’ll all end up unemployed. The negative feedback loop will then lead to a real crisis in higher education, brought on by the people who thought they were saving it.
I have a dream of what a new, cheaper, face-to-face university education might look like: No sports. Cut the number of administrators in half. The President is not allowed to make any more than twice what the lowest paid faculty member in the business school takes home in salary. Run the book store as a co-op. No climbing walls. Spend the surplus every year on scholarships, and cost-of-living adjustments for faculty.
Too bad I’m don’t have a few million to spare for a start-up.