Monday, April 02, 2007

Parapundit on online education

It's that time of year again, and Steve Sailer is dispensing advice for budding college-students-to-be--essentially, don't go all-or-nothing when it's just as easy to go all-or-something. Send out applications to every school you have some level of interest in.

Randall Parker is reporting on the paradigmatic shift that is still it its early stages--online education. The two overlap in that online education will drive prices down and introduce market forces into an arena that is is anachronistic in several ways:
College is also incredibly inconvenient in an age where convenience defines so many other parts of life. Want to go to a grocery store at 2 AM? One's probably open. Want cash from a bank on a Sunday? Find an ATM machine - and many are located away from banks in shopping malls. Want to book an airline flight? Do searches online and choose from dozens of choices. By contrast, colleges make you take courses in bricks-and-mortar buildings at the hours and days of their choosing and at the rates that were chosen by centuries old traditions. Your course will last a semester of about 12 weeks. It will start on a particular day. It might only get offered once a year. Take it or leave it. Your instructor might be bored, unenthused, and perhaps not even speak English very well. You'll have to buy a big thick textbook and lug it around. This is all incredibly inconvenient. I say down with tradition. Time to automate and make education cheap and convenient.
Not to mention more customizable, more intellectually diverse, and more consistent. It's consistency that threatens the prestigious universities most of all. Though the pedagogical effectiveness of the Ivy League schools isn't quantified or measured in any meaningful way, the discriminating merit they employ to bring in the brains give most people the impression that the universities are creating intelligence rather recruiting it. The value judgments their fluff departments abhor keep them in business.

If the course offerings become virtually identical and this becomes household knowledge, the more exclusive schools will be in a little trouble. A Harvard diploma will still evince a head on the shoulders, but if another kid from State U earns a diploma that was comprised of Harvard-level material, perhaps even the exact same material the Harvard alumni completed, it'll have a dilutive impact on Harvard's perceived value.

Even if the elite institutions are superior to state universities in their learning facilities and teaching methods (as MIT or Berkeley in technology and science are), the economical student with a high IQ may currently opt out. Go to a state university on almost nothing and be able to work during his academic career. Come out $25,000 ahead instead of $100,000 in debt. TVM, assuming an reasonable average interest going in both directions, will see the Harvard grad spending fifteen years just to break even if he enjoys an extra $10,000 in annual pay. Throw in the hassles of applying, the disruption of moving, and the very real chance that he won't be accepted anyway. This is not an optimal utilization of human capital. Making a Harvard (or whatever denotes the top tier) education available to those who want and can handle it is much more efficient.

There's little to add to Parker's post. The only thing I can offer as supplement is to point out the openness to online education in the business world. While the public is skeptical (in part due to the dopey pop-ups basically offering degrees for sale), with only one-third of students perceiving online education to be equivalent to or better than traditional education. However, fully 62% of business leaders believed this to be the case.

This makes sense. It allows employers to boost the number of employees it can subsidize, and makes obtaining the education less dirsuptive to the employee (and by extension, the employer). It also lets the company boast that more of its people have benefited from the tuition reimbursement it offers and that X% more of its workforce has graduate degrees than otherwise would have them. And the local JuCo diploma can more easily be replaced by one from a state University or better without the company incuring additonal costs.

Ideally, the precedent set by Griggs v Duke Power and the EEOC rulings that have followed would be reversed and industry would be able to get at what it's searching for in a less roundabout way. But online education is the market's way of (finally) starting to get around the government-enabled education racket.

1 comment:

MensaRefugee said...

Oh my god!
You are evil!