Two schools of thought on the current crisis in higher education.
They are not mutually exclusive by any means, but there is a definite tension between the two.
On the one hand, we have Bill Gates. Here is a link to an Atlantic article highlighting a Power Point presentation by Gates on the crisis in higher education. It appears to me to be a conventional, even orthodox, reading of the situation and what to do about it. One delivered via Power Point no less! With all the crazed innovation out there looking for traction, Gates turns the narrative into one of increasing graduation rates. Don’t cut budgets further–we’ve cut enough. And let’s focus on finding ways to increase college completion on time. But . . . .
Then there’s Salman Khan, founder of Khan Academy someone Bill Gates thinks a lot of. Here is his view on the future of credentials.
Here’s what I think it could look like in five years: the learning side will be free, but if and when you want to prove what you know, and get a credential, you would go to a proctoring center [for an exam]. And that would cost something. Let’s say it costs $100 to administer that exam. I could see charging $150 for it. And then you have a $50 margin that you can reinvest on the free-learning side.
I think that is consistent with the mission. You are taking the cost of the credential down from thousands of dollars to hundreds of dollars. And the [software] system would tell them they are ready for it. So no paying tuition for community college and then dropping out, or even finishing the whole thing and saying “Oh, I’m $20,000 in debt and what did I get out of it?”
Now you are like, “Look, there is this micro-credential in basic accounting I can get for $150, and I basically know I am going to pass before I invest that money.” That would be a huge positive for the consumers of education, and it could pay the bills on the learning side.
Note Khan does not equate credentials with graduation and “degree completion on time”. Now don’t get me wrong: degree completion is, all else being equal, a good thing rather than a bad one. But obsessing over completion, especially if it diverts attention from more efficient paths, is a blunderbuss approach to the problem, and one that betrays the POV (and interests) of the large institutions that now comprise the higher education
Hmm . . . where have I seen this before?
Blow up the entire edu-cracy and start over. They’re done.
I have boys who are 12 and 14, and have been hoping since they were born that American education would blow up before they have to go through it. However, I’m guessing it won’t. I will seek to convey to them the attitude of deep skepticism I feel one should have towards the higher education system … and the benefits of scoring a high-status degree, though not one in something worthless or stupid, since I’m not rich, and even if the whole thing hasn’t collapsed before they go, it may collapse while they’re there or shortly afterwards.
All that skepticism aside, I have also always kind of hoped my boys would avail themselves of a good American degree because we’ve never lived there, and I’d like them to experience the US. I grew up there. For the moment, a good American degree is the highest-status transfer into working life you can get. And it will probably stay that way. The deck is stacked. Even in times of deep crisis, the group with the strongest social capital tends to come out on top. Despite its best efforts to undermine itself, and despite the reshuffling and transformations a genuine US crisis would entail, the US is no pushover.