We’ve been discussing the importance of the self-education revolution, with the emergence of free college courses allowing people all over the world to educate themselves. As more universities and start-ups put more college level courses online for free, the media is paying more attention to this trend.
USA Today recently discussed this revolution in a recent article on Massive Open Online Courses:
Jonathan Salovitz’s course load sounds as grueling as any college undergraduate’s: computer science, poetry, history, math and mythology, taught by professors at big-name schools such as Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania.
Except Salovitz, 23, is not an undergraduate. His effort won’t count toward a bachelor’s degree, and he hasn’t paid a dime in tuition. Nor have his classmates, who number in the tens and even hundreds of thousands.
Instead, Salovitz calls himself a “guinea pig.” He’s participating in a grand experiment in higher education known as Massive Open Online Courses –MOOCs, for short. Learners of all ages around the world are flocking to them. Top universities are clamoring to participate. And MOOCs already have attracted the interest of some employers, paving the way for a potential revenue source. All in less than a year.
The articles goes on to describe many of the new courses and companies that are driving the interest here, so it’s definitely worth a read. It also points out how Moody’s Investor Service calls MOOCs a “pivotal development” that has the potential to revolutionize higher education.
Over time, we can expect to see employers start to react. Imagine how impressed you would be interviewing someone who either used these resources to complete a virtual college education, or someone who used it to gain a new skill. Think about a medical professional who decides to go online to get a virtual business or accounting degree.
The possibilities here are endless, and there will be plenty of ways apart from the old grading/diploma system to verify that the student has actually completed the courses and learned the material.
One of the themes we keep emphasizing has to do with the crippling costs of a college education today in America. Sure, college campuses are much nicer with all the new buildings and new technologies, but they are failing in their basic mission if students leave there with massive student debt that will hang over them for the rest of their lives.
More publications are doing good work discussing these problems. In Newsweek, Megan McArdle asks whether college is a lousy investment.
Why are we spending so much money on college?
And why are we so unhappy about it? We all seem to agree that a college education is wonderful, and yet strangely we worry when we see families investing so much in this supposedly essential good. Maybe it’s time to ask a question that seems almost sacrilegious: is all this investment in college education really worth it?
The answer, I fear, is that it’s not. For an increasing number of kids, the extra time and money spent pursuing a college diploma will leave them worse off than they were before they set foot on campus.
Given the costs, it’s hard to argue with her on this point. She discusses how college was critical for many families in building a better life for the next generation. But sitting on an English degree with $150,000 of debt seems like a pretty bad deal.
That said, we can’t overreact to the current economic conditions. When the economy improves, more of these kids will get jobs with their degrees.
Yet something has to give, and it was very encouraging to hear President Obama challenge colleges to slow down tuition inflation.
Also, the future of free college courses looms on the horizon. Universities would be wise to start figuring out how to lower costs, or they might really have a problem in the future.