Mis-Education: Foreseeable Outcomes of a ‘Post-Campus America’

I mean to here respond specifically to Megan McArdle’s Envisioning a Post-Campus America.  In order to do so, I shall consider her projected outcomes critically:

First, education will be dominated by huge brands.  I believe I agree from the standpoint that certain companies with a decent product, some consistency, and a few wealthy benefactors are able to develop a sizable market share which then cycles.  Certain names are likely to remain dominant for long periods because they can afford to employ the best and offer more nuance in their program offerings.

I don’t understand how that fits her following statement about the “benefit to having learned stuff the same way as the people around you” because I don’t see how the experience at MIT equates to MITx, much less how it then compares to Ricex or U. of Delawarex.  Isn’t online education a way of multiplying educational experiences, not standardizing them?  She specifically cites the nature of grading scales as they differ from one business school to another.  Grading can only be standardized within one system, can it not?  I’ve seen how grading differs not only from one school to another, but from one professor to another.

My honest take is that online education will lend itself to less adaptability and student-teacher interaction.  I base this assertion on several online classes I have completed – in only one of them was my work critiqued to a standard matching an in-class offering (it actually exceeded quite a few of them).


Second, the liberal arts degree will die out.  As a former engineering student with degrees in theology, I have some insight into the differences in educational philosophy in math & science programs from those in the liberal arts.  Teaching someone to think and respond critically is very different from instilling mathematics fundamentals and the use of formulas.  Some skills cross over, it’s a lot easier to demonstrate success in math or the physical sciences (your formulae are correct or not) than to consistently critique papers.  I agree with McArdle here: grading papers is labor intensive and this alone makes it an uphill battle to save the liberal arts degree.


Next, McArdle asserts that teaching will be prioritized over research.  I think it’s far worse – image wins the day.  I’ve had teachers with various distracting elements (cross-eyed, missing a few fingers, stuttering, etc) who proved excellent because they had a lot to offer.  Can you imagine the well-qualified teacher who commands a classroom well, but is poorly apportioned, blotchy, or worse – whose personability is limited to the physical classroom?


This naturally leads us to most professors (she estimates 95%) losing their jobs.  That’s especially disturbing for those of us already disillusioned with the job prospects left to we pursuers of higher education.  If you don’t pass the eyeball test and don’t get absurdly lucky to be in position to join the 5%, how will you apply your skills?  The few schools lucky enough to cement their foothold in these markets will grow richer in media technology, administration, and advertising while it will become tougher for good teachers to keep their jobs.


Going back to the prior point, where do the researchers then go?  Maybe medical/pharmaceutical degrees will escape some of this, but it’s difficult to see how the research markets don’t fold eventually under the strain of no longer being rewarded for their efforts.  Truly this would signal the end of universities as research centers.  I agree with McArdle on this point.  What the rich deem relevant to research will be deemed relevant because there won’t be money to research much else.  Liberal Arts professors and underlings, again, will have to adapt.


In order, more unpaid internships, etc. will result.  Yep.  Graduate studies will change drastically, and the Ph.D. especially – I think these need revisited but not dismantled.  I don’t see a smooth transition here.  Community/Networking experiences – ‘collegiality’ – will have to be fostered another way.  I see this as less of a problem, but then I was pretty anti-social throughout most of my schooling.  

Upward mobility won’t flow the same way through higher education.  This may be a good thing.  Perhaps it stabilizes some communities so that their young talent finds applications for their abilities locally.  Affordability would be nice…but why wouldn’t Yalex and MITx’s products be as exclusive as ever?  Their branding is built on a certain level of exclusivity and schools will still want to capitalize on wealthy graduates or pioneering minds.  Will a marketable degree really be more affordable and easier to achieve?  I hope it results in less debt for our youth, but I wonder if exclusivity won’t proliferate.

Tutoring will boom.  I completely agree and clearly see the inevitable cheating problems which will arise.  I’m foreseeing a considerable rise in test centers, even while the cheating industry booms (and with it the counter-cheating industry). Cheating is all too rampant and if the diagnostics are what matters for future careers, isn’t it worth the risk?  To compensate for this, schools become martial about drilling anti-cheating mantras and enforcing standards rather than show why the standards matter (or determining whether they really do – that is for another discussion).


Concluding statements – if a good portion of the aforementioned items result, is the result both convenient and beneficial overall?  Are the resulting skills truly more beneficial for the students and society?  Honestly, I think there will be less room for innovation and more standardization because it’s easier to draw a profit and to find teachers who will enforce standards serving a set in stone curriculum.  Overall, I think the educational system in America is broken, but the market won’t be able to fix it by means of the internet.  It will only come when standards can be put in place which enrich the students as members of communities – how that is to be accomplished through a screen I can’t picture.



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