Michael Konczal decries the collapsing support for public higher education. Is he saying we should support universal higher education with tax-subsidized low tuitions? He's not clear on what lost ideal he's defending.
One striking thing about the current global recession, a crisis that has hit those in the United States with weaker education backgrounds much harder than others, is that one response has been the massive retrenchment, austerity and abandonment of the promise and ideal of public college education.
That's a conventional liberal interpretation. But it leaves out causes. So let me offer some: First, institutions of higher education ran up their costs of operation so high that they've become a huge (and still growing) burden on the middle class. Too many administrators, too many very expensive buildings, higher salaries. Well, the middle class is pushing back. I'm only surprised by how long it took for the camel's back to start to break.
On top of that, liberals have promoted college educations as a universal inoculation against low wages, poverty, and social pathology. But in doing so they ignored why college students of previous generations went on to such success: They were smart going in to college. They were the brightest kids. Now kids with much lower IQs are pushed to go to college and their apparent return on investment is, not surprisingly, extremely low or negative (at least not surprisingly to anyone who accepts there's a Bell Curve for IQ distribution).
Is education a public good? Well, it depends very much on who you are educating and what you are teaching them. For example, how can anyone (not seriously deluded by a secular ideology) think there's a return on investment to society from teaching 100 IQ people in colleges?
The battle isn't really over the humanities anymore (though the humanities are going to take the brunt of this), but the actual idea of education as a public good, the idea that someone can develop their full capabilities in the wealthiest nation on Earth without entering debt peonage.
If going to college puts one into debt peonage then why doesn't the resulting degree give one enough earning power to pay off the debt fairly quickly? I can see a few reasons: First, the degree costs too much because colleges are too inefficient and bloated. Second, what's being taught (e.g. ethnic grievance studies) does not raise earning power or ability to produce real wealth. Third, some of the people being taught are unsuited for college-level material and ought to be getting taught skills they are actually capability of mastering. That might be plumbing, masonry, or auto repair. But for some of even lower ability it might be burger-flipping or broom-pushing. The liberal writings on education are notable for ignoring the lower IQ people and their real needs.
Supposedly the sciences are expensive to teach. But one could learn organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, or even nucleic acid chemistry from recorded video lectures. Virtual labs controllable with GUIs could enable students to try basic chemistry experiments and physics experiments.
That said, Aaron Brady has argued (here and here) the clear case the problem proposed is usually one of bad faith, that humanities tend to cross-subsidize the sciences, as sciences like medicine are expensive to teach (labs, chemicals, machinery) and humanities like English are less so (a book).
Rather than embrace the need for automation to make education more affordable Konczal quotes Wendy Brown on high online course drop-out rates.
The drop-out rate for students taking on-line courses is persistently and consistently high, paralleling the drop-out rate of for-profit colleges. It is routinely 20% higher than drop-out rates from on campus courses and runs as high as 70% for some courses and programs. Moreover, the high rate, much studied, seems impossible to fix. … Why do drop out rates matter? Because students pay for courses and programs they don’t complete. ... Millions of former students are now “under water” with debt from on-line courses of study they never completed and/or whose benefit they never reaped.
But what are the causes of the higher online drop-out rates? The camaraderie of going off to college courses with dorm roommates might lower drop-out rates. But other causes seem plausible and even more likely. For example, if it easier to do something (e.g. start taking a college course) and it takes less change in one's life to start doing it then it is also easier to stop doing it. But lower barriers to entry also mean more people will try to do something in the first place.
Another cause: People taking courses at heavily marketed online course sites are, on average, far less intellectually able than those who go to elite colleges. They are being oversold about their ability to take the courses and the value of taking the courses. But there's a parallel to this in the traditional non-profit bricks-and-mortar institutions: very high drop-out rates at lower ranked colleges due to students who clearly in high school were already lower intellectually ranked, most of whom dropped out of college. About half of those who enroll in college do not have a degree 6 years later. How's that for a drop-out rate? Again, same cause: people who should not even be trying to learn college-level material are giving up out of lack of curiosity and ability. Unless comparisons of drop-out rates control for intellectual ability using IQ tests (or at least SAT tests as moderately strong IQ test proxies) claims that online courses deliver lower value can not be trusted.
Pre-recorded lecture courses, online standardized tests, and teaching software (e.g. virtual lab and interactive training software) must grow because higher education costs too much, offers too low a return on investment for most students, and it is too inconvenient. Higher education does not fit the needs for a large fraction of the population. Its benefits have been oversold (much like the for-profit universities) and the public has reached its limits on its willingness to pay thru the nose for it. For many people higher education does not boost income enough to justify it and for some higher education does not boost income at all.
The arguments put forth by the education sector to promote its added value are incredibly weak. A recent report pointed out the higher incomes of college-educated as proof that college education offers a high ROI. But a far more likely explanation is that the ROI on brains has risen.
Workers with a college degree earned much more and were much less likely to be unemployed than those with only a high school diploma, according to the report, “Education Pays: the Benefits of Higher Education for Individuals and Society.”
According to the report, the median earnings of full-time workers with bachelor’s degrees were $55,700 in 2008 — $21,900 more than those of workers who finished only high school.
What's the IQ difference between the average college graduate and the average high school graduate and average high school drop-out? 15, 20, 25 points? Does anyone honestly not expect that smarter people will do better on average than people who are intellectually unable to even master algebra?
Update: Anya Kamenetz, author of Generation Debt: How Our Future Was Sold Out for Student Loans, Bad Jobs, No Benefits, and Tax Cuts for Rich Geezers--And How to Fight Back and DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education argues that online education learning software can incorporate findings from cognitive research to provide a superior learning experience. Hear, hear!
The modern era of research-based learning software began with the work of John R. Anderson at Carnegie Mellon, who published “The Architecture of Cognition” in 1983, detailing how learners master a cognitive skill as a system of procedural rules. Today’s best-of-breed learning programs draw on cognitive science, developmental psychology and artificial intelligence to teach math, reading, physics, computer science, foreign languages and a host of other subjects faster, more thoroughly, and more engagingly than traditional classroom instruction. They do this by allowing students to move at their own pace and prompting them to spend more time on task, reflect on what they learn and collaborate.
The Department of Education released a meta-analysis of more than 1,000 studies of online learning last fall, and concluded that in most cases, online learning actually produces significantly better outcomes than classroom-based learning. Hybrid approaches, which combined some face-to-face time with online practice and assessments, scored better than both all-online and all-classroom approaches.
|Share |||By Randall Parker at 2010 November 13 10:13 AM Education Returns On Investment|