Monday, February 6, 2012

Andrew S. Rosen argues that for-profit education is the way of the future because of its clarity regarding one little question: "Who is your customer?"

The answer is simple to this breed of school: the student who pays the tuition on which the school subsists.  It is not so simple for academic institutions dedicated to prestige and self-preservation, however.
For-profits have largely opted out of the prestige game. The schools are not looking to turn away students. Their professors are engaged exclusively in teaching, not research. No one has tenure, so incompetence means dismissal. Teaching is quality-controlled and student performance strictly measured. 
The for-profit schools can track "learning outcomes" because much (though not all) of their education is online. For a book with a "dot" in the title, Mr. Rosen's "" does not spend a lot of time defending this mode of education—it's just, well, the future. And maybe it is. He is careful not to overstate the value of online learning, acknowledging that there is plenty to be gained in the traditional, seminar-room, residential model of college—he calls it the "meandering" model. But there are many students who want a "direct route" to knowledge and skills. Mr. Rosen makes a strong case that for-profits, when properly run, are ready to provide it.
Having children in college, I've done some thinking about this.  Classical liberal arts in a small class setting are my wife's and my choice for our children.  Though, at the prices colleges charge for it--and the ideological nonsense once must put up with in nearly all colleges and universities--I do wonder if it wouldn't be better to pursue a rigorous reading program on one's own time at home, or in groups with friends and like-minded people.

Distance learning is something I've been involved with as a professor for more than a decade.  It's got a number of advantages, at least on the soft side of business, including that everyone in the course has a chance to contribute, and in fact is obliged to contribute.  Everyone gets their say on everything.

Moreover, students can check with professors either publicly on the learning boards, or privately by email.  So, in the middle of a session, which might stretch out over a week or more, students can check individually with the professor to see if they're getting it.

The problems are mainly for the professor educating without the bounds of time and space, who has geometrically more stimuli to respond to than in a typical classroom session, with office hours.  School's find it hard to justify the amounts of time required for a professor to do a thorough job.

Altogether, however, developments in for-profit education are being driven by demand-- meaning they are sustainable--rather than by somebody's detached abstraction of what ideal education looks like--these are not sustainable other than by know-it-all's designs of grand, forcible redistribution from forgotten men to students, inevitably through the agency of government.

In principle I'd be inclined to favor an ideal education for citizenship, e.g., the ratio studiorum, were it not for the fact that the vision of a meaningful education has been so distorted and deformed by Leftist ideologues intent on engineering a utopian secular society as to make it pernicious and harmful to human beings, rather than enlightening and liberating.

Maybe Rosen is onto something.  I'll look forward to reading his book.

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