By Richard Vedder
When I was on the Spellings Commission, someone, I believe Charlie Reed who runs the Cal State University system, said we should concentrate on coming up with two or three "big ideas" and not sweat the small stuff. I think Charlie was right then, and now as well. Higher education is in need of a paradigm shift, meaning bold new ways of doing things.
Talking to one of the most prominent entrepreneurs in the for profit (market driven) segment of higher education, we both mused about an idea that we independently had come up with. Why not let students take courses from any numbers of independent producers of courses and than new companies come along and package the material together in a degree program? The packager ("university") would assure that the courses meet quality control standards, that there is a coherence to the curriculum, that certain minimum standards are met --e.g., an econ major must include 10 or 12 courses with both basic and intermediate levels of economic theory and some narrower courses, etc. The packager would seek accreditation. If accreditators bulk at this approach, the time has come to get rid of the accreditors. A student could take English from the U of Phoenix, math from Strayer U, sociology (if it must be taken) from Kaplan Higher Ed, philosophy from Western Governors U, etc. Or maybe the packager would use a bunch of new smaller providers who specialize in a single discipline. Individual faculty or small groups could sell their services to the packager and work as individual contractors from home.
A large part of work could be provided for free or near free and the packager would certify that the student had mastered knowledge of the subject -- a variation on the Wikipedia University concept. Indeed, for a low price, say $10 million, the Feds could have say 200 vital courses developed --for $50 million you could have 400 courses developed at a high level of quality that any packager of degrees could use in dealing with students. This would allow low cost bachelor's degrees to be taught which emphasise the basics in the major disciplines and not the anti-intellectual fad courses often taught today to attract students or appeal to spoiled faculty members. A good solid degree could be made available at a relatively low cost for those considering college strictly as an investment good and not as an opportunity for socialization.
My idea du jour. I am willing to invest personally in the concept if the right persons are doing it and the government does not try to stifle this innovation --which they might if the higher ed establishment tries to stop it, which I believe it would.