Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Cementing the Status Quo and Anya Kamenetz's Alternatives

By John Glaser

This, from a post on The Quick and the Ed, entitled Student Lending Stories to Watch:
According to the U.S. Department of Education, 3,744 schools–or 73 percent of those in the aid programs—were ready for the Direct Loan Program as of June 24. An additional 1,340—or 27 percent—were in transition. Most importantly, no eligible schools are failing to work on the switch. At the state level, everyone but North Dakota and Puerto Rico already have a majority of their institutions ready for Direct Lending...

Most of the savings from eliminating FFEL went to increasing the maximum Pell Grant and covering its expenses for next year, but some funds also provided additional money for the existing College Access Challenge Grant and a program giving grants to minority serving institutions. The legislation also created the new Community College and Career Training Grant Program to be run in the Department of Labor. That program has no existing track record and as the sole consolation prize from an initial ambitious agenda for community colleges, it will be very interesting to see how the Department of Labor ends up designing these grants.

I haven't quite heard these Obama education initiatives praised as some sort of saving grace, fortunately, but I also haven't heard very much mainstream criticism of them either. Most people - certainly anyone who has spent time in college in recent years - can recognize these programs as more of the same solutions to continuing problems. Insofar as these programs do promise marginal improvements (debatable), it can't be argued that they represent the revolutionary and systemic change that is needed for the status quo to improve overall.

Anya Kamenetz's new book DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education, which you can read a little bit about here, is one I just started and which promises to be a wonderful read.

Kamenetz writes in the Introduction about Obama's proposals for education putting:

...nothing on the table [that] is addressing the underlying issues that make tuition rise, nor the capacity problems and leaks in the system.

...As a top higher-education policy aide told me, "We are just tinkering around the edges." And an Obama appointee (who also did not want to be identified) agreed that the nation is highly unlikely, given current tactics, to reach Obama's target, which would essentially mean doubling the numbers who graduate within one decade. The National Center for Education Statistics released a report in September 2009, estimating that college enrollments will increase by just 13 percent by 2018...
I was quite pleased, given my own opinion on this sort of thing, to read that Kamenetz emphasizes technology and the internet as an essential ingredient in mitigating the seemingly intractable problems of rising tuition costs, overwhelming student debt, credential inflation, and others:
The good news is that all over the world people are thinking big about how to change higher education. Brick, stone, and marble institutions with centuries of prestige behind them are increasingly being joined by upstarts, both nonprofit and for-profit, and even more loosely organized communities of educational practitioners and apprentices. The open education movement started at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2001, when the school decided to put its coursework online for free. Today, you can go online to MIT Open Courseware and find the syllabi, lecture notes, class exercises, tests, and some video and audio for 1900 courses, nearly every one MIT offers, from physics to art history. As of late 2009, 63 million people and counting have raided this trove.

Open educational content is just the beginning. Want a personalized tutor to teach you math or French? As class that's structured like an immersive role-playing game? An accredited bachelor's degree, in six months, for a few thousands dollars? A free, peer-to-peer Wiki university? These all exist today, the beginnings of a complete educational remix. Do-It-Yourself University means the expansion of education beyond classroom walls: free, open-source, vocational, experiential, and self-directed learning.

She continues with exciting information and analysis. In part, one shouldn't be too surprised - or outraged - that the Obama administration fundamentally ignored these aspects of education reform, because these wonders of technology and the internet have thus far been arriving spontaneously and without top down direction. I don't believe we'd end up with a desirable reformation if that had been the case with Obama. But given that the Obama proposals simply further cement the system we now have and absorb huge amounts of time and money which could be directed towards a web-education type of revolution for millions of individuals and groups, the least they could do is get out of the way.

I highly suggest grabbing the book.


Jane S. Shaw said...

John, You write: "In part, one shouldn't be too surprised - or outraged - that the Obama administration fundamentally ignored these aspects of education reform, because these wonders of technology and the internet have thus far been arriving spontaneously and without top down direction." We should be relieved that the Obama administration is not getting entangled in these technologies. If it did, things would be even worse. Jane S. Shaw

Center for College Affordability and Productivity said...

Very much agreed, Jane!

-John Glaser

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately the evidence to-date indicates that on-line/distance education is more expensive (to the student) than in-classroom education. This is because, so far, the "innovation" has attracted proprietary schools, who aren't interested in saving students or taxpayers money, and traditional institutions who are passing on the full cost of the "innovation" rather than capitalizing it over time.

Another possibility is that the savings are simply a myth, no matter how the investments are capitalized and amortized.