The cost of higher education has become a hot topic, especially in light of the outrageous levels of youth unemployment in America and Europe. The average price of tuition at American four-year colleges, in constant 2007 dollars, climbed from $8,552 in 1980 to $20,154 in 2009. Outstanding student loan stands at over a trillion dollars at the moment, and thought leaders like Peter Thiel have taken aggressive positions against education bought at these prices.
I happen to be a believer in higher education, but the cost issue is a real one, and it needs a solution. This post is a reflection on the subject.
Today, New York Times has a massive discussion under way about Texas Governor Rick Perry’s College Plan:
Everyone knows that if you are going anywhere in today’s economy, you have to go to college first. But that poses a serious economic dilemma because, at current costs, the nation simply cannot afford all the college that its citizens need.
Governor Perry’s proposal is refreshingly precise, and far more realistic than some people think. Its flaw is that it doesn’t go far enough.
That is why Gov. Rick Perry’s challenge to the Texas university system to provide a four-year bachelor’s degree for a total cost of $10,000 is so intriguing.
The article goes on to quote Bill Gates:
Further, Governor Perry’s plan is not as outlandish as some might suggest. In fact, to some extent, he proposes a world that is already within sight. Community colleges currently offer solid certificates and two-year degrees in the $10,000 range, and more than a dozen states are allowing such colleges to offer low-cost B.A. degrees. Bill Gates, for one, predicts a time when top-notch Web-based degrees will be available for $2,000.
The real flaw in Governor Perry’s plan is that it does not go quite far enough. We would argue that his focus should not be solely on offering affordable college degrees, but also on linking these degrees to real jobs.
If Governor Perry’s plan can do that — educate and place, say, a nurse, a teacher or an accountant for $10,000 — then more power to him.
I believe, Bill Gates has come to the conclusion, as I have, that the only way to get to an affordable higher education (or any kind of education, for that matter) that can also preserve quality, is by using technology. Bill has drawn inspiration and validation from Salman Khan’s Khan Academy, an online repository of video lectures, tests, etc. that students all over the world are using to learn everything from Physics to Mathematics to Art History. What’s even more revealing is that teachers, instead of trying to teach a certain subject themselves by preparing their own lesson plans, are assigning Salman Khan’s lectures as homework, and then using the class time for discussion and live exercises based on those lectures.
This phenomenon is converting the teacher from ‘sage on stage’ to ‘guide on side’, to quote Cheryl Vedoe, CEO of Apex Learning, and successfully mitigates the fact that the world is full of teachers who are not educated enough to teach a subject like Physics or Calculus.
The 1M/1M program for teaching entrepreneurship is such an endeavor – not to deliver a degree or a diploma, but to educate a large number of entrepreneurs in the art and science of building a sustainable business. The beauty of the program is that instead of going out to look for a job, graduates of the program can create their own. And it also mitigates the issue that most people trying to teach entrepreneurship around the world are neither qualified nor capable of doing so.
The program draws inspiration from Salman Khan, with one notable exception: while Khan Academy is free, and operates as a non-profit, 1M/1M is a for-profit business, and members pay a $1000 annual membership fee. Still well within an extremely affordable price range, enough to democratize entrepreneurship education, and address the stratification that we have experienced over the last few decades.
To the New York Times columnist Anthony P. Carnevale, author of the piece quoted above, I’d like to offer a simple solution. How about, if we take the Community College system that is successfully running through the length and breadth of America, and layer 1M/1M over it? An affordable college education combined with an equally affordable entrepreneurship education may create a generation of youth that can, finally, take destiny in their own hands.
Is it not worth testing?