Tag: learning

Minnesota: Beware of Free Education

Imagine that it’s the 21st century, and that at least a handful of people in the education business have realized this. Putting their insight to good use, a few of them create an online service called “Coursera” that offers free lectures from some of the top universities in the nation (Stanford, Johns Hopkins, etc.). Then imagine that the state of Minnesota has decided that it is illegal for Coursera to offer these free lectures to its citizens.

I know, it’s hard to imagine. Unfortunately, you don’t have to, you can just read about how it’s actually happening.

One of the classes you can take at Coursera is “Principles of Macroeconomics.” Maybe the folks who lobbied for and enacted the state’s education regulations are afraid that free learning and economic literacy would threaten their phony-baloney jobs.

Why College Should Be Given Away for Free

The editor of The Nation thinks college should be given away for free. She’s probably right, but perhaps not in the sense she intends. So many college degrees today are intrinsically worthless that it should really not be possible to find people willing to pay for them. As I wrote in a recent New York TimesRoom for Debate” commentary:

Barely half of students at four-year public institutions graduate in six years — and many learn very little along the way. Nearly half of all college students made no significant gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning, or written communication after two full years of study, according to research by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa. Even among the more elite subset of students who stick around for four full years of college, a third made no significant gains in these areas.

So what’s the alternative if you’re a high school senior seeking higher education? How about this: instead of handing control over that education to someone else, decide what it is you would like to learn over those four years and then… learn it. Thanks to the Web, the material covered in virtually every undergraduate program is readily available at little cost—and the same is true for many advanced programs. And, having learned it, spend a few hundred dollars to create a website or even simply a YouTube channel on which you demonstrate your new skills/understanding. Conduct research. Write it up. Build something. Translate Cyrano into English, maintaining the Alexandrine meter and rhyme. Whatever it is. Then, when you’re ready to apply for work, submit your resume with a link to this portfolio of relevant work.

Employers, ask yourself this question: Would you rather hire someone with a portfolio such as the one described above, visibly demonstrating competency and personal initiative, or someone with a degree that is generally supposed to signal that competency, but that you can’t readily assess for yourself?

[And since “resume” and “curriculum vitae” are both foreign language terms, why don’t we call these portfolios-in-lieu-of-college-degrees the student’s savoir-faire. Literally: “know how to do.”]