May 10, 2014

What the market for higher education really wants

There's a lot of talk about how to make higher education cheaper and less exclusive, but my impression is that what the market really wants is for tuition to be more expensive and schools harder to get into. For example, here's what would be a wildly publicized alternative to Harvard Business School: one student out a thousand applicants is picked and he gets to pay one hundred million dollars to have Warren Buffett be his personal MBA tutor.


Oswald Spengler said...

Higher education is now a positional good not a public value.

Anonymous said...

This is essentially what Larry Ellison did when his kids decided they wanted to make movies. He vested them with a bunch of money and then got people like David Geffen, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Kathryn Bigelow and the Coen brothers to mentor them. And it worked out pretty well, actually.

Anonymous said...

This is essentially what Larry Ellison did when his kids decided they wanted to make movies. He vested them with a bunch of money and then got people like David Geffen, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Kathryn Bigelow and the Coen brothers to mentor them. And it worked out pretty well, actually.

It's okay if the kid wants to go into something that can be bought and is about connections (entertainment, business, etc.). A little more problematic if it's a field which requires objective talent. "Dad, I want to be a professional boxer. Could you have Floyd Mayweather, Jr. tutor me?"

pat said...

The calumny about co-eds once was that they were just in college to meet a husband. The implication was that they were just taking up space- they were not really trying to learn anything.

There was some truth to that of course, but now much the same can be said of a lot of men. Why would someone want to go to Harvard? The obvious answer - if you are honest - is to meet people. The big advantage of a place like Harvard is it has a high concentration of contacts who could help you later in life.

If you just want to learn something you could look it up in Wikipedia.

Education should have been revolutionized by computers and the Web by now, but it hasn't . But there is one example of a new direction in academic careers.

I give you the case of Steve Sailer. If you look up Racial Realists or HBD in Wikipedia they will display small photos of all the luminaries in those fields. Every single one of them has a Ph.D. or two and a connection to an academic institution. Except you.

I'm thinking Lynn, Rushton, Murray, Cochran, and Harpending. All of them have also published peer reviewed articles and/or large serious books aimed at the intelligent layman.

But you Steve Sailer have followed a different path. You are almost alone in defining yourself as a serious intellectual who isn't attached to a university or think tank and who doesn't really write books. I don't think you are a journalist. Journalists do interviews. Your book on Obama was more of a literary analysis. It was not the sort of thing that an editor expects to get back from a reporter on assignment.

Even mere journalists like Ann Coulter often deliver lectures on college campuses, but you only blog. You seem to abjure traditional academic venues. If you weren't doing it I would have said that it couldn't be done.

Maybe you are a pioneer or maybe one swallow doesn't make a summer. Too soon to tell.

Pat Boyle

Silicon Valley Guy said...

Well, that's a funny idea that does capture some of what's going on. But let's, for a moment, think about how to make higher education better and cheaper.

My idea is: let's unbundle the education piece from the certification piece. The state legislature in California or Michigan could make it happen by changing what it takes to get a B.A. from their flagship state universities. Instead of sit through four years of classes and get passing grades, the new requirement could be simpler: you don't need to take our classes, you just need to pass one comprehensive (perhaps week-long) series of exams that prove you have a B.A.-level knowledge of ______. Passing these exams would be not just a sufficient condition for a Berkeley B.A., but a necessary one as well: even those who sat through four years of Berkeley classes and lectures would need to pass the exam -- or no degree.

One immediate advantage is that the opportunity to get a degree from Berkeley would be open to all -- no more college admissions game -- since the constraint would be just the availability of competent graders (rather than classroom space).

Another advantage is that this would stimulate the development of a private, tutor-based, exam preparation industry. (We already have such an industry for the SAT, but this one I'm imagining would be about actually learning useful things.) Think about the opportunities for enterprising, but today underemployed, PhDs. (And for established senior scholars too -- if they really care about teaching.)

The universities could continue to operate their classes, but those would be seen as just one of several means to prepare for the big B.A. exam. Students could take their pick: learn your subject as one of thirty in the classroom of a big-name scholar, or (for probably less money) as the lone (or one of two or three) tutee(s) of a lesser-known recent PhD?

Any number of universities could jump into this. They could compete in a healthy way by offering to certify different standards of competence; Berkeley would probably want to make its exam for a B.A. in classics quite difficult, but CSU San Jose might pitch its exam lower. Or an upstart college coming out of nowhere could offer a super-hard exam. (What a way to break up the ossified-over-centuries university prestige pecking order!)

Those are the general outlines of my idea. There would, naturally, be some practical details to attend to. How could the exams be graded to avoid giving an advantage to students of the exam-writers? Could someone who failed the exam retake it? Should the exams be broken up into a graduated series (say, one to test freshman-level competence, the next one sophomore-level, etc)? I believe there can be good solutions to these problems (and there doesn't need to be a single solution; universities could offer alternatives -- another dimension of competition). The end result would be a higher education system that is, compared to the one we have, more open, more transparent, more entrepreneurial, and a lot less expensive.

Discard said...

It was once possible to get a lot of college credit through the CLEP (College Level Examination Program) tests. I recall seeing ads on TV featuring an Abraham Lincoln look-alike being refused a position because he lacked a degree. "But I've studied a lot on my own", Abe says, to no avail. The military also offered the USAFE (United States Armed Forces Examination) tests. I pretty much skipped all my general ed requirements through those tests. ("Obviously", some will no doubt say.)
In any case, demonstrating competence by testing was once accepted in American education. No honest reason it can't be that way again.