Tuesday, July 28, 2009

In the Future, The Cost of Education Will Be Zero

Article on Mashable, a social media website, gives a good overview of many of the same innovations in higher education I cover in my new book...Open CourseWare, Flat World Knowledge, University of the People

One of the commenters raises a question I've been mulling over. "I would like to see innovations that problem-solve around issues of FULL access to higher education (and quality k-12 education for that matter) for low-income communities in the US and around the world. This includes opportunities for learning that necessitate physical learning communities that dominant groups will surely continue to build for themselves... I fear that those with the resources to take these innovations to scale will focus their energies around notions of campus-free learning to the detriment of those whose only economical option might be such incomplete learning opportunities, thus dangerously perpetuating a tiered system anyway."

I think in any society you can imagine, there is going to be some inequality and the school system is going to reflect that. What distinguishes the current round of innovations in open education, from what I've seen, is an unusual amount of cross-institutional collaboration from Ivy League colleges to community colleges, and internationally, too.

Also, campus-free learning doesn't have to be seen as incomplete, but complementary to a course of lifelong learning, seeking out learning communities for oneself and incorporating one's life experience as well.

Monday, July 27, 2009

No File, No Future

This story will make your blood boil: In several cases, corrupt Chinese officials have stolen the manila folders of exemplary young, often poor students, which contain their permanent records of test scores and other official documents, and sold them for thousands of dollars. Without the documents, the students, who have slaved and sacrificed everything to achieve a greater place in society, are doomed to low-wage work. Questions raised by the story:

1) What are the consequences of basing people's life chances on a series of tests?
2)Is this an extreme version of the flawed American meritocracy, or does the rigidity of the no-second-chances system make it something else altogether?
3) Why the hell don't they have electronic records, or at least copies of these documents?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Today's Scary Debt Chart

Via Henry Blodget:

The world's governments are borrowing $5 TRillion this year. $3 TRillion will be borrowed by the US.
Where will the money come from? And how will we pay it back?

Where the money comes from gets into a weird existential question about the nature of money. Basically sovereign governments print more money. This causes the value of the money to go down = inflation.
Inflation is one basic way we will "pay" the debt back. A second way is for future taxpayers to pay more taxes to service the debt and the interest. In this sense we are borrowing from ourselves and future generations. If households and companies buy more Treasury bonds, this is a way for these private entities to lend more money to the government, but it also means that these entities are spending and investing less in other things, which keeps a lid on economic growth.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Save Our Jobs, Plead Student Loan Companies

Sallie Mae and 31 other student lenders and allied groups have come up with a counterproposal to the switch to direct lending. Surprisingly, they are agreeing to the elimination of all subsidies for making the loans--this means they are agreeing that the business of actually lending money to students themselves is too risky or otherwise undesirable for private sector lenders. Instead, they want to collect fees to service the loans for which the federal government will provide the capital. Not so incidentally, their plan "...would preserve 35,000 jobs that are supported by the current system."

As student-aid expert Sandy Baum told me today, "At this point in time it seems pretty clear that private sources are not actually funding these loans, so it doesn't make sense to pay them to fund the loans.
We should do whatever is most efficient, saves money, and works for students." Whether that means a single, government-administered and serviced program or a complicated nationwide network of public and private entities using additional taxpayer money to produce the image of "competition"...well, you can ask the health care reformers.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Local NYC Debt Help!

Heard about this from a new acquaintance on the 4th of July. She writes:

"The CLARO clinic. Every Thursday from 2:30-4:30 and 6-8 PM (Kings County Civil Ct, 141 Livingston St rm 403), volunteer attorneys assist those in need of consumer debt legal assistance by filling out the proper court documents etc. It's run by Sidney Cherubin, the supervising attorney of the Brooklyn Bar Association's Volunteer Lawyer's Project"

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Is the Bachelor's Degree Obsolete?

Wick Sloane is a business guy who got obsessed with fixing our education system. He actually volunteered for the front lines, taking a job teaching at Bunker Hill Community College. If you go here you can read his entertaining column and download his enlightening and provocative pamphlet on the future of higher education, modeled after Tom Paine's Common Sense.

In other news, some private student loan borrowers who got ripped off by a flight school are suing. Alan Collinge has collected a million stories like these. Vocational schools (beauty school, truck driving school, culinary school) + private student loans = trouble.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

"You'll Never Be A Lawyer," Says Sallie Mae (Mwah ah ah)

This guy has absolutely no luck, and his case is sure to cause a deserved outcry.

Robert Bowman grew up in foster care, worked his way through community college, college and law school, and survived two accidents, on an ATV and a Jet Ski, the former of which nearly cost him a leg. Along the way he took out 32 separate student loans, both federal and private, which because of the medical deferments (and because of his private loans going into collection) ballooned from $270,000 to $435,000 over a period of four years.

Now the NYC bar is refusing to admit him because his loans are so crazy huge! But of course unless he can practice law he has little hope of ever paying them back.

Anyone who thinks that a crushing burden of debt is a sane way to offer opportunities to the disadvantaged, speak up.