I know many of my readers also follow Dr. Crazy, but just in case you missed her post from earlier this week, I’ll show you a preview and encourage you to go read the whole post over at her place. First of all, she writes:
You might think that I am a person who would pass over an article about $4,000 suits in the New York Times, but you would be wrong. Because the thing is, this article has a hell of a lot to say about higher education, I think, at least from my perspective.
Interesting, no? She quotes from the story, in which the author explains why a guy making $4,000 custom-made suits only makes $50,000 a year himself. “As I watched Frew work, it became glaringly obvious why he is not rich. Like a 17th-century craftsman, he has no economy of scale.”
[T]he phrase “no economy of scale” sure did stand out to me and ring a giant bell in my head. And then I glanced back up at the preceding paragraph (the joys of reading on paper rather than electronically: you can return to a thing you otherwise would have glossed over), and I noted the following: “he explained how he customizes every aspect of its design” and then, “Modern technology cannot create anything comparable.”
Does this sound familiar to any of y’all? ‘Cause it sure does to me. Wearing non-fancy clothes to do heavy lifting? Check. Customizing every aspect of the design for the individual? Um, check. That is, in fact, the entire pedagogical premise behind “active learning” in the classroom. The inability of modern technology to create the particular product that Frew is selling? Um, YES. Look, I’ve taught online, and I have many students who’ve taken courses online, although not all of them have done so with me. They and I will tell you that it is not the same fucking thing as doing it face to face. So the question then becomes, does a $4 suit do the same thing that a $4,000 suit does?
Not, can it “work”? Sure it can. Just like a suit bought used from the Salvation Army can work for, say, an MLA interview. It looks like a suit. It doesn’t fit as well, and it’s not designed to do the best ever for you, but it’s fine, right? There may be stains, and sure, it might smell funny. But the price is right. Close to free, even. Beggars can’t be choosers. But is it the Platonic essence of suitness? No, surely not.
Free advice for job seekers: please don’t buy your interview suit at the Salvation Army, not unless you can get it cleaned and properly altered!
So you see? Here are the problems: 1) value is not equal to price; 2) our business, the business of learning, just like the business of making a quality suits, relies on an apprenticeship system, because you can’t really learn how to do it without doing it while other people watch over you; 3) having a product available, i.e., the Kardashian Kollection, basically sets it up that people without certain kinds of resources will buy crap rather than saving up for something that isn’t crap.
The future of quality higher education is not MOOCs, just as the future of quality suits is not the Salvation Motherfucking Army. The future of quality higher education is not “increased online offerings,” just as the future of quality suits is not buying a fucking suit online from a department store. Sure, those are “options.” Whatever. Do you think that’s all the options that your kids deserve? Do you think that’s all the options that you deserve? Really?
Exactly. But be sure to read the whole thing for yourself.
And here’s a tip for you bargain-seekers: you, too, can come to Baa Ram U. for just over $4,000 a semester! Yes, you can study as an undergraduate in my department for $4,324.22 a semester. You won’t be expected to take any of your courses online in my department–you can take all in-person, face-to-face classes with faculty who are active scholars as well as dedicated teachers. In my department, I think the value of what we do is far above the price. But that’s not all! If you come to us for a Master’s degree, you can get it for free, and then we pay you a stipend on top of that! No joke. That’s true even for out-of-state students! (Just be sure to establish Colorado residency for your second year in order to keep your tuition remission and your stipend.)
But do you ever hear about departments like mine in the ridiculous conversations about the “high cost” of higher education (at private, selective universities and at for-profit universities) on the one hand, or from the bloviating fools pushing online online online ed for all? No. Are we ever congratulated for the hand-crafted educational work that we do at prices that most families in our state can afford? No. Do you ever hear about the value of what we do? No, because like the $50,000 a year tailor, we’re getting by, but we’re not making money hand-over-fist for ourselves or for someone else. And that, friends, is increasingly how my department is being evaluated: are we generating revenue for our allegedly non-profit employer by offering online classes?
I will stop writing now, because I’m running out of italics and bold letters to emphasize my outrage. Over to you, friends, and thanks to Dr. Crazy for her most excellent rant.