Daniel Luzer on Jeffrey J. Selingo’s College (Un)bound: The Future of Higher Education and What it Means for Students, in a review entitled “Revolution for Thee, Not Me:”
[I]f we’re expanding access to college through alternative, technology-based systems, is this really expanding access to college or providing a different experience entirely? Perhaps the biggest flaw of this book is that while Selingo offers a very good take on what declining state funding and innovative technology could mean for both colleges and students, he fails to consider what this “revolution” in higher education might mean for American society as a whole.
“The college of the future will certainly be different than the one of today,” he explains, “but robots will not replace professors in the classroom anytime soon. Harvard will remain Harvard.” He estimates that 500 or so of America’s 4,000 colleges have large enough endowments to remain unchanged by this revolution. But isn’t that a problem? If Princeton and Williams will be unaffected by these trends, what’s really going on here?
It seems that the future won’t unbind higher education for everyone—just for the working and middle classes. That’s because rich people will always be able to afford traditional colleges. America’s affluent parents recognize that the actual point of college is only partially about earning four credits in microeconomics and more about drinking with your roommate and talking about philosophy until four a.m., working together with classmates on problem sets in the library, negotiating a new social scene, and falling in love. College students make friends, cultivate interests, and develop connections through which they eventually get jobs. Those experiences cannot be replicated through badges.
. . . . .
Given the current 90 percent dropout rate in most MOOCs, an 8-point gap in completion rates between traditional and online courses offered by community colleges, the 6.5 percent graduation rate even at the respected Western Governors University, and the ambiguity of many other higher education reform ideas, there’s good reason to think that an unbound future might not be so great.
I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: This tulip bulb is a bargain at only $8,000! Dot.bomb! Dow 36,000! It makes perfect sense to take out a $450,000 mortgage on a $50,000 salary with balloon payment due in 2009!
Here’s another thing to consider: these other speculative bubbles had nothing to do with democratizing access to anything. In case you aren’t cynical enough already, just take a look at Irene Ogrizek on Daphne Koller’s dishonest TED talk, for example:
What we are seeing is a carefully calibrated infomercial, one that has been created specifically to push all the right buttons. Who is against helping the disadvantaged in Africa? Who would deny a young father with an ailing daughter a chance to improve both their lives? Who doesn’t want single mothers to succeed? Anyone who speaks against Coursera, Koller’s video seems to be saying, is likely an educated and condescending elitist who, owing to innate snobbery, is against helping the worthy and disadvantaged among us.
What kinds of idiots get taken in by this utterly empty showmanship? Oh, yeah: the kinds of idiots running American universities, I guess. The more I read about the dishonest promises proffered by the Lords of MOOC creation, the more I see Count Olaf, the villain of the Series of Unfortunate Events books by Lemony Snicket. As his representative Daniel Handler suggests below, when you see Count Olaf count to zero, then scream and run away! Run, RUN run run run run run run, or die, DIE die die die die die die die die die!