Higher Education – Not What it Used to Be

The Economist looks at Higher Education in American and examines whether the cost is truly ‘worth it’ for most American students now pursuing 4-year degrees.

Higher Education – Not What it Used to Be

8 thoughts on “Higher Education – Not What it Used to Be

  1. norm

    I have been following your on-line education posts. It strikes me that something similar to what befell the average manufacturing worker may be looming for the average educational worker. The low priced cost , lack of safety and environmental regulations of third world labor has driven down the price American labor has been able to demand. Some on-line education is free, it does not get much cheaper than free. American manufacturing did not take its hit overnight nor will educational labor get nicked tomorrow but it is coming as sure as spring follows winter. How does an educational worker protect them self from this attack on their earning power? It will not be the union, they were little help to the factory workers, it will be the ability to reach more students. Lower margins but higher volume, that will be with what you advocate in your blog-the use of technology .

      1. norm

        It is the course work that people who hire care about and if it is MIT course work, the better. A motor inspector for a factory needs a two year electronic degree to get a $40,000 a year job trouble shooting circuity on machines-it will come down to a test and if you show you know it, you’re good. The MIT course work is going to serve better than a $30,000 two year degree from ITT. The MIT school work is free for the asking but no sheepskin delivered, it won’t matter.
        In the day, people read for the law, bought a bunch of books, borrowed some more and read, maybe spent some time clerking and then sat for the bar. When first class schools give their course work away, it can not help but erode the value of the second tier schools ability to charge.

        I drove by my old collage library today, I spent far more time there than I did in the classroom. I received the same degree and paper as my peers who avoided the place as a matter of course but when we took our boards the library scored the big numbers for those who had spent real time there and it was free. Free online course work is going to change education on a scale similar to what free trade changed manufacturing. .

      2. Jim Wheeler

        Your comment, Norm, implies that employers generally prefer their own testing over diplomas from the education establishment. I have been retired for a while and maybe it has changed, but I don’t think so. When I worked as an aerospace engineer my company hired the old-fashioned way – we checked the sheepskins and references, did an interview, and that was that. Personally I think the whole system would work better if employers developed their own tests, but that would be very expensive. If they did, it would be great for competition in the education field which I think has gotten generally complacent, especially in fields other than STEM.

      3. Jennifer Carey Post author

        Thanks Jim. Very thoughtful response! In a way, I can agree with Norm in that those who take it upon themselves to further their knowledge and understanding via extension and free courses will be more successful in their fields. However, I do not yet see (yet being the operative word) how free education will replace traditional methods.

  2. norm

    Jim, maybe I was not as clear as I should have been: the current way we look at qualifications has the sheepskin in the mix but the future may not be quite so hard and fast. My back ground was making things, we hired people to keep up the machinery, the on-line course work will suit fine for those entry level repair jobs. Now drawing up plans for spaceships/airplanes -class time is and will be demanded.

    The point I was making with Ms. Carey was that free education by its nature will drive down wages for the average educational worker. Not today but in the future it will.

    1. Jim Wheeler

      The point I was making with Ms. Carey was that free education by its nature will drive down wages for the average educational worker. Not today but in the future it will.

      I can see your point Norm, but only in the limited context of technical schooling and employers who rely on their own testing for hiring. However, consider something like the trucking industry. I believe many of the companies run their own schools as well as do the testing. In this way they can be assured of the product, a driver who has spent the time, done the exercises and demonstrated both academic knowledge and physical ability.

      I see little danger that “free” knowledge will supplant formal education anytime in our lifetimes because it is generally accepted that a diploma certifies an extensive period during which the student had to demonstrate personal responsibility as well as certified testing of abilities. She had to turn in assignments, attend classes, pay attention, show some creativity and initiative. I submit that no simple employer’s test can rise to that level of assurance. That’s why I think the principal value to the labor pool of formal education, even more than to impart specific knowledge, is to filter and pass through acceptable performers from the pool of applicants.

      Now, having said that, I do see a danger that a gradual lowering of standards and grade creep is undermining that kind of assurance, which after all is what Jennifer’s post here is about. I just wonder how bad it might have to get before it collapses. Pretty bad, I’m thinking.


    great publish, very informative. I ponder why the other specialists of this sector don’t understand this.


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