National University could make college affordable

Thanks to advances in information technology, we can “create a 21st Century National University that will help millions of students get a high-quality, low-cost college education — without hiring any professors, building any buildings or costing the taxpayers a dime.” So writes Kevin Carey, who directs education policy at New America, in his new book, The End of College: Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere.

national university was George Washington’s wish, Carey writes on CNN. He even left money for it in his will. Now it’s doable.

Anyone with an Internet connection can log on to Coursera, edX, saylor.org, and many other websites offering high-quality online courses, created by many of the world’s greatest universities and taught by tenured professors, for free.

Tens of millions of students have already signed up for these courses over the last four years. Yet enrollment in traditional colleges hasn’t flagged, and prices have continued to rise. The reason is clear. The free college providers can’t (or won’t) give online students the one thing they need more than anything else: a college degree. Elite universities like Harvard and Stanford don’t want to dilute their exclusive brands. Nonelite universities don’t want to give away something they’re currently selling for a lot of money.

The U.S. Department of Education could create a nonprofit with the authority to approve courses and grant degrees, he proposes. “Any higher education provider, public or private sector, could submit a course for approval,” paying a fee to cover the cost of evaluation.

While many of the courses will be free, students will bear small costs for taking exams through secure online channels or in-person testing facilities. (Textbooks will be free and open-source). Students will also pay a modest fee of a few hundred dollars for the degree itself, enough to defray the operating costs of National U.

National University wouldn’t have football or fraternities, but many people would give that up for a low-cost credential.

Carey is speaking on his ideas about the future of learning this afternoon (Wednesday). Go here for the livestream.

Competency-based programs give credit for skills learned through work, independent study or other means, writes Matt Krupnick on the Hechinger Report.

That means those students can earn degrees more quickly and at a lower cost — even lower now that the U.S. Department of Education has begun a pilot program under which students at 40 institutions will be able to use federal financial aid to pay for it, which was not previously allowed.

But what about quality?

Competency-based programs “could very easily devolve into diploma mills,” said Amy Laitinen, a former White House and Department of Education advisor who is now deputy director for higher education at the New America Foundation and an advocate of the concept. “It could go south very quickly.”

Sweet Briar College will close due to financial problems. A residential liberal arts college for women, Sweet Briar charged $47,000 a year, including tuition and room and board. Even with financial aid, the average was $25,000 a year. Not enough young women wanted a single-sex education at that price.

A college shake-out is coming: Sweet Briar won’t be the last private college to fold.

Skills are better than degrees, say workers

When it comes to career advancement, skills training is more important than a college degree, say workers who responded to Glassdoor’s Q2 2014 Employment Confidence Survey.

Dollars for degrees: Engineering pays

North Carolina is making it easier for students to predict the dollar value of college degrees. A new state web site will provide median earnings and employment by major, degree and campus.

All the top-paying two- and four-year degrees are in engineering and technology. A four-year graduate in nuclear engineering can expect to earn nearly $90,000 in five years, while the median income for theater graduates is $10,400 after five years.

10 low-earning college majors

Anthropology leads Kiplinger’s Worst College Majors for Your Career. It combines low pay and high unemployment. Anthro majors are twice as likely as the average college graduate to end up working in retail in a job that doesn’t require a college education.

Unemployment rate: 6.9%
Recent grad employment rate: 10.5%
Median salary: $40,000
Median salary for recent grads: $28,000
Projected job growth for this field, 2010-2020: 21%
Likelihood of working retail: 2.1 times average

Many anthropology graduates “are studying a culture they didn’t expect: the intergenerational American household, as seen from their parents’ couch.”  Nearly a third of recent grads are in low-paying office or sales jobs. Recent graduates average $28,000 per year, less than the median pay for someone with only a high school diploma. Students interested in foreign cultures would do better to major in international relations, Kiplinger suggests.

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Fine arts, film/photography, studio arts, graphic design and drama/theater also are low-earnings, high-retail majors.  Also on the list: philosophy and religious studies, sociology, liberal arts and my major, English.

I’d guess that arts and theater majors understand they’re going to struggle to make a living. Do sociology majors know their odds?

Ann Althouse quotes from Kurt Vonnegut’s A Man Without a Country:

If you want to really hurt your parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.

I’m not sure writing bad poetry constitutes practicing art or enlarges the soul.

Britain: More degrees are worth less

College –and debt — for all isn’t just a U.S. thing. Students must be told the whole truth about the value of a college degree, writes Fraser Nelson in Britain’s Telegraph.

To listen to ministers talk about university education, it is as if Britain has entered an academic arms race with the rest of the world. China’s universities, we’re told, are spewing out six million graduates a year: we must compete, or we’re doomed. In the Blair years, a national target was set: half of all young people ought to enter higher education. They’d have to get into debt, but they were reassured it would be a worthwhile investment.

The real picture is more complex, Nelson argues. “In many lines of work, those who did not get the A-levels for university now have a future just as bright (or otherwise) as the graduates.”

Students are told they’ll earn much more with a degree — but a degree in what? Golf Management? Trade  Union Studies? The college premium diminishes for students with less rigorous degrees, especially for men. Humanities graduates also fare poorly, according to a recent government report, Nelson writes.

Those who graduate in the subjects I studied, history and philosophy, can expect to earn a paltry £35 a year more than non-graduates. For graduates in “mass communication” the premium is just £120 a year. But both are better value than a degree in “creative arts”, where graduates can actually expect to earn £15,000 less, over a lifetime, than those who start work aged 18.

Almost a third of recent college graduates are in jobs that don’t require higher education and one in 10 is “on the dole.”

Many ‘dreamers’ will need GED, college access

Young illegal immigrants began applying this week for two-year stays on deportation and renewable work permits. High school drop-outs can qualify by enrolling in a GED or job training program. That sets the bar low: Enrolling is easy; completion is hard.

Also on Community College Spotlight:  Half the jobs lost in the recession have been recovered, according to a Georgetown report, but virtually all new jobs require college credentials — a certificate, associate degree or bachelor’s.

Tuning up higher ed

What does a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering mean? What about an associate degree in nursing? Colleges and universities in seven states are “tuning” courses and degree programs, setting clear standards for what graduates in a specific discipline should know and be able to do.

E-textbooks aren’t much cheaper than traditional books. Apple’s iBook app will require students to use an iPad. To really slash rising textbook costs, college students need access to o-books — free or very cheap open-source learning materials — advocates argue.

Dual enrollment works only if it’s rigorous

Dual enrollment — college classes for high school students — boosts college-going and graduation rates only if students take rigorous classes on a college campus, a study finds. There are no gains for marginal students.

Also on Community College Spotlight: More degrees for the dollar?

And, for-profit students are less likely to be working and earn less than similar students who enrolled at a public or private nonprofit college, suggests a new study.

How much debt for a degree?

Education Sector’s debt-to-degree ratio finds “the national enterprise of producing college degrees is increasingly being floated on a sea of debt.”

Also on Community College SpotlightWhere the boys are, but the men aren’t.

STEM rules

Science and math mastery lead to money, according to this Live Science infographic.