The Coming Revolution In Education
Lately, it has become fashionable to bash the value of a college education. This is because recent graduates cannot get jobs. There aren’t many jobs and the unemployment rate for newly minted graduates in the U.S. is about 20%. We are lucky. In Greece, it is 60%, Spain 55%, France 25%, Britain 22%. And most of the jobs are menial. To be young and educated, and usually in massive debt, seems a waste when you cannot get a job.
This is a temporary phenomenon and due mainly to the insane fiscal and monetary policies of the European Union. Its leader, Germany, holds the absolutely crazy idea the solution to unemployment is yet more austerity. Thank you, Germany, for showing the United States what not to do.
All of this hides the emergence of internet-based education. My son, Harrison, attends UC Santa Cruz. For almost all of his courses, he takes tests and does homework via the net. To be sure, much of it is honor-based; you can cheat. But students always can cheat and ultimately they cheat themselves. I am not talking about them.
I am talking about the people who want an education but cannot afford one, at least a traditional one. Either that, or they know too many students whose education debts are so staggering they will be middle-aged before paying them off. (That this is insane U.S. national policy is not the subject of this column, but it could be: punish those who pursue an education with colossal debt and therefore discourage it? This is the leader of the Free World?)
Instead, students are taking to the net. For-profit colleges were the first to jump in with both feet. They saw the potential first because for-profit institutions always see the financial possibilities first. But the traditional colleges are following. Some now offer on-line degrees for a fraction of cost of living-there degrees.
The international potential of this is beyond scope. It means anyone with Internet access soon also will have access to accredited formal education and an accredited formal degree and the intellectual emancipation that goes with it.
It is an old truth that education liberates. It is no coincidence the Taliban discourages formal education. An illiterate population is an easily manipulated population. An educated population asks uncomfortable questions.
Repressive regimes, no matter their ideology, want docility.
Think of China. Think how that nation tries to censor the web. Think of how many people that effort requires. Think now of ambitious 19-year old girls in Saudi Arabia who want educations. Think of what happens when out of the 7 billion humans on planet Earth, think when 2 billion of them are obtaining education or are educated. Think of what that does to planet Earth. It transforms us.
For China in particular this poses a problem. If you want your citizens educated and docile, how do you achieve it? Only by brute force, which China uses, but how do you do it when your entire middle and upper-middle class labor force is educated? How do you take ambitious, educated, striving people and make them docile in the long run?
I ask this question of the United States and it quickly boils down to this: does anyone seriously believe Harvard and its ilk will not offer full on-line degrees 10 years from now? And at that time, how does one define an “elite university education?” How does one define “elite?” One quickly concludes that progenitor status alone will not suffice. The shift will be to the merit-based, and the pace of economic and social change will accelerate yet again.
You ain’t seen nothing yet.
Michael Ray grew up in Corona del Mar and now lives in Laguna Beach. He makes a living as a real estate entrepreneur and is involved in many non-profits.