Friday, October 4, 2013

The Decline of College

That's Victor Davis Hanson's title for this article.  I've felt for a few years that universities as we know them will largely disappear in my lifetime, probably not before my own children are college-aged (but by then the alternatives will exist).

What surprised me about Hanson's article wasn't the outlook, but the enumeration of failures by the current system.  As a California farmer, he pays special attention to California's education system:

The four-year campus experience is simply vanishing. At the California State University system, the largest university complex in the world, well under 20 percent of students graduate in four years despite massive student aid. Fewer than half graduate in six years.
 ...
College acceptance was supposed to be a reward for hard work and proven excellence in high school, not a guaranteed entitlement of open admission. Yet more than half of incoming first-year students require remediation in math and English during, rather than before attending, college. That may explain why six years and hundreds of millions of dollars later, about the same number never graduate.
 Not only does the schools fail in educating the students, they fail in other missions as well:

Tenure — virtual lifelong job security for full-time faculty after six years — was supposed to protect free speech on campus. How, then, did campus ideology become more monotonous than diverse, more intolerant of politically unpopular views than open-minded? Universities have so little job flexibility that campuses cannot fire the incompetent tenured or hire full-time competent newcomers.
 His view of the future matches mine, so I might be biased:
What might we expect in the future? Even more online courses will entice students away from campuses through taped lectures from top teachers, together with interactive follow-ups from teaching assistants — all at a fraction of current tuition costs. Technical schools that dispense with therapeutic, hyphenated “studies” courses will offer students marketable skills far more cheaply and efficiently. Periodic teaching contracts, predicated on meeting teaching and research obligations, will probably replace lifelong tenure.
 This is how we're educating our daughter already in Physics this year.  A DVD-series of lectures, with a good concept-based textbook with accompanying labs, and I can help out if the concepts or application gets too tricky. It can only get better.

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