Free, Force Is. Free, Education Should Be.
By Dominic Basulto
Washington Post, 31 October 2012
It all seems doable enough that Stanford president John Hennessy came out this year and said that it’s not a matter of if, but when, online higher education becomes free.
And he’s not alone. The Post’s own Vivek Wadhwa recently predicted that all online education would be totally free within 10 years — and that includes an education from the same elite institutions who have joined Coursera. For a really mind-blowing scenario of how it all unfolds check out the EPIC 2020 video — it lays out a realistic route for free online education by the year 2020.
The math certainly seems simple enough. The biggest courses can attract as many as 150,000 people each. Instead of charging annual tuition, a top educational institution could conceivably charge tuition on a course-by-course or a lecture-by-lecture basis. At some point, the price of each lecture might be driven down to $0.99, which seems to be the going price of entertainment these days. Imagine tens of thousands of students from all over the world, downloading lectures for $0.99 each. It would just be a matter of pricing the content correctly and rewarding rock star professors the way we would reward rock stars on iTunes.
What makes the whole education-wants-to-be-free debate so intriguing is that the entrenched market leaders are actually the ones driving the greatest disruption. The leaders of the MOOC revolution have been the likes of Harvard, MIT, Stanford and Princeton. In fact, some have even referred to this past spring as the “Ivy League Spring” — the events have been that dramatic, with educational regimes toppling overnight. However, as we now know from recent experience, spring-time movements can be rolled back just as quickly as they started. et’s hope it’s not the case with online education.
ROBERT STEELE: One of the reasons I feel that we must integrate education, intelligence, and research under one visionary Secretary-General [see the complete package of ideas gathered from many others at We the People Reform Coalition] — and make most of it free to the public in all languages all the time — is because the existing education, intelligence, and research paradigms are all inside out and upside down. All three focus on inputs rather than outputs and on top down push instead of bottom up pull. All three are broken, as Charles Faddis likes to say, “beyond repair.” In my personal view, the US Government has reached its Peter Principle maximum level of unaffordable ineffectiveness. As Will Durant argues so eloquently and compellingly in his 1916 doctoral thesis, Philosophy and the Social Problem, education is “root.” We have allowed the 1% to corrupt all three branches of the federal, state, and local governments (this is NOT just a federal issue, see Deer Hunting With Jesus: Dispatches from America’s Class War), to hollow out the economy, destroy the culture, and worst of all, create an economy in which fraud, rather than education, is rewarded.
The good news is that all of these evils can be undone, and undone quickly, by restoring intelligence with integrity to how we conduct the people’s business. Education combined with entrepreneurship leads to the creation of wealth. At a larger scale, the five billion poor, once afforded access to free education via call centers and online services, will create infinite wealth while also being a consumption marketplace fully four times larger than the existing one focused on the one billion rich.
As I devised some years ago, we in the USA are in need of four inter-locking reforms that create a Smart Nation: electoral reform, intelligence reform, governance reform, and national security reform. Writing today, I would modify that to include education and research with intelligence — they must be integrated — and I would modify national security reform to Whole of Government reform — 50% of every federal dollar is fraud, waste, or abuse (cf. The Price of Excess).
I cannot control any of those — but if there is a political or senior uniformed or civil service leader that wants to start doing the right thing, that’s what I have spent the last twenty years learning how to do: ethical evidence-based decision support in an M4IS2 context.