The End of College

[Amazon Link]

Another book provided through the excellent Interlibrary Loan facilities of the University Near Here, from UMass/Amherst. Sort of ironic in this situation, since the book predicts the imminent radical restructuring, if not demise, of these traditional bricks-and-mortar institutions.

The author, Kevin Carey, doesn't seem to be a radical bomb-thrower; as near as I can tell, his politics are mildly liberal, with articles and columns appearing in The New Republic, Slate, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and The American Prospect. But his critique of America's colleges and universities would be a comfortable fit in Reason, National Review, or The Weekly Standard.

Carey's brief history of American higher-ed indicates the problem: we have agglomerated three different major purposes (classical liberal arts education, professional training, and scholarly research) into what he calls the "hybrid" university.

"Hybrid" is probably the most polite term that could be applied; a more apt metaphor for an out-of-control monster assembled out of hubris and spare parts might be "Frankenschool".

Carey deftly notes that the current higher-ed system is incoherent, expensive, inflexible, and unsustainable. It is a procrustean bed, chopping up subject matters into semesters, credit hours, four-walled classrooms, and campuses. It takes little to no account of variance in students' talents, learning styles, or interests. The visible fist of government regulation and accreditation stifles experimentation and innovation. Non-academic fripperies are constructed in an effort to attract more paying students. (Carey's example: the University of Northern Arizona, with mediocre academics, but a shiny $100 million fitness center.) Education gets a back seat; studies show that the typical student doesn't learn much.

What will save the day, in Carey's view, is (1) the Internet and (2) new insights into cognitive psychology, combining into on-line course offerings that will be low-cost, effective, and far more nimble than the existing setup. Carey calls this "the University of Everywhere". No longer will an MIT/Harvard education be restricted to the handful of souls who manage to get through the admissions filter. Instead, you can get it for low or zero cost on the Web. (As with his critique of the status quo, Carey's enthusiasm for free-market innovation fits right in with my own conservative/libertarian sympathies.)

Carey is a very good (and occasionally very funny) writer, and he certainly did his research. He took an online introductory molecular biology course from MIT (could have been free, but he paid a few hundred bucks for MIT's certification of completion). He travelled all over the country to interview representatives of traditional schools as well as the disruptive people earnestly hoping to come up with "killer apps" for the education market.

Will Carey's vision come to pass? I have to say: I hope so, but remain skeptical. Carey himself discusses how every new technological breakthrough has been hailed as a revolutionary alternative to traditional schooling—going back to radio! And computers have been marketed as education saviors for decades; hey, anyone remember Plato? So who knows?

But if you're interested in the future of higher-ed, Carey's book is an easy and fun read, full of insightful observations and interesting possibilities. A website devoted to the book (with excerpts) is here. And you'll also want to check out libertarian scholar Bryan Caplan's critique ("Wrong but beautiful") here.

The Phony Campaign

2015-05-17 Update

[phony baloney]

When it comes to picking which white male Democrat is less unlikely to become the next president, the Predictwise guys seem to have a difficult time choosing between Martin O'Malley and Joe Biden.

But this week, it's O'Malley, with Biden dropping off our 2% probability screen. So:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2015-05-10
"Jeb Bush" phony 1,460,000 +693,000
"Martin O'Malley" phony 640,000 -
"Hillary Clinton" phony 382,000 -8,000
"Rand Paul" phony 162,000 -8,000
"Marco Rubio" phony 108,000 +3,000
"Scott Walker" phony 95,000 -3,800
"Elizabeth Warren" phony 90,000 +14,800

  • At least part of Jeb Bush's uptick in phony hit counts is no doubt due to his mis-response to Megan Kelly's “Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the [2003 Iraq] invasion?" This has caused tedious replays of that debate, with the usual suspects dusting off old assertions about what "we" did know then.

    Knowing what we know now, I personally would have advised Franz Ferdinand to have had a little better security in Sarajevo; I would have recommended that Hoover veto Smoot-Hawley; that internment of Japanese-Americans was kind of a bad call; as was the decision to launch Challenger; we shoulda let Lee Harvey Oswald rot in Minsk; and …

    Well you get the point. The only thing phonier than Jeb's answer to the question was the question itself.

    On the other hand, now that the standard has been set, I eagerly await: "Mrs. Clinton, knowing what we know now, would you have married Bill?"

    Not holding my breath on that, though. Because the media's double standard in posing gotcha questions is pretty phony too.

  • NPR—yes, frickin' NPR—wrote perhaps the funniest campaign story this week, compiling "The 13 Questions Hillary Clinton Has Answered From The Press" since announcing her candidacy weeks ago. Sample:

    NBC's Kristen Welker caught up with Clinton outside her very first campaign stop at an Iowa coffee shop:

    "You lost Iowa in 2008. How do you win this time? What's your strategy?" Welker asked.

    Clinton's reply, as she walked toward an open van door: "I'm having a great time. Can't look forward any more than I am."

  • Politico reports on its polling of "insiders" in both parties. This gem:

    Seven in 10 Republicans said Clinton spends too little time campaigning. “But when she does, she is so horrible, dull, scripted and phony that the Hillary juggernaut should create plans to build a soundproof Rose Garden in Brooklyn,” said a Granite Stater.

    Disclaimer: That wasn't me.

  • Howie Carr writes in the Boston Herald: "Now even Barack agrees Elizabeth Warren is phony":

    For once I agree with Barack Obama — he’s calling out the fake Indian as a liar, and who knows more about speaking with a forked tongue than Mr. If-You-Like-Your-Doctor-You-Can-Keep-Your-Doctor?

    In case you haven’t been following the inside-the-Beltway inside baseball, the moonbats have convened a circular firing squad over this Pacific Rim trade legislation that’s before the U.S. Senate.

    Granny rips President Soetoro, he blasts back, the pajama boy senator from Ohio accuses Moochelle’s better half of sexism, the president of NOW seconds those remarks, Obama’s flack says the senator should apologize …

    This is like the old Iran-Iraq War. Isn’t there some way they can all lose?

  • We haven't had a lot about Marco Rubio here, but this story about his relationship with his wife Jeannette covers a period when their premarital relationship was on the rocks:

    "I went clubbing, and I liked it," he wrote in his memoir, An American Son.

    One night he ended up at a South Beach club that pumped foam into a room of sweaty, writhing dancers. "I looked down at my shoes. They were perfectly white," Rubio recounted. "The foam had somehow bleached the color out of my cheap and obviously fake leather shoes. … I left the club and found the nearest pay phone."

    Feeling like a phony, he called Jeanette, then a cab. They married three years later. Her extrovert husband jumped on stage with the wedding band, 200 people watching, and sang Sinatra's My Way.

    "Senator Rubio, knowing what we know now, would you have gone clubbing in fake leather shoes?"

  • Finally, your tweets of the week, first from Hillary:

    And Rand Paul's response: