October 15, 2012
GEORGE LEEF ON THE HIGHER EDUCATION BUBBLE: Advocates of limited government can turn pending changes in higher education to their advantage.
The consensus was that the impending disruption in higher education—the bursting of the bubble and subsequent changes in the way students learn—should indeed create opportunities for education to advance liberty.
My argument was that it will do so because the old model of higher education was (and is) heavily stacked in favor of the proponents of collectivism, but future education will not be. To a large extent, our higher education system has been colonized by faculty and administrators who are sympathetic to the expansion of government and unsympathetic to laissez-faire. College students were (and are) much more likely to hear from Marxists than from conservatives or libertarians.
In that old model, a student faced the “bundle” problem. Once the student chose a school, he or she had to choose from the courses and majors offered there. It was as if when you walked into a grocery store, you were allowed to buy either Bag A or Bag B, when both bags contained many items you’d never want to buy individually.
When I was an undergraduate, for example, the only macroeconomics course was taught by a dyed-in-the-wool Keynesian who was absolutely certain that federal authorities could manage the economy to give us high GDP and low unemployment. There was no alternative to that misinformation-laden course, except taking a different major.
Consumers don’t like having to buy bundles, whether it’s food, cable-TV, or education. They would much rather shop for the best and buy only what they want. New developments in education are making that increasingly possible.
Students will be drawn more toward schools that permit them to shop around for the best courses and transferring those credits from other schools rather than requiring them to take their entire bundles. Perhaps in time the very concept of a college degree will change, as students assemble online portfolios of their learning and accomplishments (certificates, badges, and other indicators of capability) to show the world.
In that new educational environment, the old constraints such as accreditation and transferability will matter less and less. None of the huge number of students who signed up for Sebastian Thrun’s initial Udacity course on artificial intelligence cared in the least that Udacity is not accredited. Thrun’s reputation was all that mattered.
With students shopping around for educational products that are high in quality as well as interesting, the market will be open. The old course offerings with their mild-to-severe leftist orientation will have to compete with courses that are balanced or take an intelligent pro-liberty view.
One hopes. I doubt that the old guard will give up without a fight, however.