December 16, 2016

ANDY KESSLER: The president-elect should back a new GI bill for online courses.

How about a modern version of the GI Bill, but for everyone. I propose the Re-Hi Bill of 2017. If you’re unemployed, you get a voucher or tax credit for education. No, I’m not going all Bernie Sanders on you, with “free” public college adding billions to the national debt. Instead, there’s a twist: These programs would be online only, drastically lowering costs. . . .

No application essays. No Education Department messing with course selection. No teachers union. No degrees. Instead, only a computer or tablet—and successful completion produces a certificate. The right combination of certificates puts you on a list to be hired for all sorts of jobs: computer-support specialist, outside electrician, freight-stock worker, sonographer, radiation therapist, actuary. The list goes on.

And why not let private companies—think IBM, Ford, Pfizer, Amazon and others—come up with an online curriculum that they would hire from? Yes, the devil is in the details. Quality controls would help keep standards high. Fraud could be resolved using smartphone fingerprint recognition. LinkedIn would handle certificates and provide a searchable database for qualified workers.

The Trump administration has promised to spend billions on infrastructure, but that doesn’t provide new skills, and it takes forever to find the shovels. Online education for retraining skills can start tomorrow morning, and for relatively cheap. Even 15 million workers spending $500 a year on a few courses comes to less than $8 billion.

Somebody should write a book on this sort of thing.

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