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Problems in Higher Education (Part I)

I've been thinking about higher education for a while and wondering why in the 21st century, with all of our technological achievements and networked computational power, we still haven't fully disrupted the teaching methods and models that have been used for centuries. I will admit that there are companies out there attempting to do just this, such as Udacity, African Leadership University, Coursera, Khan Academy, and Lambda School to name a few. However, while all of these schools make heavy use of online lectures, they have not fully supplanted the university experience. No longer is the university the bastion of knowledge that it once was on the 19th century - anything you wish to learn is on the internet, available at the click of a button. But if the information is free and widely available, why haven't we changed our ways? The hegemony of higher education is NOT in closely guarded information (which is widely available), but rather in its accreditation.

For broader, cheaper, and more innovative higher education experiences, this must change.


Let's start by asking a basic question: what is the purpose of higher education? A few thoughts:


- Producing productive, prepared citizens who can function in society 

- Educating citizens to go create new knowledge, make new discoveries, create new jobs, form new companies, and design new products and services

- Allows for multicultural experiences to broaden cultural awareness


Now for a second question - can all of these be accomplished with information gathered online? Yes, except for the last point, which requires genuine human interaction, but even multicultural experiences can happen outside of the university setting.


So what is holding back higher education in the US and broader western world from adapting new, innovative, and cheaper education models? Entrenched stakeholders and the signaling value of a degree. Hot take: a university degree is less about what you studied and more about what your admission signals to prospective graduate schools or employers. See David Perrell's piece on information flows in the 21st century here for a more nuanced approach to this. Before we go further, I want to clarify that I value my two degrees from the University of North Carolina VERY highly! I value them, however, based on my experiences more than my education. The people I met, the places I went, and the experiences I had were invaluable to me - a real form of experiential education.  The in-class education was top notch too, but my question still stands: for many people today who simply can't afford college without taking on