Charles Hugh Smith: The Nearly Free University

The cost of higher education has skyrocketed in recent decades. The average cost of tuition is up over 1,000% since the 1980s, far outstripping price inflation and most other goods and services.


Yet despite the accelerated cost, the value of a college degree has been diminishing, both in the terms of quality of education received and future employment prospects.

In his new book, The Nearly Free UniversityCharles Hugh Smith takes a critical look at the state of education in the developed world and claims that it is ripe for creative disruption. There are new models and new enabling technologies that promise to deliver more effective learning at much lower cost, but they challenge a very entrenched establishment, meaning that the system will likely fight these innovations. 

On the Failings of the Current Education Model

I think that the system has reached diminishing returns. It's a  "factory model" in the sense that you take a standard course of material and you give it to hundreds or thousands of people. If fifty people come in to hear the lecture, they read the same textbook, they take the same test, they move on, and another fifty people take their place, it is very much an assembly-line approach to education. As the costs have skyrocketed, the effectiveness of what we are learning in that assembly-line educational model is no longer paying dividends in the real economy. Statistically, half of all recent college graduates have either no job at all or they are severely underemployed. This speaks to an enormous disconnect from the higher education system and the economy that it is supposed to be serving. 

The numbers are something like this: credit card debt for the entire United States is something like $760 billion; auto loans are roughly the same thing, $700 billion or so. We have a student loan debt of over $1 trillion. A and what is really astonishing is that the federal government has taken over issuing – not just guaranteeing – but they own these loans. I am looking right now at a St. Louis Federal Reserve chart which shows that the federal government’s ownership of student loans went from a $100 million in 2009 to $550 million today. In other words, it has skyrocketed as the federal government has basically taken over about a half a trillion dollars in student debt. They are issuing it and demanding it and demanding payment on it.

You have to ask, how is it that the federal government is issuing half a trillion dollars in new student debt or taking over old debt within a few years? What is the payoff for our society of saddling college students with a trillion dollars in debt? On the other side of the payoff – in other words, the return on investment, as you mentioned – a huge study, one of the few that has actually tracked the results of a college education – like, how much do people learn in getting a four-year degree? – it is called "academically adrift." It found roughly a third of all college graduates had no increase in critical thinking skills. Another third had marginal improvements in the kinds of skills that we would consider critical in what I call the emerging economy, the parts of the economy that are actually growing and expanding instead of shriveling and fading. 

On the Ripe Potential for Creative Disruption

My motivation for writing the book was to question what kind of system would we have if we could start from scratch in terms of higher education. I think that given the advances in digital technology, the answer is really clear. We would take a curriculum based on what is called MOOCs, massively open online courses, where the very best lecturers are recorded and their lectures are made available for free. Combine that with what I call 'YouTube University', where people have posted a tremendous number, thousands of little lessons on academic and practical bits alike. The core idea in YouTube University is, if you want to solve a  particular kind of equation, then you can go and find a lesson that is three or four minutes long, and it shows you how to solve that one equation.

It turns out that there are academic studies on how people learn, and this constant feedback where you take one lesson, you solve it yourself, and you move on actually leads to more learning than sitting and watching a sixty-minute lecture. The point here is that the innovations that actually increase learning are available digitally now for basically free. Why should an education that is available for free cost $100,000?

I call it “accredit the student, not the school.” The basic idea is, in a profession such as architecture or law, in most states at least, just getting a degree does not mean that you can go out and practice. Because it is understood that you may not have learned enough or not learned the right stuff or not have the grasp of the material needed to actually go practice your profession, so you have to take a test. Once you pass this test, which is rigorous, then you are stamped “architect,” “attorney,” and so on, and you can go practice your trade.

Why can’t we apply this model to everything? In other words, if you get a degree in computer science and it is understood you should know something about network security, then you would pass a test that can be done online with encryption and various things. Or it could be proctored by a real person in a classroom and you pay a hundred bucks and you take the test. But you could be tested for the actual working knowledge that you are supposed to have, and if you pass the test, then you are accredited, you earn that degree. It could work in  philosophy as well as computer science or biology; it could work in anything.

That eliminates this artificial scarcity of credentials. In other words, anybody could study on their own and take the test and be granted the accreditation. 

Click the play button below to listen to my interview with Charles Hugh Smith (47m:16s):

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Most of college is a waste.  It is a herding device per class stratus.   If you go hard science, there is still some worth.  But with the Internet if you want to learn a subject you can connect to some briliant minds (teaching skills and/or subject knowledge) for the time you invest.   The most important skill is developing critical thinking that allows one to pursue study and learning without concern for herd acceptence.  That and how to judge people so you are not swindled.

I look forward to reading your book, Charles. Young people I know are rejecting the traditional mantra in droves, at least the smart ones are. The lemmings have not seen the ROI cliff; however, I hope that will change soon. God help anyone who works in academia when they do.
I've a few relevant life experiences to add to the discussion. Believe it or not, based on the strength of my verbals on my SATs in 1973 I was offered a full scholarship to Southampton College, if I majored in English - and I turned it down. The reason I gave that people understod was that the college was "not acredited" (They became acredited later.) My real reason was that graduates in that field tended to not make very much money IF they could find a job at all. I tried to get a degree in a field with a shortage–nursing–but had to quit due to a family emergency after only one year. I took me three years to pay off that one year of schooling.

Fast forward to 20 years later… My ex abandoned me with three kids, and I spent a great deal of thought on how to support the kids. I 'd watched my generation train for careers that never materialized (examples: physics grads I knew working as courriers or rousastabouts–no physics jobs–and the country had way more teachers than teaching openings) so my main concern was cost-effective training that would lead to an actual JOB. I tried to choose an occupation that would not become automated and I focused on careers where there was a shortage of applicants. If no one wanted to do it, but it was necessary and I could manage it, those were my best options. I chose heavy construction safety management and got licensed in that for the City of New York. Licensing would have cost me $3K for a 40-hour course and $1K for testing and applications and such, but my new boss paid - the need for people in my field was that great.

But what I had not reckoned with was similar to what Adam described as:

what that piece of paper does, that diploma does for you is, it gets you in the door in terms of the interview process during the initial recruiting phase right after graduation.
I only made a living wage when I went back to school and got a bachelor's degree in safety management, and then threatened to leave unless they paid me what that was worth. So while I am a firm believer in professional licenses as an alternative to degrees I ran into that "you currently have to do both the practical training AND the degree" situation. School plus a job plus sinlge-parenthood = exhaustion. God, I hope the system Charles Hugh Smith outlines hapens soon! But there is something else getting in the way. 

I think that hiring officials look at a degree as a way to cover their "accessories" - as in, "Hey, how was I supposed to now s/he would not work out? They had a degree!" Until human resources-types stop looking at traditional degrees like insurnace policies to keep hiring officials out of trouble if they make a mistake, this factory-degree farce will continue.

Not that anyone will hire me at my age (50s) and my old profession is gone with the rest of the construction industry. So I looked to the future, and people need to grow more of their own food. I will help them do that as a consultant. Entrepreneurship can be mentored via SCORE. Right now I am taking an MOOC via Clemson University to get a Master Gardener certificate; the title "Master Gardener" requires volunteer hands-on work, once a year. Cost? $300. And I am getting a certificate, not a degree, in Landscape Design and Horticulture from a local technical school for around $1500, in $169-per-class increments. The cost-benefit ration for my chosen path made a heck of a lot more sense to me than going back to a traditional college and going in debt up to my eyballs.

Charles and Adam,
Great topic and discussion! As both a parent staring down the gun of my daughter's high-priced educational ambitions, and a university professor somewhat affiliated with the current system, I am very interested in the issues that you raised and the potential solutions you've described.

One concern I have though is the relative weighting of roles and responsibilities of any educational system versus that of the students themselves. We are treating education as if it were a product. The idea is that if you go into a school and do the time, jump through the hoops, and pay the bills, that the paper degree that is collected on the other side means that the person who comes out is a 'finished product' (engineer, architect, teacher…), with the academic pedigree telling an employer if they are getting a high quality asset or a cheap knock off. However, the real point of an education is to come out at the other end with a mental toolkit that you are skilled in employing on 'real world' problems. Without the marriage of both academic learning and effective workplace internships, the likelihood of gaining any level of 'mastery' is quite small.

The study that you mentioned, assessing changes in the levels of critical thinking skills engendered by a generic college education caught my attention - with 2/3 showing little or no improvement! Is this a failure of the educational system, societal values, or human nature? Is the quality of education dropping or are the expectations of ill-prepared or incapable students increasing? I teach graduate school and one of my stock statements at the beginning of each semester's courses is "I may not be able to make you think, but I can sure try, and I will". I truly have no idea of what percentage of the human population is capable of different levels of critical thinking but I do know that for my own doctoral and master's students that each one needs hand-crafting since each is limited by their own unique set of mental/psychological challenges. I am not sure that factory education procedures (either online or in person) are capable of turning out critical thinkers.

I really like the idea of accrediting the students versus simply relying on the sheepskin from academic institutions as proof of ability because it rewards proven proficiency regardless of where or how the knowledge has been gained. Excellent universities would still have a powerful role because they would be able to guarantee a much higher chance of a person passing such a test, assuming successful completion of their programs. Those students motivated and capable enough to independently gain the requisite knowledge and skills by dint of hard work, experience, and tenacity could do so without incurring large debts, perhaps via free online courses. Ultimately though, this again comes down to proving ones ability to take a test, not to being able to function in the real professional world.

It is clear that the educational system, just like all human-related activities, has to continue to evolve. However, I do not believe that universities manufacture a scarcity of reasonably accredited students. If anything, they (at least some) try to mass produce them. The problems we face seem to be more related to the lowering of standards than the holding back of eager minds.

Great food for thought, and there is certainly an expanding role for the approaches that you outline.



This is a great subject; thank you for the information
One view point I value on a college degree is this;

  • In the 1940’s & 50’s, a high school diploma was a ticket to the middle class; college had its place for education for some jobs, but was not necessary for prosperous middle class life.  
  • From about the 1970’s on up, a college degree was a ticket to the middle class.
  • For the past ten years and into the future, a college degree is a really expensive raffle ticket to the middle class.   
A college degree in many ways has very little to do with education, it is much more about class distinction in our society, and how much an employer is expected to pay for your skills.  As you all are well aware, you can expect far less pay for a job if you do not have a college degree; even if you have the same skill level.   

Here’s the present dilemma,

  • Get the college raffle ticket to the middle class for as little expense as possible.  This is getting really really hard to do.
  • And get some real skills as well despite sinking years into a college education.
As a father of four children, 10 to 1, I need to help my children run this gambit.  It is nice to have some more insights on this.

One absolute key to a real education is the master-apprentice idea.  I am very glad this was brought up.  In my experience, this is where most skills of value are disseminated.  

If you are a master, please consider taking on an apprentice or two.

Good one Charles.
This is going to make me sound like a left wing touchy-feely ideologue. I am not. I am to the right of Genghis Khan.  Why? Because nature uses only one criteria. “Does it work?” No excuses, “Does it Work?”

Here goes: The basic unit is not the individual. (Sorry lone heroic cowboy with horse.) It is the planet itself.  And from there on we can divide everything down into all sorts of subgroups, all completely arbitrary and artificial. (Chinese versus American, Whales versus plankton etc.)

The Ego riddled, Model Making Left Brain needs a re-boot. It is too late in the day for any pretence that we can use Left Brain thinking to solve the errors of Left Brain thinking. It needs a complete re-boot. For most that means pharmacopeia.  Fortunately we come armed.

Back to the Western Education system.

“Does it Work?” It works to ensure that some people do not have to polish cement, or whatever it is that people do out there in the Real World.


  • Google is now in control of Accreditation
  • Please contemplate Guilds
  • My education started after I left school when I bought my first calculator, thus freeing me to fall in love with Mathematics.
  • Philosophy is a Dirty Business.
  • In India a computer was offered to the kids by putting it in a hole in the wall. They educated themselves.
  • Autodidact is the word of the day.
You asked for it.

The Crux of Education - one perspective


The Feldenkrais® Method of learning how to learn

What is learning?

What is improvement?

What is Feldenkrais?

by Edward Yu, CFP

[Moderator's note: Abbreviated comment.  Please "excerpt and link" (as is done in the Daily Digest) and do not post copyrighted material in its entirety.]


This school has a superb model.

I have just started taking MOOCs and I'm having a great time with them–two sustainability classes, one climate change, two history, one Gastronomy.  Of course I'm not 18 years old and I have spent a lifetime in the classroom.  Here are some thoughts about them–

  • They are a very good replacement for lecture classes--you can watch the video as many times as you want, you can add closed captions, you can download it to your computer, and you can download just the teacher's powerpoint.
  • Activities can be created that are mainly done on forums with no imput from the professor---all student discussion
  • The star students are not university students, but graduates with experience in the workplace, which could intimidate a teenager
  • The classes are huge---there are 30,000 in my history class--and most of them are from outside the U.S.  Some barely have access to a computer.  Some barely speak English.
  • The dropout rate is very high.  You don't pay for the class, and no one cares if you quit.
  • Many of the courses are taught at a very high level even though they are introduknoctory classes.
  • It takes a lot of persistance and self confidence to keep going.  You have to be willing to stretch out of your comfort zone sometimes.
  • The classes are still experimental and both professors and  students are guinea pigs.
I do not think that MOOCs can take the place of an intimate classroom where the teacher works closely with the students, nurtures their creativity, sharpens their creative thinking, and inspires them to be life long learners,  That is not magic.  That is hard work.


When I was still working, I taught myself advanced programming largely through google searches.
I've used google searches and YouTube videos to learn how to replace the crankshaft on a lawn mower and modify a DSLR camera to take long exposure pictures of nebulas among many other useful and entertaining tasks.

If you want to do something, there is almost always someone who has posted a video and or step by step instructions on the net.  I sure hope we don't loose it.

But you are talking about people becoming inner driven and motivated vs being herded.  Don't know how well that will work.



The emerging model that Charles described, or at least that I picked up on, of a combination of apprenticeship and on line lectures from the best minds around sounds like a wonderful model. As an aside, I am in the Architecture business and have had many wranglings with the accreditation process which I will not go into. Most students that we see straight out of school are close to completely useless. And actually, typically those from Ivy League schools are the most useless of the lot. Some in our firm simply refuse to hire Graduates from one ot the most prestigious Ivy League schools aournd that is close to our office unless the individual interviewed presents very a compelling reason to make an exception. Those schools that have coop programs typically produce students with a much better education.

I think Charles view of education is an extension of the “factory” system is a very good one. The factory model has become part of our cultural milieu and structure that needs to be challenged at every level. It has invaded every level of our thinking and it is going to take some time to root out.

I think that the most difficult one to root out and have a nuanced discussion about is that subject of automation, which is still presumed to be a given as humanity continues to evolve. Anyone who challenges that world view is labeled as unrealistic, neo-luddite, or someone simply overwhelmed with an overly romantic view of the past. I think that this is tied to our factory thinking and educational system and the presumed and unexamined assumption of efficiencies of scale.

The foundation of this flaw is our factory produced educational prejudice that efficiencies should only measure the speed at which something can be produced and the consequential reduction in human labour. Always missing from this analysis are societal and externalized costs associated with the process. The small, local and self sufficient are dismissed as unimportant and inconsequential. A Guy riding around in air conditioned gps guided combine harvesting thousands of acres of GMO corn, now thats where it is at, technology and progress. If you don't believe in this, you believe in mass starvation because some ridiculous romantic view of the past.

In fact, the opposite is true. Factory farming it the most inefficient destructive form of agriculture that the planet has ever seen, and it is responsible for most of the hunger in the world, if you measure all the benefits and impacts together as a whole. If our view of automation does not become more holistic and comprehensive our ability to transition to a humane and sustainable world will be much diminished. This is in no way to say that all automation is bad, but without a rational method for selective adoption, we will continue to be in real peril.

The infrastructure, economic and political forces that favor power and wealth concentrating systems of the factory mentality will not pass willingly both in the educational system and the broader economy.  The inovators amoung us (which is all of us) must fight on a daily basis to create an alternative economy both within and without the system.  Challenging the educational system is a great start, thanks Charles.


I would think that if I had a child who was a mediocre student who wanted to go to a party school I would be very worried.  Saving huge amounts for your child's education, so he will go to college and  be sucessful will very soon be considered a waste of time and money.
     I  think  MOOCs  will  soon pay for themselves by charging a nominal fee.  The kinks will be worked out–cheating will be avoided and real credits can be awarded that will be universally accepted.  Then students around  the world will have a level playing field with party boy.

    Those MOOCs can be completed anywhere there is ain internet connection— a prison library, a hospital room, a town far away from university resources–and can  be worked on 24/7 so a student can also have a full time job or study in the middle of the night.

     The participating colleges at Coursera and EdX know that this is coming and there is no way to stop it, so they are working to develop the best models they can.  They are suggesting that in the future, that four year college program will only be on site for a part of the sudent's degree program–perhaps two years of MOOCs before finishing at the college campus.


I always enjoy CHS's writing, but this is one subject that is much more complex than this podcast. Charles, I wonder if you have teaching or administrative experience in higher ed? I'm only asking because I have no idea, but it would put some of your ideas in context.  I find many of you assumptions being made as someone that is strictly looking at it from the outside, especially in regard to education's relationship to the market, but I may be wrong (I don't know).
I respectfully disagree that education is disconnected from the market. I think it is absolutely connected to the market, actually, in my opinion it is too connected to the market.  We have huge distortions and dislocations in the market…extraction of wealth, huge debt, efficiency and profit above all else, information is more important than context, marketing is the means of dissemination, etc, etc. The market has applied its pressure on to higher ed, and therefore it is merely a reflection of the economy. Why not just call it what it is…universities are big businesses in the business of education. I know your heart is in the right place, but if education begins with the question of ROI, then we will never break out of the cycle that is bothersome to you. Many of the assumptions and questions you raise can be asked differently or in reverse. For instance:

Is higher education merely for the purpose of getting a job?

In an economy that requires specialization/credentials as a means of creating scarcity (providing income for those to live) and for its ever increasing complexity, why would you expect universities to begin to do away with these credentials? I can only see more specialization coming, not less. I don't disagree with what you would like to see, I just don't see the market allowing that to happen, and nor do I see decisions in higher reflecting this.

MOOC courses are in their infancy and are quickly being manipulated to serve bigger institutions with more money, not smaller ones. Who makes the decision as to who the "best" teacher is to teach the MOOCs? Do these MOOC courses really create the "best" learning environment? How can students have a meaningful in-class dialogue in MOOCs? Could it possibly be that more teachers (good and bad) teaching a subject in smaller classes in real-time, in real life, might actually be a better learning environment, with more context, more chances for critical thinking, and relationship building? How much human embodied learning is lost in a "screen" based learning environment? Do we have any data on that? Where would you begin?

Where are the arts and humanities in this discussion? (okay there was a tiny bit discussed) Is it only about science and technology? Isn't this line of thinking that has brought us to this point? I'm all for entreprenuerial/individualized mentoring as you discuss, but it is only a miniscule portion of our economy now.

Instead of asking the question "why is a $100k education basically free on-line?" why not ask "why is the price tag for a university education $100k? or better yet, why is it being given away for free on-line?

Most students, if they are filling out financial aid, are not walking away with a $100k bill at the end, the majority are owing considerably less.

There is a financial assistance game that all students must play unfortunately, but this game was again modeled after and designed by those in the marketplace.

How do our standardized tests really reflect what students know and how they think?

How is it that the average IQ in our country has risen every year for the past one hundred years?

Were people a hundred years ago that stupid? If not, then what does this "data/fact" really tell us?

You mention the ratio of administrators to faculty. You are correct…budgets have risen in higher ed and much of the income that was paid to full-time tenured/tenure track faculty has shifted to bloated administrative salaries. Isn't this again modeled after the corporate compensation model? Why would we expect large universities to change their structure if the market will not? Won't MOOC courses only concentrate the product/information in fewer hands in the end, and cause even more disparity in this sector? Won't those that disseminate the courses and the medium over which it is distributed control the product?

Open source models in reality are a mixed bag. The music industry has been devastated by free music in a format that is far worse than what we listened to 30 years ago (mp3 compared to vinyl). The quality has gone down. Now the sharing movies/videos is laying waste to the film industry, albeit, Youtube is making a fortune off this, but how many have lost entire income streams because of this shift? Speaking of which, where are the other Youtubes? Where are the other Googles? Is this competition?..yet we all support them daily?

As a test, Charles would you be willing to give your book away for free? Seriously, would you be willing to just put it online today and give it away for free? If we are going to discuss this topic in depth, you need to answer these types of questions first.

As you can see I'm pretty passionate about this. I very much appreciate your work CHS (and Adam's). You are a deep thinker and tackle some of our most profound subjects on this site. There are things that you discuss that I agree with, but this is a very complex issue that can't be just looked at in respect to ROI.

What kind of human beings do we want in our communities, and how do we educate them to achieve this goal? Is it aligning education to the market, or is it aligning the market to what is in our hearts? When you point to yourself with your finger, do you point to your head or to your heart?

I know both your hearts are in the right place so let's open up this discussion wide! Thank you for getting it started.



This subject is relevant to the topic discussed above.
"Morphic resonance has many implications for the understanding of human learning, including the acquisition of languages. Through the collective memory on which individuals draw, and to which they contribute, it should in general be easier to learn what others have learned before.

This idea fits well with the observations of linguists such as Noam Chomsky, who propose that language learning by young children takes place so rapidly and creatively that it cannot be explained simply in terms of imitation. The structure of language seems to be inherited in some way. In his book The Language Instinct, Steven Pinker gives many examples to support this idea.

One of the few areas in which detailed quantitative data are available over periods of decades is in the scores of IQ tests. If morphic resonance occurs, average performance in IQ tests should be rising not because people are becoming more intelligent but because IQ tests should be getting easier to do as a result of morphic resonance from the millions who have done them before. This effect is now well known and is called the Flynn Effect, after its discoverer, James Flynn.

Large increases in IQ test scores have occurred in many different countries, including the United States, Japan, Britain, France, Germany, and Holland. Many attempts have been made to explain the Flynn Effect, but none have succeeded. Flynn himself describes it as "baffling." But morphic resonance could provide a natural explanation."

good to read your input


Thanks Charles and Adam, for the great discussion, as well as the many interesting data points.  $100 billion of student loans owned by the US government in 2009 rising to over $500 billion today.  Wow.  Last year, in a 12th grade philosophy class, when we were talking about new economic paradigms and investment strategies, I said that I believed that there would be a major decline in the US dollar probably by 2016, but by 2020 at the latest.  A very intelligent student asked me about my timing, and I realized that I had no good basis at all for trying to time such a dollar decline, just a vague gut feeling.  I told him that, first of all, I couldn't be sure and that I had no statistical or scientific basis for this, in order to be open about the weaknesses of my belief.  But I also said also that when exponential systems accelerate, when debt and money creation speeds up even as the exponential increase in oil production flattens into a plateau, that some type of reckoning between unlimited money and scarce resources would be imminent.  The ballooning of student loans on the balance sheet of the U.S. government seems to support the idea that we are in some type of financial endgame, as Chris teaches using a number of different data points.
Online learning, broken educational models and the general trend of destruction/decline of white-collar jobs (and job quality) including teaching are all scary topics for a high school social studies teacher, as we are a dime a dozen.  That's why the football coach so often also gets the U.S. History teaching position, no denigration of coaches intended.  

Wendy's post regarding her own repeated adaptation in the face of a transforming labor market is inspiring, and I also recall her sharing about how she advised her kids to try to find careers that are more likely to be in demand by employers in the future.  I am working fairly hard at trying to be an innovative teacher.  See here and here for some oil poster projects that my students did*.

On the other hand, the enrollment of our school is loosely following the peak and then steady decline of the global oil production curve, with 2008 being our peak year.  If, in 2011, the Swiss National Bank had not intervened and devalued the franc for the first time since the 1970's, our school would have even lower enrollment now.  I've been here long enough to not be cut first, but I certainly don't take it for granted that my position could never be eliminated.  And just because I try to bring emerging trends and topics into the social studies curriculum doesn't really help, as many administrators see very little difference between a very cookie-cutter U.S or World History course and a (hopefully) more dynamic Comparative Politics or contemporary Issues course.

That suggests to me that I need to invest more social capital here in the small town where I work, and also to get some different certifications, including an English-teaching certification.  However, if/when the OECD country economic decline gets more acute, British and American English teachers looking for work abroad will be a dime a dozen.  (Actually, they kind of already are…)

We use all sorts of technology when teaching our students here, but I do wonder if I would be better off trying to get some sort of teaching position within an online high school or university.  That might be another good route to job security.  When our students fail a course here at the school, they are allowed/encouraged to do an online course, usually over the summer.  In some cases, it seems highly likely that a wealthy student from some part of the world has hired someone to take the course for him.  We don't have any students from Bahrain, so I'll use that as an example, with a wealthy Bahraini student paying his well-educated Pakistani immigrant-teacher back home to do the course for him over the summer.  This is one drawback of accepting credits from online degrees, but that doesn't mean that they're not very valuable on many levels.

One final note on preparing our students for the labor force, i.e. reinforcing the connection between universities (and high schools) and the economy:  I agree with Adam and Charles that we don't do the best job of this in the U.S.  If I had to do it over again, I'd be a doctor, or a nurse, hands down.  If I was either of those, I could still do just about everything I love do now and also it would be a lot easier to prepare for a rapidly transforming world.  U.S. universities are encouraging/sanctioning too many students to major in humanities, in my opinion, and this comes from someone with an economics undergraduate degree who teaches history and philosophy.  Here in Switzerland, the public schools are similar to those in Germany, in that there is a strong emphasis on career tracking and apprenticeship.  It's a little brutal for North Americans in some respects:  Starting in 5th grade, Swiss students are provisionally divided into one of three tracks.  The top track is university bound, the middle track, where the majority of students end up, is bound for some type of technical training, which can range from accounting and business administration to plumbing or carpentry, and the bottom track is basically encouraged to finish school at 16 and then join very basic service-level apprenticeship programs for a life of near-minimum wage unspecialized service work.  There is some room to move from one track to another before one reaches 16, but not a lot.  This would be very antithetical to our more egalitarian and American-dream culture in the US, I think, but from what little I know about it, it seems that the Swiss and German workforces are much better prepared for hard times than the American workforce.  And, most students in that middle track get very valuable apprenticeship experience from ages 16-19, if not longer.  This is a much deeper type of practical job training than the entrepreneurship program that CHS talks about in the podcast.   I don't want to denigrate the humanities because they're fascinating and very enlightening on many levels, but most technically-trained people who are interested in history, art, politics and literature find a way to pursue these interests as an avocation and still bring home the tofu (or bacon…).



*By the way, I am still very interested in feedback and suggestions regarding teaching/exploring much of what we talk about here at PP to/with my students.  For my Comparative Government and International Politics class, which is as close as we come to a contemporary issues class at our school, we'll be doing contemporary economics in October and in November, oil resources and biophysical economics, followed by climate change and other destabilizing environmental shifts in November, and we'll cap the semester with a brief look at how these factors may or may not contribute towards a partial (or total) civilizational collapse, based on the criteria for such a collapse put forth by Jared Diamond and Joseph Tainter.  If anyone has any input or interest in contributing to these units, please feel free to make suggestions here.  

I just reread my post. I apologize for using the word you, as if I'm directing my questions strictly at Charles. I really mean a collective "you" or we, and throw these questions out for everyone.
Ao, interesting read. Thanks for the link. My question is how can we ever come to a complete definition of intellegence in a dynamic society where context is forever changing? This is where I believe Arthur would say we run into the limitations of the left-thinking brain. Lol

My final thought today on this is that our educational system, contrary to opinions, is not broken. It needs help for sure, but let's look at society and the markets first, and then education will follow. Educators, me included, are being forced to create curriculums that industry is demanding of us. I can attest to this with 20 years of teaching experience. In the past four years, I have had to give up a curriculum that I designed (which in my opinion had much more depth) for one that was considered more "marketable" (much less depth). If I had tried to continue with my curriculum, it would have meant losing my job.


[quote=gillbilly]My final thought today on this is that our educational system, contrary to opinions, is not broken. It needs help for sure, but let's look at society and the markets first, and then education will follow. Educators, me included, are being forced to create curriculums that industry is demanding of us. I can attest to this with 20 years of teaching experience. In the past four years, I have had to give up a curriculum that I designed (which in my opinion had much more depth) for one that was considered more "marketable" (much less depth). If I had tried to continue with my curriculum, it would have meant losing my job.
I would say that the educational system is not broken and is doing exactly what is intended IF you are the one directing the system.  Witness such ideas as Chicago math (courtesy of the University of Chicago) and especially, how the Rockefeller Foundation influences education.  John D. Rockefeller founded the University of Chicago.  Little wonder he described the donation as “the best investment I ever made.”  Little wonder that he made the following statement.   
"I don't want a nation of thinkers, I want a nation of workers."  John D. Rockefeller
If you are the average middle class person who is supposed to be the beneficiary of the educational system, then I would say for you, yes, by and large, the system is broken.  I can't help but think of this oft posted video clip.  This man is more and more appearing as a prophet.

I agree with Gillbilly and the importance of asking the right question, i.e.,Is higher education merely for the purpose of getting a job? Emerson's many essays but especially the one on self Reliance spells out clearly that a true education is to develop a seeking mind, one's moral imagination, and capacity for civic engagement . Education in techniques, technology and entrepreneurship will not suffice. The spread between the rich and the poor widens daily, our freedom and democratic form of government is under seige by corporatism, and death of the mind by an excess of entertainment is well underway.
Someone once said our goverment was invented by genuises to be run by idiots. But now the tryants are taking over and the average citizen doesn't know enough to give a damn…