What if education was free? The open source movement has transformed the way we think about software and for many years I’ve pondered the possibility of open source education. The seeds of the idea have begun to sprout hopefully to grow on to maturity.
Weighing the cost of the current education system
Everyone knows college tuition costs have been skyrocketing. There are many potential reasons why, but I think there is a more fundamental question can be asked. Does the value received match the cost?
The average price of a 4 year degree is somewhere around $100,000. The average high school graduate earns about 30k, the average 4 year college grad about 50k. That’s 5 years to break even, plus another 2 on student loan interest, plus the 4 years spent in school and we haven’t considered room and board or potential tax differences.
Are these investment numbers most businesses would be happy with? What happens as these numbers continue to skyrocket?
The value of a degree
Employers regularly screen applicants based on degree requirements making the above costs necessary. But what is a degree? It holds no intrinsic value – only the value inferred upon it for what it represents: a certified seal that the holder is knowledgeable in a given area. Yet the extent to which that is true may be questionable. A degree may increasingly say nothing about experience, work ethic, or ability to perform in the real world.
College degrees are the only easy way of measurement an employer has available. If an alternative existed and could gain momentum, employers would take note. If a large number of people pursued education outside of a traditional college model employers might be forced to throw out the degree benchmark and evaluate in new ways.
Traditional educational institutions: An outdated model
Universities have been around for centuries and they still look largely the same today. The Internet and the Information Age have given birth to a new world. Decentralization and specialization are the name of the game today – the opposite of standardized, centralized Universities.
Open source education
Enter the open source model I foresee. Technology makes it possible to sit at the feet and learn from experts the world over. Materials are easy to distribute and the quantity endless. The mode of learning can be varied that the student may choose the means he/she learns best.
Its all beginning to happen. MIT is among those leading the way. They began releasing free course materials in 2002 and in 2005 began the OpenCourseWare Consortium a partnership of now over 50 contributing institutions.
I will follow up with additional posts to discuss more specific details of how open source education might work, practical ideas, and to look at the objections and problems to be overcome.
I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts and questions on the matter – especially what you see as the obstacles that would hold you back from taking advantage of such a system.