Friday, January 31, 2014

Voyages of Discovery

Hi. I just read a short post by Clay Shirky, titled "The End of Higher Education’s Golden Age." You should read it. We should talk.  He's the fellow who consistently is able to point out how the Emperor got drunk and ripped off his clothes. How the collective Royal Highness of Higher Education forgot that he's a servant-leader and his responsibility is to the people, not a rich elite and privileged court. How his coffers have emptied while protecting the lifestyles of the royal classes. How there are rumblings amongst the poor and unwashed and if he isn't careful, his head will roll. 

Shirky reminds us that our public universities still look like 1940, where only 5% of the population - the very wealthy 5% - got college degrees. World War II and the GI Bill changed that, and now, when a college degree is one of the few options out of poverty, the end of the Golden Age is coming at us like a bullet train. “Of the twenty million or so students in the US, only about one in ten lives on a campus. The remaining eighteen million—the ones who don’t have the grades for Swarthmore, or tens of thousands of dollars in free cash flow, or four years free of adult responsibility—are relying on education after high school not as a voyage of self-discovery but as a way to acquire training and a certificate of hireability.”

Here's the thing to hold onto: acquiring training, learning skills of the mind, becoming educated for the digital age can still be a voyage of self-discovery. For those of us who never read Faulkner or Milt Friedman or Carl Sagan, the path to a degree leads us to new ideas, opinions, dreams. And yes, we want it mixed with relevance, technology, accountability so that we're prepared to demonstrate value for the painful debt taken on. The people have been patient, but it is a very very bad model when you ask the working class to pay a back-breaking surcharge so that the royal court can spend summer in the Galapagos studying the habits of starfish. 

An affordable, flexible, meaningful education doesn't mean the end of the Golden Age, it means the beginning of a new one. One for more than the 5%. 

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