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School of the Future
Fast Times in Higher Ed

These are exciting times in the world of higher education. Udacity, a MOOC provider, has announced a new training program in basic computer science that will prepare anyone with a high school education in math for entry-level work at its partner company, AT&T. The price? Just $200 per student. The NYT reports:

The “NanoDegree” is a step in a similar direction: offering a narrow set of skills that can be clearly applied to a job, providing learners with a bite-size chunk of knowledge and an immediate motivation to acquire it.

It may not offer all the advantages of a liberal arts education, but it could offer a plausible path to young men and women who may not have the time, money or skill to make it through a four-year or even a two-year degree.

AT&T will accept the NanoDegree as a credential for entry-level jobs (and is hoping to persuade other companies to accept it, too) and has reserved 100 internship slots for its graduates. Udacity is also creating NanoDegrees with other companies.

Meanwhile, a computer programming school in France is doing away with the traditional trappings of education—namely books and teachers. Students have to grapple with increasingly difficult problems on their own. VentureBeat:

The basic idea of École 42 is to throw all the students — 800 to 1,000 per year — into a single building in the heart of Paris, give them Macs with big Cinema displays, and throw increasingly difficult programming challenges at them. The students are given little direction about how to solve the problems, so they have to turn to each other — and to the Internet — to figure out the solutions.

The challenges are surprisingly difficult. One student I talked with was coding a ray tracer and building an emulation of the 3-D dungeon in Castle Wolfenstein within his first few months at the school. Six months earlier, he had barely touched a computer and knew nothing of programming. He hadn’t even finished high school.

In fact, 40 percent of École 42′s students haven’t finished high school. Others have graduated from Stanford or MIT or other prestigious institutions. But École 42 doesn’t care about their background — all it cares about is whether they can complete the projects and move on. The only requirement is that they be between the ages of 18 and 30.

If these new models are any indication, the future of education might be stranger than you think.

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  • FriendlyGoat

    I have thought for some time that a visionary entrepreneur is going to do a “complete end run” around both the traditional colleges/universities and the for-profit institutions. Sounds like Udacity is on the trail, and it’s good to note that this does not appear to be another vehicle for over-charging.

    If you can 1) teach people something, 2) certify their knowledge of it, and 3) get employers to accept if as a credential, then traditional degrees and degree-granting places might become suddenly irrelevant in many fields. (What, no residence? No fraternities? No sports? No debt? Well, maybe.)

  • Marcio Ronci

    A major problem of the current College education is that it pays little attention to what the customers
    (students) want. For example, an engineering course may require as much as 20%
    credit hours in liberal education-related courses, which increases the overall cost and cuts
    time of technical electives. Although in principle liberal education courses
    should be useful to prepare an engineer, their quality leaves much to
    be desired and imposing them to all students is only a way to support
    liberal-art related departments and increase costs. Instead, it would be more
    useful just require students to do credits in English and read a list of books
    that in fact can make a contribution to the student’s understanding of the

    An engineering course could be reduced by a full year by eliminating the liberal
    education courses (between $20,000 to $40,000 in a good stae university),
    which by the way are not a requirement for the Professional Engineer’s exams.
    Here a modest proposal to improve the situation: Let the customer/student decide what courses she
    would find useful for her professional carrier.

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