The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Winter for Higher-Ed The Column the Academy Hopes No-One Will Read

Here’s a column the academy hopes no-one will read: Glenn Reynolds’ insightfully advocating in the WSJ for deep reforms to the American college system. Reynolds argues that mounting college debt paired with stagnant wages will catalyze solutions that could drastically disrupt the academy. Some of his predictions will be familiar to regular VM readers: online education will become more important, and schools will have to find ways to reduce administrative bloat. One particularly interesting suggestion he makes is that colleges might keep physical spaces but still conduct their classes online:

We may eventually see the rise of “hoteling” for college students whose courses are done primarily online. Build a nice campus—or buy one, from a defunct traditional school—put in a lot of amenities, but don’t bother hiring faculty: Just bring in your courses online, with engineering from Georgia Tech, arts and literature from Yale, business from Stanford and so on. Hire some unemployed Ph.D.s as tutors (there will be plenty around, available at bargain-basement rates) and offer an unbundled experience. It’s a business model that just might work, especially in geographic locations students favor. Grand Cayman is awfully nice this time of year.

With the social and technological picture changing so rapidly, it’s hard to know if all of Glenn’s predictions will work out, and we might emphasize even more strongly than he does that the right kind of humanities education can be as practical as anything in the engineering department. But any college president who isn’t taking Glenn’s concerns seriously isn’t doing the job.

Published on January 4, 2014 4:10 pm
  • GodisanAmerican

    “Hire some unemployed Ph.D.s as tutors (there will be plenty around, available at bargain-basement rates)..”
    Where will they be doing phd if most universities are just universities without faculty. Why do you think MOOCs will be free as they are now. (The wet dream of the right wing: college degrees without professors and Ph.Ds hired at minimum wage.)

    • TommyTwo

      If I recall the left-wing version of history correctly, the Middle
      Ages were a nightmare in which the Catholic clergy imposed itself as an
      intermediary to valuable knowledge and took full financial advantage of
      this exalted position…

      • Kavanna

        It’s not left-wing history — it was a reality, although the full reality of the late medieval and Renaissance Church is much more complicated. It both protected and incubated knowledge, while at the same time, tried to monopolize and hide it.

        Anyway, the universities today — their tenured faculty and especially their absurdly bloated administrations — are a close analogue.

    • CiceroTheLatest

      “The wet dream of the right wing: college degrees without professors and Ph.Ds hired at minimum wage.”

      As opposed to the orgasm of the Left, now that many universities are nothing more than incubators for mindless little idiot Leftist foot soldiers?

      I’ll disagree with Prof. Reynolds on the “Ph.D.s as tutors” concept, but for quite a different reason. The Ph. D.s with useful knowledge, ability and experience will, as now, be working in private industry. Working in PRODUCTIVELY IN private industry. Those unemployed Ph.D.s will be Leftists drones with junk degrees. (Only a complete and utter brain dead idiot could possibly entertain the notion that a degree in Gender/Queer/Racial/Ethnic/[Insert Victim group or Leftist Pet Project] Studies qualifies someone for any useful occupation.)

      • SemperWhy

        I think you’re not giving PhD holders enough credit. The one thing they definitely know how to do is schoolwork. They are essentially subject matter experts when that subject matter is passing college courses. They’re a natural fit for tutors, even the ones with degrees that don’t translate into private industry.

  • catorenasci

    I think something on this model might eventually work out pretty well in the long term, but in the short term the key problem would be faculty and accreditation for the composite course. Of course, ultimately that could be solved with certification examinations in the place of traditional degrees. The availability of actually useful “faculty” mentors may also be a problem as many of the unemployed PhDs (and many who are employed full time as well….) have been trained on politically correct nonsense. In the short run, this could be solved — at least in the more salutary climates — by hiring retired academics, or those who have done graduate work in the humanities before political correctness dominated, but moved into other fields and are now retired or semi-retired. In the longer run, there would need to be some source of academics with more traditional training in the humanities, basically writing off at least half of the work done over the past 50 years in the humanities and social sciences.

    These institutions could come in several variants.

    In particularly nice climates, with great amenities, they would not be cheap (though far cheaper than the current crop of liberal arts colleges and universities).

    On the other hand, for those with less means, they could be set up in cheaper locales with fewer amenities, truly focusing solely on the educational experience in the way isolated liberal arts colleges once did before WWII.

    • Winston Smith

      ” … problem … could be solved with certification
      examinations…”

      If they were administered in a 100% objective fashion that would be a excellent solution. No extra points for gender or sexual-orientation or melanin level or low economic status.

      Something akin to the Sui dynasties Civil Service reform.

      • CiceroTheLatest

        Which is where we are with computer based testing at Prometric centers for certifications such as Project Management Professional or Certified System Engineer (to name just two).

    • SemperWhy

      I suspect the solution will actually be in the form of people retiring from industry. We’re about to get a glut of retirees from the Baby Boom generation and surely several of them would love to have a part-time job tutoring the next generation in the hard sciences. I’m toying with the idea of designing & teaching a class when I retire myself. It would give me something to do after leaving the workplace and supplement my retirement income a bit.

      If Professor Reynolds’ predictions are correct, there’s no reason a new styled university could contract with anyone it sees fit to tutor students. I see no reason why it must be an academic teaching a 19 year-old to write in complete sentences.