Here’s a new idea for the thousands of underemployed PhDs competing for the dwindling tenure-track jobs: college by homeschooling. Over at the Chronicle of Higher Education, JHU’s Hollis Robbins proposes that students, either alone or in small groups, hire trained PhDs to be their own private professors. This is basically tutoring at the collegiate level:
I don’t think I am overstating the qualifications of many of my fellow academics in the humanities to say that any one of them could provide, singlehandedly, a first-rate first-year college education in the liberal arts. The colleague whom I kidded about home-colleging is qualified to teach expository writing, multiple languages (introductory Latin, French, and Italian), medieval history, European history, art history, and a variety of literature courses. Another colleague could teach American history, introduction to political theory, introduction to philosophy, African-American literature, and expository writing. Another could teach Surrealism, intro to cognitive science, film, neuroscience, linguistics, and Spanish. I know others who could teach calculus, the history of science, European history, classical literature, film, and art history. [...]
A low-cost, high-value first-year education would allow students to transfer into a traditional degree-granting institution at a second- or third-year level, saving a year or more of tuition. Home-colleged students would have a year of personal attention to writing skills, research skills, oral-presentation skills, and the relationship of disciplines in the liberal arts. The attention to oral and written skills may be particularly valuable to non-English-speaking students looking to succeed at an American college or university.
This may seem like a fringe proposal, but we see several advantages: for starters, more one-on-one access to professors and tailor-made lesson plans. Depending on the specific arrangements between teachers and students, there could be major cost savings as well. If the student lives at home, he wouldn’t need to pay for room, board, facilities, administrators, or whole academic departments whose halls he would never darken over four years in a traditional college. Students could boost their savings, at a relatively small cost in one-on-one time, by grouping together to hire teachers.
This approach may not be for everyone, but for many it would be a smart twist on the standard college model. To us, it sounds like an interesting way of addressing a reform goal we’ve talked about frequently: the need for colleges to move away from a system that rewards students based on the number of credit hours they rack up (the time-served model), and to move toward a system that rewards them for what they know (a stuff-learned model).
We would love to see some enterprising students or academics take a chance on this idea, or something like it. One of the keys to making it work is a standardized, college-level assessment that would make it easy to measure the performance of home-tutored college students against that of their traditional college peers.