Thursday, February 16, 2012

College Ala Carte

For the most part, a college education in the US is a package deal. When you buy a degree from a school, the school has all the discretion in deciding what hoops you have to jump through to get it. The internet makes possible a rather different model, where degree requirements are defined independently of any particular school and can be achieved by educational attainment by any means the student can manage. In principle, this allows the student to become a comparison shopper, taking a mix of courses from a wide range of sources and instructors.

Of course this would require some system wide standards of achievement - not a bad idea anyway. It might also mean never having to attend a 2000 student lecture class by a boring instructor. One downside is that lousy teachers might need to find some other way to justify their presence on the payroll - not too different from today's situation at most universities.

The primary economic advantage of the proposed system is that it would tend to force price competition among universities, but students and others would also get a chance to evaluate comparative instructional quality, since the performance of students on their course completion exams could be compared directly.