The Edgy Optimist

Massive, open, online disruption

By Zachary Karabell
May 17, 2013

The United States has a problem: rapidly rising student debt. It also has a solution: online education. The primary reason for spiraling student debt is the soaring costs of a college education at a physical college. Online education strips away all of those expenses except for the cost of the professor’s time and experience. It sounds perfect, an alignment of technology, social need and limited resources. So why do so many people believe that it is a deeply flawed solution?

Because it means massive swaths of higher education is about to change. Technology has disrupted many industries; now it’s about to do the same to higher ed.

But it is the students who need aid, and not the financial kind. They have too much of that as it is. The amount of student debt is large and getting larger. It will top $1.1 trillion this year; two-thirds of college students will graduate with debt. The average debt burden is $27,000, though that is skewed higher by a small percentage who owe a lot more. Forty percent of students owe less than $10,000. The amount of student debt has doubled since 2007, tripled since 2004, and many economists believe that the effect on the overall economy is negative.

While college graduates undoubtedly land in higher-paid jobs (earning almost twice those with only high school degrees), that may be offset by the burden of interest payments on student loans. Says Diane Swonk of Mesirow Financial: “Student debt has a dramatic impact on the ability to buy a house, and to buy the dishwashers and the lawnmowers and all the other purchases that stem from that … It has a ripple effect throughout the economy.”

As for the students, the price of the debt is often not worth the benefits. According to economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 17 percent of students are in default, compared with 10 percent in 2004. And a large portion of those defaulting are over 30 years old, which means that the problems with student debt don’t disappear with age.

Some debt is clearly manageable, rational and reasonable. Taking on a modest amount of debt for a degree that dramatically enhances your earnings power makes eminent sense. Yes, interest rates on federal student loans are too high relative to mortgage and market rates, and they are set to go higher this year, possibly to nearly 7 percent. But the problem with student debt is not that it has gotten so large so fast; it’s the extent to which a college degree has become so expensive for so many who cannot afford it, yet leaves so many with a credential that is excessively costly relative to the skills it offers.

Colleges, including commuter community colleges, cost money to run and build, and they cost ever more as even third- and fourth-tier institutions try to entice students. Most students earn a degree because the credential is required for almost all higher-paying jobs. If the cost is between $25,000 and $75,000, and more than $200,000 at elite schools, then that is the price that must be born.

But is it? That is where the burgeoning world of massively online education presents such an opportunity. Institutions like the University of Phoenix have been offering online courses since the 1990s, but this new wave is larger in scale and now includes traditional universities. Online courses cost a fraction of a brick-and-mortar education. New companies such as Udacity and Coursera have been experimenting with new models, ranging from per fee, limited-enrollment classes with select professors to the so-called MOOCs (“massive, open, online classes”) that attract tens of thousands of students per class. Coursera, barely a year old, already has 3.5 million registered users. Students anywhere in the country and indeed the world can sign up, take a course with skilled professors, meet with other students in their area for study groups and learn the material. Even more crucial, they assemble a menu of courses that combine pure learning and more-tailored vocational studies based on skills needed for particular jobs. And all for a fraction of the costs.

The problem is that many in the business of higher education hate the idea. It’s disruptive to the traditional model and profoundly threatening to the current economics of the academic industry. The elite schools have embraced the online world because it allows them to use the power of their brand to extend everywhere. But many community colleges find the prospect more challenging, as it could well undermine their mission and the need for them. One critic quoted in a recent New Yorker article described what might happen:

Imagine you’re at South Dakota State and they’re cash-strapped, and they say, ‘Oh! There are these Harvard courses. We’ll hire an adjunct for three thousand dollars a semester, and we’ll have the students watch this TV show.’ Their faculty is going to dwindle very quickly. Eventually, that dwindling is going to make it to larger and less poverty-stricken universities and colleges.

Unquestionably, the next wave of online education will disrupt. It will threaten faculty and colleges, but it will empower students. Yes, we are a few years away from online courses providing degrees and credentials that will be seen by the marketplace as adequate. For now, taking courses online may enrich your life, but it will not provide the entrée into jobs requiring a degree, whether associate’s or bachelor’s. Many fields of graduate study will be untouched, but many others – law, accounting and others – are ripe for online credentializing.

Having spent almost a decade as a graduate student and professor, I was always struck by how resistant to change and questioning academic cabals could be. The growth of online education is yet another example. Many are embracing it, and many are resisting it because it represents change to a world that often moves at the pace of medieval guilds.

The beneficiaries, however, are students, which really means all of us. The costs of obtaining needed credentials will plummet, and the ability to create more tailored, vocational programs aligned with the skills employers need will increase exponentially. That will likely lead to some shrinkage in the number of physical institutions offering degrees, but an increase in the number of people obtaining them. It will also mean that those taking on debt – especially at elite schools – will be those most likely to be able to bear those debts, while those who need more specific and vocational education for decently paid but not high-paying jobs will not be saddled with loans out of proportion to their earning potential.

This online educational revolution is the next wave, and it is still very early. Rarely has a societal problem been presented with such an ideal solution. We should embrace it passionately, because it’s happening whether we do or not.


35 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

Excellent article. But so long as “Academia” retains sole authority to bestow a certificate those hiring will accept as a “door opener” this cannot happen. It may well be that the one function they must retain is control of progressive and final testing of each student’s understanding and mastery of a given subject or course of study.

It has long been that the “certificate” is merely one very important portion of what an applicant must put “on the table” in order to be hired for a responsible position that is not a “dead end”. After the first promotion or reassignment few continue to work in the field of their original specialty.

It can even be credibly argued that the very process of getting a four year or advanced degree stifles the energy and creativity necessary to “think outside the box”. Higher education is, itself, an insular and extremely confining and sometimes suffocating box.

Of course the educational establishment will fight tooth and nail to protect their present monopoly over the “means” to gain entry to good middle-class jobs. And yes, it will happen.

Employers need software to replace today’s “gate keepers”. They need the means to hire with confidence after comprehensive and meaningful testing capable of impartial comparison of applicants’ knowledge and ability to work as part of a successful team or form and lead one.

A computer will never discriminate against the unemployed to lighten it’s work load.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

Wow, did you just use the University of Phoenix as an example of an online institution as part of a pro-online article? And you’re saying online is a way of solving student debt? Have you seen ANY of the data about student debt at for-profit universities??? Here’s a hint: their students have such horrible default rates that they’re at risk for not being eligible for federal loans for their students anymore…many of their students find themselves unemployable. Student loans aren’t the problem; student loans with no employment after graduation are the problem. Studies have found an INVERSE correlation between amount of debt and default rates; those who take on the most debt are usually the ones who actually graduate and have the credentials for a job because they went to quality schools. MOOC’s may reduce student debt, but like U.Phoenix if they don’t produce jobs they don’t solve anything. And your article does nothing to promote the idea that employers want MOOC-type credentialing.

Posted by kwill | Report as abusive

One of the main vectors by which America is being devoured by the rest of the world is through the American education system, which has sold its very soul to the devil.

America is being invaded by foreigners on a truly massive scale. It is the largest movement of human beings in the history of the world. The American education system is a giant tunnel into America’s heart. More about that in a minute.

First consider that Mexicans are flooding across America’s southern border on foot by the millions, literally. A larger army than the German army that invaded Europe.

H1B Visa workers from India, China, Indonesia, Russia and other countries are moving today, as we speak, by thousands, flying into American airports, to displace American engineers in American companies.

But the most dangerous vector of infection is via the American educational system: high schools, colleges, and universities.

My local Catholic high school has an enrollment of 600. Forty-five of them are from China. They are not Catholics. Their parents in China are wealthy and can afford higher tuition than our local Catholic families.

This is happening in Catholic schools all across America. The money is too big to turn down. It is happening on a much larger scale in every college and state university in America, from Ivy League to junior colleges.

The president of Harvard recently announced his retirement and appeared on Charlie Rose show. What will he do after retirement? Go do some deals in China. The money is just too big to ignore.

These foreign terrorist students bombers are just a tiny drop in the bucket. The education system is being used by other nations to invade America in a far more powerful mode than any military army could achieve.

The American middle class is already destroyed. Occupation after occupation, destroyed by the inflow of surplus laborers from everywhere. Where is the American military? Why aren’t they protecting the American people?

Largest Countries ranked by population:

1. China 1.3 billion people
2. India 1.2 billion
3. United States 315 million
4. Indonesia 237 million (Obama spent his childhood in Indonesia)
5. Brazil 193 million
6. Pakistan 182 million
7. Nigeria 166 million
8. Bangladesh 152 million
9. Russia 143 million
10.Japan 127 million
11.Mexico 112 million
12.Phillipines 92 million

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cou ntries_by_population

Posted by AdamSmith | Report as abusive

Your argument is totally disingenuous for a number of reasons. First and foremost the primary reason for “elite” schools is not better quality of education, but the opportunity to meet other “future leaders” of this nation.

If you cannot attend an elite school in this economy, you will not be able to find a job after graduation.

The real economics of education in this country today is as simple as that. Online education is about as worthless as the what used to be offered on the back of matchbook covers.

They are simply “diploma mills” that will take your money and leave you with student loan debts that are literally astronomical.

And worst of all, there is NO way to avoid paying them, since there is NO way to bankrupt ANY student loan debt for ANY reason.

If you cannot get a job, you will be forced to begin the student loan “deferrment” program, which is a one-way ticket to crippling lifelong endebtedness.

In many cases, for example, they can reach the level of a car payment for a “no money down” loan on a very expensive automobile. It is a loan which NEVER decreases, but only increases the longer you cannot pay the loan. The only way to rid yourself of this type of indebtedness is to die, and soon I am sure Congress will close that loophole as well. NO, this is NOT an exaggeration. Many people out there have horror stories connected with deferrement programs from lenders like Sallie Mae. You don’t want to add your name to that list.

Check out the real facts before you believe this moron and the sales pitch he is handing you.

While it IS true that student loan debt is now becoming the largest problem in the US since the housing bubble, the author is “touting alternatives” by suggesting that taking online courses is a substitute is a massive SCAM.

In fact, for most of you who are now unemployed and have gone back to school by borrowing heavily in hopes of upgrading your education to be ready for the “recovery” you will be very disappointed for two important reasons:



More education that is not of the “elite” variety in this economy, as a general rule, is a huge mistake.

Do NOT take my word for it.

There are plenty of resources out there on the web that you can check out for yourself before you decide.

Posted by PseudoTurtle | Report as abusive

What the hell is wrong with you, Reuters?

You need to start tracking some of these articles, because many are completely bogus.

This one, for example, would lead many of our people who are already deeply in debt and desperate to create financial suicide.

Show some moral responsiblity for what you “print” for a change.

CPA/MBA (Retired)

Posted by PseudoTurtle | Report as abusive

What we NEED are our manufacturing jobs back NOW and no more excuses from this POS wealthy-driven government.

Posted by PseudoTurtle | Report as abusive


So , to summarize your thoughts:

1. The knowledge and skills conveyed by the “typical college education in American are a poor investment for most.

2. The most important “take-away” from college is NOT “what you know” but “who you know”.

To such extent as this be true it is easier to understand the fundamental insufficiency of today’s lack of ideals and basic competency when those in charge care nothing for such abstract process. And yet is it not from such abstract process that foundational strength and social predictability spring?

My impression of a “diploma mill” is a business that takes money to teach that which is worthless in the market, the most fundamental betrayal of the teacher-student exchange of time and money possible. And I would agree that the commercial value of a BA from many time honored colleges would today meet such definition.

But my “take” from Mr. Karabell above is to argue the merit of efficiently conveying the real knowledge and intellectual skills businesses may actually need today over the internet. To be sure, there would need to be a better match between the course of study and the “job awaiting” than has existed before; and the competition between “graduates” for available positions would probably make piranhas look like guppies in comparison.

The only people benefiting from the status quo is America”s bloated, inefficient and incompetent “establishment”. And I totally agree that, over time, “resistance is futile”.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

@ OneOfTheSheep –

I know from your previous postings that you are retired and living on a farm, but you have never revealed what you did prior to your present status.

(1) Do you have a college degree?
(2) If so, what was you major?
(3) If so, what type of school did you graduate from? (i.e. elite, state, etc.)
(4) If so, have you ever had significant student loan debt?
(5) What was your occupation before you retired?

Posted by PseudoTurtle | Report as abusive

We need to distinguish between training and education. There is great potential for training online. However, an education requires a great deal of interaction between students and professors and between students themselves. Unfortunately, the trend since World War II has been to increase the number of degrees given out for mere training.

The worst trend, however, is to assume that the only function of universities is to give out degrees. University research, combined with government sponsored research (DoD,NIH,etc), is the ultimate root of the technologies that have kept the U.S. on top of the world economy.

Posted by QuietThinker | Report as abusive

@ QuietThinker –

If a person cannot get a job after graduation, the distinction between training and education matters little. The student loan debt must stil be paid. If it cannot be paid, it places the borrower in significant jeopardy, perhaps for the rest of his life.

It is a question of risk and reward. Student loan debt was at one time a good risk, but now it has become a real gamble, and the odds are not in favor of the borrower.

Posted by EconCassandra | Report as abusive

This article reeks of such naive exaggerations.

First, do NOT call student loans “AID”. The government and banks are making huge money of these poor students, esp. since they are virtually risk free: the student is indentured for life since the loan an never be forgiven.

Higher education is NOT expensive because of the the teaching staff, but because of bloated administration and vanity capital projects: stadiums, new admin offices, etc.

Typical higher education is taught by adjuncts: no benefits, no security, poverty wages.

And the presumption that online, self-taught students is sufficient for ‘higher education”, then obviously the writer has long forgotten many of his hours in journalism school where interchange amongst students, questions to teachers, after class office visits, etc. provided him the basis of his future career.

Teachers are not afraid of internet based courses, they are afraid that their administration and politicians wish to outsource them just like the rest of highly paid American jobs.

Posted by Acetracy | Report as abusive

“… then that is the price that must be born.”

Did you, perchance, mean “borne” ?

There is a world of difference between on-line training with the purpose of getting a job and education.

“If then a practical end must be assigned to a University course, I say it is that of training good members of society… It is the education which gives a man a clear, conscious view of their own opinions and judgments, a truth in developing them, an eloquence in expressing them, and a force in urging them. It teaches him to see things as they are, to go right to the point, to disentangle a skein of thought to detect what is sophistical and to discard what is irrelevant.”
― John Henry Newman, The Idea of a University

Posted by pyanitsa | Report as abusive

@ pyanitsa,

The quote of John Henry Newman is precisely the difference between what “educators” prize over capability, persistence, motivation, utility and relevant subject matter. No one except newspapers and magazines, each a media on life support today, employs people to sit around and navel-gaze before throwing a relatively few well-strung words on paper for a living.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

I didn’t know about Coursera, so thanks! I think it’s wonderful that people who can’t afford education can get it for free, but I also believe that brick and mortar colleges and universities provide a developmental component that can only happen with physically interactive social contact.

Large universities should provide both. The online numbers would allow them to charge minimally and still make a lot of money. This could contribute to brick and mortar costs so the price of that education could be more reasonable and enrolment would increase. Best of both worlds.

Posted by JenniferStewart | Report as abusive

@PseudoTurtle, I have a BA and an MS from Ivy League schools and a second MS in education (simplest and cheapest path to credentialing). My education cost me far more in years than it did in dollars — if you count fellowships and stipends, I got more than I paid in. But even without, that is still true for many students. Time out of the workforce is expensive!

I’m also a teacher and a tutor, which means that I understand the difference between lecturing from a book and actually TEACHING the material. I can charge a high fee for the latter, especially when the teacher/professor stops at the former.

Whether a MOOC or conventional lecture course in college, the primary benefit to the student is in the organization and structuring of the material, and the preparation of thought-provoking problem sets. The learning itself happens mostly outside of class, as the student reads (and re-reads) the book, and works through the questions.

Yet students in a conventional course can ask questions, seek guidance, and get extra help from a TA. Harder to manage this aspect in a MOOC. Moreover, I question the ability to construct and correct meaningful problem sets in that environment. Multiple-choice testing may suffice to prove understanding, but it is a weak vehicle for learnings.

Professionally, there will always be a role for somebody who can help a student assimilate novel modes of thought. I encourage students to view the lessons at Khan Academy, but haven’t found that answers all their questions.

The advent of MOOC may ironically make education MORE of a personalized experience, since that is the primary way that colleges can differentiate themselves from the cheap diploma mills. Fewer large-lecture courses, more interaction with professors.

But until then, if you are confused by the problem set or lost in a large lecture, give me a call! I’ll sit down with you and help you figure it out.

Posted by TFF | Report as abusive

“But it is the students who need aid, and not the financial kind. They have too much of that as it is…”
Doesn’t that contradict your opening posit that the students are burdend by tuition debt?

Posted by jopoto | Report as abusive

They wouldn’t need aid had the Gov stop subsidizing the loans, which drives up the cost of tuitions. Why would colleges slash tuitions? The Gov is giving our unlimited money.

Posted by AJ876 | Report as abusive

Giving out** unlimited money.

Posted by AJ876 | Report as abusive

@ TFF –

I obtained my undergrad degree in accounting from a state university and my MBA from a private institution catering to working adults. I have never taken any courses online.

I understand your perspective, but mine is from the more “practical” viewpoint of business (i.e. risk and reward). This is not meant to denigrate teachers, many of whom do a fine job, but it is still the viewpoint of an “educator” who sees education perhaps more in terms of an end in itself.

Due to circumstances beyond my control, I was unable to attend college immediately after high school, and was not able to get my accounting degree until I went back to school full time as a freshman at age 40. For me it was a dream come true, but I would not advise most older adults to do the same. I financed my education through work-study, student loans and a few grants.

I worked in manufacturing all my life, both before and after college. I was lucky in that my previous experience in commercial printing as an estimator was exactly the kind of experience the then exploding high tech industry needed for cost accounting in that environment.

From the mid-1980s until my “early retirement” after the dot com crash in 2000 I worked my way up to Plant Controller and Finance Manager positions for several high tech companies.

During that time I also passed the CPA exam, and studied part time for my MBA, which I obtained in the early 90s.

What is perhaps the most relevant aspect of this in terms of the cost of education and its potential rewards, which is what this article is really about, is my experiences working with upper management in the high tech industry (typically the CFO or CEO of the organization), virtually all of whom came from “elite” schools whose names you would recognize immediately.

What I learned from first-hand experience was that, unless you come from an elite school, you will only progress just so far up the corporate ladder, but no further. While I usually worked for a CFO, I would never have been considered as “CFO material”, solely because I didn’t possess the “right social background”.

The same was true of a career as a CPA, if I had chosen to go that route. I did not mainly because I loved working in both the commercial printing industry and high tech, and it was a wise choice to pursue the area of greatest interest and experience.

CPA firms, for example, hire recent graduates who have the right “social connections” to increase their business, not for their accounting grades in school.

The same is true for the legal profession. During my time in the high tech industry, I took some time off to attend a private law school (after taking the LSAT, I had a number of schools from which to pick), but soon realized that no “recognized” law firm would ever hire a person without the proper background either. I would have pursued a career in contract negotiation or taxation, as some others had done in the firms where I worked. In the end, I decided the risk was not worth the reward.

I am not bitter about not being able to pursue either a career as a CPA or as an attorney, since I think both would ultimately have been a mistake. Thus, I remained with the high tech industry until my “early retirement” when the industry began to “outsource” manufacturing facilities to overseas locations. That effectively brought my career to an end. “Progress” had finally caught up with me. Luckily I was able to retire at age 62.

I consider myself to be the exception, not the rule, mainly because of my strong desire for continuous education, which is why I can understand your viewpoint. Even now, thanks to the internet, I am able to satisfy my desire to learn upper level mathematics, and its applications in quantum mechanics, which I had been “forced” to learn while a Plant Controller in the high tech industry in order to cost the products.

However, this is a cautionary tale, not one I would recommend for anyone who does not have a strong desire to succeed regardless of the circumstances.

Looking back on it, I had to have been “insane” to blithely take the risks that I took to get an education. Most who take such risks do not succeed. The odds are against you. What I did was out of pure ignorance of the difficulties involved beforehand.

From what I can see, this is the essential difference between being born on the “wrong side of the tracks”. Having seen the realities of what the author is suggesting firsthand, I understand the literal impossibility for most people to do what I did. The risk is not worth the reward for most of you. It was extremely difficult when I did it, and in my opinion literally impossible now because the economy has fundamentally changed. Timing is everything, and the time has long come and gone when an individual can “lift himself by his own bootstraps” as I did.

The “advice” given in this article, from my practical perspective, is little more than an advertisement for the online school industry, which as I said above, is a national disgrace. What we are deliberately doing is getting our most vulnerble people “hooked on debt” for life. This is wrong no matter how you look at it.

Posted by PseudoTurtle | Report as abusive

@ TFF –

I was curious about your statement that you “encourage students to view the lessons at Khan Academy”, which I had never heard of before.

Their website does not indicate that it is any sort of degree granting institution, nor does it appear to be accredited.

If a person is simply interested in learning about something, perhaps this is a good place to find out more about the subject. But from my impression, if you expect to get an education from a website like this, you may as well put “Wikipedia” on your resume.

This is NOT serious education that would allow a person to be able to get a job.

I was surprised that Bill Gates is so prominently associated with Khan Academy. You might want to ask Mr. Gates how many Khan Adademy “graduates” Microsoft has hired.

Posted by PseudoTurtle | Report as abusive

@ OneOfTheSheep –

I notice that you have simply ignored my question regarding your actual qualifications to express the opinions to so generously share with everyone.

Clearly, you have neither the requisite education nor experience to understand, much less criticize, what I write in my comments.

Inevitably, that leads me to the conclusion that, for reasons known only to yourself, you are desperate for attention, even if that attention is hostile.

I will not waste my time stoking your ego any longer.

Posted by PseudoTurtle | Report as abusive


You have obviously mistaken me for someone who cares what you do with your time. But yes, you were being ignored.

My professional careers and background are similar to yours. Of most significance is that in the end I am satisfied and content while you are bitter and angry.

In the end it is not who I know or who you know that makes what we say worthy of consideration or not. It is not even what is known, but the level of comprehension and ability to see associations and applications of knowledge. That isn’t taught anywhere. It is a personal accomplishment few achieve to a functional degree.

If the building janitor had come up with the concept of E-MC squared would it be any less relevant? Those able and willing to discern wisdom on their own will ever be far, far ahead of you in comprehension and personal implementation of same. You have hobbled your own mind.

I have invested more than a little time in attempting to understand your thinking, and found little thinking but a lot of mental reflex responses not unlike the knee-jerk from the physician’s hammer. Like the attraction of the moth to the flame you come back again and again to your silly mantra of “It’s the wealthy, stupid”.

It’s not. It’s YOU. You might have been the most educated of “Occupy Wall Street” except that that futile idea no longer occupies anything. Day late, dollar short.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

@ OneOfTheSheep –

IF as you say, “My professional careers and background are similar to yours” I would definitely demand my money back.

Sorry, OOTS, an advanced education is simply not something you can fake, and I know you have no idea what I am talking about most of the time.

Take your “mental problems” elsewhere.

Posted by PseudoTurtle | Report as abusive


Actually, it is YOU that have no idea what you are talking about much of the time, or you are simply incapable of communicating it effectively to anyone else. So what you say is often ignored.

You are as one easily distracted by the magician so as to be unaware what is actually happening right before your eyes. In such case, what YOU see doesn’t MATTER. What MATTERS is learning how the trick is done.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

@PseudoTurtle, you and I don’t agree on many things, but I like your comment below, and I’d like to say I agree with your opinion on this subject wholeheartedly:

“Timing is everything, and the time has long come and gone when an individual can “lift himself by his own bootstraps” as I did.

The “advice” given in this article, from my practical perspective, is little more than an advertisement for the online school industry…is a national disgrace. What we are deliberately doing is getting our most vulnerble people “hooked on debt” for life.”

@Everybody else:

What I think a lot of us aren’t taking into consideration of online education programs is the state of mind and ethics of our youth today. As a non-traditional student myself, I sat in class after class watching the 18 – 25 year olds sleeping, texting, emailing and Facebook-ing their friends during lectures.

A few online classes here and there can be very effective – even enjoyable – and a few non-traditional student might do well, but the general High School graduate going in is likely to fail. Younger students as a rule lack self-discipline and still need the structure of a butt-in-seat class. When they get out into the real world of real jobs, they need to have demonstrated they satisfied that commitment.

They way I see it, it’s a win/lose. The schools win because online classes are cheap – low overhead. The students lose because they come out with an inferior education, still-crushing student debt and fewer skills to succeed in the real world. You know, the world that expects you to show up, show up on time, and stay awake.

Posted by JL4 | Report as abusive

Much research has shown very positive results from online learning curriculum. One of my degrees is an ABET comsci degree and I got it by learning technologies that were no longer in use when I graduated. My employer asked me to drop out of college because it was wasting their time and money (my school was teaching me things that violated my corporate security policy and I almost lost the job I was in because of it). Here is a youtube video of a TED conference where research from online learning was presented: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6FvJ6jMG HU

Everyone learns differently and there is no general formula for knowledge transfer. Why not give everyone as many avenues as possible to help them succeed? Doesn’t that correlate with our “land of opportunity” claim?

Posted by Obsilutely | Report as abusive


Mr. Karabell gave a balanced description of the potential for online education to deliver educational information less expensively than is today possible at physical trade schools, universities and community colleges. I saw no “advice” whatsoever.

He was straightforward in stating that “…we are a few years away from online courses providing degrees and credentials that will be seen by the marketplace as adequate. For now, taking courses online may enrich your life, but it will not provide the entrée into jobs requiring a degree, whether associate’s or bachelor’s.”

He was justifiably enthusiastic about the potential for students anywhere to sign up and take instruction from the most effective professors and instructors at nominal cost. Just as in music or the movies the “masses” can enjoy the talents of our most gifted in any educational field online free of the expenses of building and maintaining huge physical campuses.

When the local High School graduate is incapable of further education online, such is not a failing of online education but of the community’s “educational establishment”. Any time “local education” becomes an oxymoron, state and/or federal standards and oversight become both necessary and appropriate.

More and more students need local access at nominal cost to such additional instruction and/or skills as they need to be employable in their home communities as productive citizens. There is a continuing need for appropriate vocational instruction and on-the-job apprenticeships to assure a competent workforce building and maintaining every community.

The usual union programs accessible only to “members and families” are too discriminatory to meet this need.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

@OOTS, u get what u pay 4.

Posted by JL4 | Report as abusive

@ JL4 –

Your comment to me, “As a non-traditional student myself”, struck a chord as to one of the reasons why I am doing this. Many years ago, one of my ambitions was to become a teacher — thank God, that never happened due to the changes in society since then — but a desire to learn has always been very strong as long as I can remember. Part of that, of course, is the desire to impart that knowledge to others.

In any case, what I am attempting to “teach” anyone who reads my comments is what I feel is a rather unique perspective on what it takes to become a “success”, however you define that for yourself.

It is a “Tale of Two Lives”, if you will. Since I was born poor, having been raised by my grandparents whose sole income was Social Security, my options for further education were absolutely zero. And this reflected in my attitude towards higher education, not consciously, of course, but it was the prevailing attitude of those born poor.

For example, it was my opinion that “a lousy piece of paper” doesn’t do anything for a person, and that a high school diploma was just as good. However, in the back of my mind there was always the desire to get that “lousy piece of paper”.

When circumstances in my life changed radically during my late 30s, I decided to take the chance and go back to school full time, since I had literally nothing to lose by doing so (except go to jail for non-payment of child support, but hey, what the hell, right?)

Given that I had failed algebra in high school (due to non-existent study habits), I began to prepare by taking algebra at a local community college. To my surprise I was getting straight “A”s where 20 years before I couldn’t understand what a Cartesian coordinate system was. This small step gave me the courage to continue on at the community college and to take the massive step of taking Trigonometry. And WOW! Success, again. For me, it was like being introduced to drugs, and I was hooked on education for life.

While trying to find out how I could possibly finance this “insanity”, I happened to see something in a university catelog that caught my eye. Student loans were available … and without collateral? Who had ever heard of such a thing? But it was indeed true.

By sheer coincidence I found that I was able to go back to school by use of work-study, student loans and limited amounts of grants.

The fact that I had no idea what I was getting myself into, as in “fools rush in where angels fear to tread”, I went to a state university in the midwest — admitted on probation because I was severely deficient in all the normal prerequisites of an incoming freshman, except for math — and decided my major was going to be Chemical Engineering.

Yup! Like I said, “dumb as a post” in the ways of the world. Never having had a single high school course in ANYTHING that remotely dealt with science — I was on a “business track” diploma, which was basically vocational training to become a clerk — I decided to become a Chemical Engineer and work in the paper industry.

After my first semester, with grades of nearly 4.0 for the courses I had taken, the university dropped my probationary staus. I was solidly on track for an engineering major, or so I thought, until my sophomore year. After all, I was taking “hard core” science and math courses — chemistry, of course, but also something I had never even heard of before called “Calculus”, which is when I fell in love with mathematics (3 semesters of Calculus with a B average, while competing against recent high school graduates who already had high school Calculus) — and maintaining a very high 3.0+ GPA, but then my past caught up to me. I was a course called “mass and energy balance”. It was also my Waterloo.

Literally half way through my university career, I had run smack into a brick wall. I did the only thing I could possibly do — and which I swore I would never go to college for because I thought it was stupid — was to switch my major to Accounting.

I completely changed majors over the course of one summer between my sophomore and junior years. I was lucky because, for me, accounting courses were a “no brainer”. That is how and why I ended up with an accounting degree, then a CPA and an MBA to advance my business career.


So what is the point, you ask? The point is that the ONLY factors that allowed me to succeed where so many others I met along the way had failed — especially the non-traditional students — is my tenacity and perseverence regardless of the difficulties involved. I have never considered myself to be of above average intelligence, and have always been forced to study what seemed to me to be “twice the effort for half the result” of others.

That I am opinionated and obstinate has helped immensely, but the most important factor is persistence in the face of adversity and failure.

I have met many “entrepreneurs”, both before and after obtaining my degree, and it appears to me that most of these people have had the same qualities.

While it was possible to become an entrepreneur without a degree when I began working in the printing industry, for example, the “bar” has now been raised to that of a college degree. And this is VERY important in terms of entrepreneurship, a degree from an elite school is almost necessary to achieve any kind of success in this economy and society.

IF I had been born wealthy instead of poor I would have had a high probabilty of going on to become far more successful than I have without that advantage.

Having seen life “from both sides now”, the poor are disadvantaged in so many ways that I cannot possibly begin to cover it in this venue. What the wealthy class simply takes for granted is their own superiority, and thus treats their children much differently than the average poor or middle class family. It is a matter of “perception” as to what it takes to succeed in this world that virtually no one who is not born wealthy simply cannot understand. I KNOW this to be true, because I have seen both worlds. And that division is getting rapidly much worse.

What I also didn’t mention is the extreme difficulty in doing what I did. I have moved so many times around the country (literally from coast to coast more than once) in order to find jobs where I though the job market market be that I have lost count of all the long distance moves. MOST of those moves were not successful. I have come close to bankruptcy many times in my search for “success”. I have lived on unemployment for extended periods of time between jobs.

Whenever I hear the old phrase, which goes something like this “what you will regret most in life are the chances you never took”, my first thought is the person has either never taken a chance in his life, he has a screw loose, or both. Taking “risks” may sound like it is exciting, but only in novels.

Another phrase I find amusing is when the wealthy class tell people who are unemployed to become “entrepreneurs” and start their own company. To me this advice typifies the truly MASSIVE difference between the wealthy and middle classes. They think everyone has endless numbers of “contacts”, usually made when they attend their elite universities that they CANNOT conceive of how little resources any who is not wealthy really has when they are unemployed.

It is part of the basis for the wealthy claim that if “Joe 6-pack” really wanted to work, he could easily get a job, WHICH IS TOTAL AND ABSOLUTE BULLSHIT.

There is such a MASSIVE gulf between what the wealthy perceive as “reality”, and what the rest of the nation knows “reality” to be that there is literally NO common language to express it. I understand because I have seen both sides, but unless other people, both wealthy and non-wealthy can understand the needs of each class, this nation is going down hard again.

Best of luck in your efforts.

Hope my pesonal take on “reality” helps you to deal with your “reality”.

Posted by PseudoTurtle | Report as abusive

@ JL4 –

I have noted that you have a significant difference of opinion with OOTS.

Let me say this about that: OOTS hasn’t a clue as to what he is talking about.

If I were you, I would pay no attention.

Posted by PseudoTurtle | Report as abusive

My friend has many degrees and could not make a living with them. He is currently a contractor and barely making it. He regrets going to college and claims becoming an electrician would have been a better choice. Mike Judge is right…just view Idiocracy.

Posted by rikfre | Report as abusive

@PseudoTurtle, I read your background yesterday, but I haven’t been able to respond (very busy) and I wanted to say that I appreciate knowing more about your education & background.

I worked as a single mother for decades and did well. Never went on Welfare (although it was “touch-and-go” a couple of times), never food stamps, and got promoted at just about every job I held. I did well. As an adult I obtained a BA to hopefully teach.

I soon learned that a BA would get me nowhere teaching – it would require a MA at least. An MA would cost upwards of 30K with no teaching jobs in site with teachers being laid off left and right. Well, who would want to put that bean up their nose? Besides, I’d probably die before I could pay off the loans.

Back to the topic though…This country has been groaning about the sad state of American education standards for decades. As a nation, our descent into inferior status year after year is almost legendary worldwide. Why are corporations seeking middle & upper management employees from other countries? Because they can’t find them here. I think “online” education is another step toward failure for the American public and all in the name of “Cheap”.

We are on a slippery political slope where nothing is sacred except the dollar. We are being sold a bill of goods by Republicans in Congress that we need to protect the corporations’ dollars as a number two priority (the first being to impeach Obama of course) and now suggestions are everywhere that a) privatized online education for middle and high schoolers and b) online education for higher learning, are great ideas. And why? Because they’re cheaper.

I’ll wager they won’t be one bit cheaper than public education or state Colleges and Universities. I’m ROFLMAO at that addition to the list of “Big Lies”. Plus, I have no faith in our youth having the discipline to stop using stupid acronyms, to capitalize a sentence, or to pull off a degree with even a 2.5 GPA.

Online education won’t help our youth perform in the world market, but hey, no matter, we’ll save money.

Posted by JL4 | Report as abusive


“This country has been groaning about the sad state of American education standards for decades.” You propose NO solution whatsoever. It has been observed that those who complain without suggestions for improvement are a waste of everyone’s time.

If “corporations [are] seeking middle & upper management employees from other countries…because they can’t find them here”, that is the rather predictable result of your statement above. I agree what America’s largely unionized “educational establishment” has become a bottomless hole that mindlessly consumes every dollar sacrificed on it’s altar and condemns increasing generations of non-achievers to lives of frustration and poverty.

I believe online education has the potential to be a more efficient and economical means of imparting useful knowledge and skills to those who are “self-starters” with brains, ambition and determination. These are the people that will succeed in any case, much like you. But are they and the country better off if their success is quicker and their expense less?

The potential of online education is, obviously, yet to be brought to fruition, but is that any reason not to nurture it sufficiently to full explore said potential? Those who say something “can’t be done” are only right until some does it.

Your distain for things “cheap” is simply silly. One can use the word “efficient” or “economical, each of which has positive connotation. Conservation of AVAILABLE capital (the EFFICIENT and EFFECTIVE use of available tax revenue (money) is how more can be accomplished with less. Government is TERRIBLE at this.

In every instance the incentives and disincentives “our” government provides are too little, too late, the goals indistinct and progress (or the lack thereof) impossible to objectively measure. Individual accountability is considered an unacceptable threat to the incompetent, who seem forever in charge.

How would YOU change this? Or would you have us keep doing the same things and expecting different results?

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

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