Redefining Higher Ed

By Patricia Melton

Yesterday Cities of Promise looked at the closure of Sweet Briar College and asked if it was a canary in a coal mine, falling by the wayside because of a “student loan bubble” which now has grown to 13 figures. Yes, a trillion dollars — a level not reached from either U.S. credit card or auto loan debt.

Today we look at the future of college given the market factors that are playing out. We look no further than this morning’s New York Times, in which Joe Nocera has featured a new Kevin Carey book entitled “The End of College.”

Carey, the director for the education policy program at the New America Foundation, takes a sledgehammer to higher education but remains optimistic about the future of education. Perhaps as a parent of a four-year-old, he has to be.

Nocera writes that Carey has “been thinking about the role of universities in American life for virtually his entire career” as both an education writer and policy analyst. David Leonhardt of the New York Times has called Carey “one of the sharpest higher education experts out there” while Washington Post reporter Jay Mathews is even more narrow, calling him “the best higher education writer in the country.”

Carey has been focused on how technology and higher education can be intertwined, yet moving in opposite directions. Technology has created opportunities across the planet while college costs have widened the privilege gap which encourages young people to take enormous risk on future, unguaranteed earnings.

He now feels that universities are “ancient institutions in their last days of decadence, creating the seeds of a new world to come” and that this new world will redefine education in cheaper and more useful ways.

The arms race for fancier campuses — and the status and prestige that go with them — has been shouldered by students and families, but Carey sees a revolution where one’s education becomes more consequential than one’s degree. Organizations like Coursera — where former Yale President Richard Levin now serves as Chief Executive Officer — are building huge catalogues of college courses which are now available online.

Carey believes future learning will come from the “University of Everywhere,” which he recently explained on NPR:

“Historically you went to college in a specific place and only studied with the other people who could afford to go [to] that place, in the future we’re going to study with people all over the world, interconnected over global learning networks and in organizations that in some cases aren’t colleges as we know them today, but rather 21st-century learning organizations that take advantage of all of the educational tools that are rapidly becoming available to offer great college experiences for much less money.”

But how, exactly, will this impact football?

Patricia Melton is the Executive Director of New Haven Promise

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