The End of College by Kevin Carey

“The difference between watching a lecture live or on film is like the difference between reading Anna Karenina in two different fonts.”

I think this quote perfectly summarizes the entire book. Either you completely disagree with this statement or you wholeheartedly agree with it. I disagree with this. I think attending a lecture live and watching in online offer two completely different experiences, but I understand from an objective perspective it does not make any sense. The best argument I can offer is the difference between listening to a recorded song or going to a live concert. The recorded song will actually give you the best, most precise listening experience, yet going to a concert provides a communal, corporeal experience. The same can be said about watching a football game on television or sitting in the stadium. At home, you get better views, more information, and the ability to pause the game, but when you attend you feel a part of something bigger.

Now the irony, I would rather stream a song than attend a concert, but in most cases, I would rather attend a lecture than watch online. I had a traditional undergraduate experience and I learned a lot. I did a mix of in person and online for graduate school and the online features did not engage me. The online class made everything feel cold. I tried a MOOC in the past but I never finished.

College is way too expensive and (according to some research) is educationally ineffective. The author spends the whole book promoting the concept of the free, accessible college courses. Over and over again he shares stories of startups throwing millions and millions of dollars into resources online that can be available for free to absolutely anyone with an internet connection. He does make a lot of good observations, but I think there is a lot missing. He talks about hundreds of millions of dollars coming from venture capitalists from Silicon Valley or from the endowments of the established elite college of Harvard, MIT, and so forth but the author also complains about how much education costs. Yes, it costs a lot to develop these programs but once they are up and running the maintenance costs are minimal.

I agree a college degree is incredibly expensive, but when you break down the budgets I don’t believe there is a lot of fat. Sure, you can get rid of the football or art history, but then you alienate students and donors who want those programs. College is expensive because of its expensive workforce. Can you streamline things? Sure, but there is always a risk to that. Consumers like inexpensive products but they love quality. This is where the author and I differ. I believe massive open online courses can offer an inferior product. He does not believe so.

I could go on and on about how I think this book misses the point, but I do think his arguments are valid though perhaps one-sided.

And of course, no book that is critical about higher education costs is complete without a reference to a rock climbing wall. You will find that references on page 47 of the paperback version.