The article is about Straighterline, a for-big-profits educational company. The principle is simple and is the brainchild of a man named Burck Smith--who went to Williams and Harvard, by the way, not the University of Phoenix or another online school. Here it is: charge very low tuition and make it possible for people like the 50-year-old laid-off worker Barbara Solvig (whose story is the "hook" in the article) to complete her education. The idea is that the basic Econ 101, English 101, etc. will be offered online, thus skimming off tremendous profits for Smith and his investors. Oh, and it's all for noble motives:
Students will benefit enormously from radically lower prices—particularly people like Solvig who lack disposable income and need higher learning to compete in an ever-more treacherous economy.
But is Smarthinking, the tutoring company that Burck founded, likely to hire a 50-something American worker like Solvig in this "treacherous economy," given industry's hatred for those over 30? Is it likely to employ unemployed or underemployed Ph.D. grads or ABDs in the U.S.? Of course not.
Smarthinking pooled the demand from hundreds of colleges and tens of thousands of students while hiring credentialed tutors in places like India and the Philippines. As long as “on demand” was defined as a high likelihood of being served within a few minutes, economies of scale and cheap foreign labor could be combined to drive per-student service costs to unheard-of lows.Let's leave aside the humanities, culture, and research for a minute, just as Smith's model will leave them aside permanently, and look at something more basic: how are these online courses going to teach people to draw blood and insert catheters, not to mention even more knowledge- and skill-based practices? If you want to be an R.N., how will you learn these things?
What's that you say? That's not the job of an online course? All right, but the courses that do teach such things are expensive. They're time-consuming. They require hands-on teaching with skilled practitioners.
Dean Dad has talked about how expensive it is to train nurses, and what pays for those expensive specialized courses? The lower-division ones that Smith is proposing to take over and teach for $99 a month. How long do you think that universities are going to continue teaching money-losing but vitally important courses if they don't have a means to balance the loss of income in some way?