14 August 2012

What's so special about colleges?

Marginal Revolution | Tyler Cowen | Company to offer its own degrees

A leading business publisher is to become the first FTSE 100 company to award its own degrees.

Pearson, which owns the Edexcel exam board as well as Penguin and the Financial Times, will recruit up to 100 undergraduates from September 2013 for a business and enterprise degree course.

David Willetts, the Universities minister, is trying to encourage private providers to set up their own degree courses.

Pearson will charge £6,500 a year for a basic three-year university course. Students are expected to be eligible for government loans to cover the fees and Pearson will also be offering “performance scholarships” to help its brightest recruits pay their fees.

That is probably not a big deal, just fyi, and here is a bit more.
I would not call this "not a big deal." I think it makes a tremendous amount of sense.

A degree is, essentially, a very impersonal letter of recommendation that takes the specific form "We believe the person with their name on this sheepskin certificate has learned about enough stuff well enough to be given the degree of [whatever]." What that stuff is and how well they learn it is very different if the letter (diploma) comes from the regents of Stanford, ASU, Amherst or Salisbury State, even if the degree, major and grades are the same.

Why would you trust that endorsement from those faculties but not, say, a "degree" in advertising signed by Omnicom or in operations management by RAND Corp? You don't really know what the degree holder learned. You maybe know the general reputation of that school's faculty (and perhaps more importantly, admissions office). That's also what you know about some corporation that begins handing out degrees.

I think this makes even more sense for grad degrees. At its core, a PhD is simply a thumbs-up from a few (less than half a dozen) other people who already have PhDs. Why can't a half dozen doctorates from MSR give their imprimatur to a new doctorate?

Amazon has started paying for their employees (even warehouse workers) to get degrees in things like IT and logistics. How long before they decide they don't want to spend money for their people to sit through 45 hours of dubious quality lectures at the local community college and decide to offer courses themselves?

If two people came up to you with degrees in information systems, one from LSU and one from Amazon, which would you put more faith in? On the one hand, LSU is an actual school — I should make a crack about them being a football program with a school attached — whose core competency is educating people. On the other hand, Amazon knows a metric ton more about IS than the random assortment of over-worked grad students, itinerant lecturers, and professors distracted by their upcoming grant applications that are teaching at most schools. Do you know anything about the quality of education in IS from LSU? I don't. Maybe it's good? Do you know anything about Amazon and IS? Yeah, you know that they know it backwards and forwards, left, right and center.

No comments:

Post a Comment