Parson Irresponsibility?

As the owner of three expensive diplomas on the wall, and the father of three young kids, and the holder of a job not known for its earning potential…I have to admit that I’ve basically made a bet with my kid’s future. I think this guy, Salman Khan, has to be right about the future of higher education.

Here’s what I think it could look like in five years: the learning side will be free, but if and when you want to prove what you know, and get a credential, you would go to a proctoring center [for an exam]. And that would cost something. Let’s say it costs $100 to administer that exam. I could see charging $150 for it. And then you have a $50 margin that you can reinvest on the free-learning side.

I think that is consistent with the mission. You are taking the cost of the credential down from thousands of dollars to hundreds of dollars. And the [software] system would tell them they are ready for it. So no paying tuition for community college and then dropping out, or even finishing the whole thing and saying “Oh, I’m $20,000 in debt and what did I get out of it?”

Now you are like, “Look, there is this micro-credential in basic accounting I can get for $150, and I basically know I am going to pass before I invest that money.” That would be a huge positive for the consumers of education, and it could pay the bills on the learning side.

Now if one of the ankle-biters manages to get themselves admitted to Harvard that might be a different thing. There are two transactions going on there. Harvard is aggregating the best collection of future potential it can identify and that future talent is paying for access to a very exclusive network. Do you see education in there anywhere? Not as a primary input or output. But let’s discount that possibility for now.

After those pay to play institutions, you are left with the large state credential factories. And with government budgets going boom, and every available dollar that we can tax or borrow going to be needed to pay for Social Security, Medicare and Obamacare, anything that can offer a potential order of magnitude decrease in cost and at the same time offer a data driven credential that might be more telling than a grade-inflated gender-studies degree will be too tempting for the state to keep guarding the moat. Especially as the “youth” vote is a key part of the democratic coalition. There is an epic smackdown within that coalition between the tenured professors dependent upon the old model and the kids who don’t want to start life with hundreds of thousands of debt. The kids can only pay for one entitlement and my guess is that they pay for SSI, Medicare, Obamacare.

The upshoot is that if Salman Khan is right and I avoid the Harvard bullet, the parson does not have to eat Ramen Noodles every night starting now for the next 20 years until the last darling gets that sheepskin. Parental irresponsibility or justifiable bet?