'The revolution is coming quickly'

June 3, 2013

Former University of Texas professor Marvin Olasky recently observed that “tenure at a big state or private university offers full-time pay for part-time, part-year work until death (or utter decrepitude) cometh. Six classroom hours per week. The joke is that a Texas legislator asked a professor how many hours he taught. Six, the prof said, to which the legislator replied: Should be eight hours a day, but I guess you have to spend some time preparing.”

The economist Herbert Stein’s famous maxim (“If something cannot go on forever, it will stop”) is often quoted in higher-education-reform circles, and with good reason. Every day seems to bring new headlines signaling that big changes are underway in higher education. I recently saw one such headline in my RSS feed and immediately said to myself, This looks like a big deal. After I clicked through and read the article (“Georgia Tech, Udacity Shock Higher Ed With $7,000 Degree”), I said to myself, Yep, this is a big deal.

Further confirmation arrived shortly in the form of a couple of emails from thought leaders in the higher-education revolution. Jeff Sandefer, a Texas entrepreneur who has taught at the University of Oklahoma and the University of Texas, emailed the link to several people, saying this story “is very important for the future of higher education in Texas.”

Today Georgia Tech — one of the best engineering schools in the world — announced it is expanding its MS in Computer Science from 300 to 10,000 students and cutting tuition by 80%, from $40,000 to less than $7,000. What’s more important, as someone who’s spent a lot of time in the classroom and experimented with these new pedagogies, I can promise you that the quality of the education will be far higher — even with a savings of $300 million a year in tuition (more net tuition than UT Austin charges each year). The revolution is coming quickly — and no well-funded PR campaign by those protecting the status quo will stop it. The only question is whether Texas will lead or be left behind.

And it’s not just Texas. OCPA research fellow Vance Fried, a professor of entrepreneurship at Oklahoma State University, sent along the same article. “The low-cost revolution in higher ed took a huge step forward last week,” he said. “We need to get in gear in Oklahoma.”

In the May issue of Perspective (see page 6), Fried has some recommendations for policymakers.

Photo: JFunk / Shutterstock.com

[Cross-posted at SeeThruEdu.com]