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17. 12
2012

Economic illiteracy and online education

Written by: gcw - Posted in: Uncategorized - Tags: , ,
So, there is this adjunct problem. Adjuncts are often paid very little and are becoming a larger part of the higher education workforce. Coincidently there is also this dadgummed MOOC revolution, with Corsera and Udacity changing how we deliver eduation to students (or so people keep telling me). So what would it take to bring both of these higher education trendes together? Money.
And in comes StraighterLine where students can sign up for online courses, the teachers of those courses can set their own fees and all is right with the world. Except to adjunct advocate Josh Bolt who considers it a sign of the educational apocalypse. I’m not even exaggerating, he actually said:
Programs like Professor Direct, in their current incarnation, will destroy the greatest educational system in the world if we don’t force some checks and balance onto them.
How an online startup that has been offering 16 new classes for zero amount of time will destroy a 475 billion dollar industry with an established non-governmental regulatory system (which prevents StraighterLine from access Federal monies, most importantly student financial aid) is beyond me.
The gist of StraighterLine is that, unlike the MOOCs,  they will charge money for their online courses and the teachers involved get to set the price. They already have some colleges lined up that will accept their credits. So the promise is that you will no longer have adjuncts being underpaid because they can make more teaching online courses like these, essentially cutting out the middle man of colleges.
Josh is convinced this is a terrible thing because…well because he doesn’t understand economics:
Teachers aren’t setting their own price any more than a dairy farmer sets his own price for milk. Sure, a teacher can value her course at what she considers to be a living wage, but if the consumer isn’t willing to pay that price, then the teacher’s valuation essentially means nothing. In a market-driven economic exchange, the consumer sets the price.
Except no. In a market-driven economic exchange both the supplier and the consumer agree to a price. If the diary farmer wants more than people are willing to pay for milk, they won’t buy it. Likewise if people won’t pay enough for milk to make it worth the farmer’s time, he’ll sell old Bessie as hamburgers and jerky. No one gets to set the price.
StraighterLine isn’t the end or education as we know it or a bold new way to make teachers millionaires.  It’s just another market to sell milk at, and more markets mean more options and that can never be a bad thing.
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