Disrupting the Higher Education Bubble

Sarah Lacy has a post on TechCrunch that’s supposed to be terribly outrageous and upsetting because Libertarian ideologue Peter Thiel thinks higher education is a bubble.

The only problem with thinking behind the post is that it focuses on Thiel’s misguided reality-show style experiment of choosing a group of young people and paying them not to go to college, but instead start businesses.

Putting that aside, there’s a real issue behind Thiel’s thinking which is summarized by Lacy here:

“He thinks it’s fundamentally wrong for a society to pin people’s best hope for a better life on  something that is by definition exclusionary. “If Harvard were really the best education, if it makes that much of a difference, why not franchise it so more people can attend? Why not create 100 Harvard affiliates?” he says. “It’s something about the scarcity and the status. In education your value depends on other people failing. Whenever Darwinism is invoked it’s usually a justification for doing something mean. It’s a way to ignore that people are falling through the cracks, because you pretend that if they could just go to Harvard, they’d be fine. Maybe that’s not true.”

The question is, why doesn’t Thiel make it possible for anyone who wants to go to Harvard to be able to do it? After all, Thiel has made his fortune disrupting other hidebound institutions. Making it possible for motivated individuals to get the same quality of education that exists at the nation’s best universities without having to attend them would be the kind of disruption that would fit into Thiel’s social views and his economic ones.

We know from past history that highly motivated persons exposed to a quality education system will self-select for success. New York’s fabled City College is only one example.

Wouldn’t it be possible given the backing of the right kind of successful and smart people to make a superb education both more affordable and effective? Even if there isn’t a whopping business opportunity here (and I’m pretty sure there actually is one,) wouldn’t gathering the best lectures, course materials, testing protocols and turning them into a cloud-based learning platform that focused on educating individuals and being able to measure their progress be a profound alternative to traditional schools?


Peter Thiel: We’re in a Bubble but It’s Not the Internet. It’s Higher Education
by Sarah Lacy
TechCrunch.com; April 11, 2011

Peter Thiel: We're in a Bubble and It's Not the Internet. It's Higher Education.

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