The $8000 Bachelor Degree

We have finally cracked the code in Richmond for the sub-$10K BA.  Here is how we did it:

No administrative burden!

  1. Award is by a non-accredited institution, so no unnecessary burden in working with sister institutions who provide judgmental visitors that dis what we are doing.
  2. No Title IV federal financial aid. We don’t submit IPEDS or any other federal support.
  3. No buildings or expensive infrastructure to maintain.

No constant pursuit of an unattainable faculty salary goal.

  1. We’ve got NO faculty!
  2. We crowd-source instruction.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Every 16 Weeks we will give you a reading list.
  2. You buy the books and read them.
  3. You create a free WordPress blog.
  4. For each book, post an 8000-word essay about the contents, responding to the writing prompt, “How does this affect me and describe my position in a culturally diverse world where I will never know enough about what is going on to make a difference?”
  5. Readers from around the world will comment on your essays and you will be observed in your responses to their comments.
  6. We will repeat this sequence seven times for a total of eight semesters.
  7. At the end of semester 8 you will write and post a capstone project that responds to the prompt, “This is why I deserve this degree and now I have plan to change the world.”
  8. We will then provide you an .EPS file for you to manipulate and create your diploma.

You never have to send us a check. If you can borrow the books, or go the freaking library, you can do the degree for less.



It’s nice to be special, or, I’m glad I am an alpha

Peter Greene takes Kevin Carey to task over at Curmudgucation. Read it. My first thought upon reading it is that most everyone bemoaning the failure of American higher education is a product of American higher education. So how would they know? Is this a case of the blonde leading the blonde?

Or is it that they feel such failure in understanding the world around them that it must be the fault of the education they received?

Must be it. Can’t be their own damn fault.

Or perhaps their expectations have changed over time. Or beliefs.

I don’t know Peter, but I like his writing and thinking. I do know Kevin and I like his writing and thinking. I don’t always agree with either of them, and both comments apply to a number of people in the education research, commentary, and punditry industry (RCPI).

Unfortunately, I know that a lot of RCPI simply are not as smart and well-educated as they think they are, particularly those I have been meetings or dialogue with over the years. I too often say things that should not go unchallenged, but do, and the statements I make that are challenged are usually those contrary to the Crisis of the Day or Cherished Myth. Those things that are not challenged, or fail to cause a “wait a moment, what did you just say?” are intended to see who is paying attention – or is as educated as they think they are.

I know I am not as well-educated as a lot of these folks. I went to unimpressive schools and have a degree in studio art (painting nekkid women and making jewelry) of all things. I’ve read far more Stephen King than the classics of western literature  (unless those classics are the golden age of science fiction and later). For that matter, I am pretty much enjoying King’s new book, Mr. Mercedes. And I have no shame or embarrassment about these things – I like what I like. Despite the source of my education, I did make what I could of it and I am pretty well aware of my biases. I also pay a lot of attention to what people say…sometimes more than I think whoever is speaking/writing.

During the last presidential elections, we heard a lot about “makers and takers” and on my last road-trip I saw a billboard using that phrase between Joplin and Kansas City. I have a strong bias when it comes to “information makers” and “information takers” in the RCPI class. Too many are in the latter group and have never been in the former group. They really have no idea, in my not-so-very-humble-at-all opinion, what is going on in the data, only what they have read about it or created as tertiary users of the data. Some have never really had a real job and simply write about the work of others applying their own biases and prejudices. Others are part of a revolving door of policy positions, think-tanks, and foundations – generally going places that support and reinforce their own belief systems. This is probably a completely an unfair bias of mine, but I admit to it. I appreciate the fact that RCPI has every bit as much of the societal utility and value of music, movie, and theater critics.

Peter makes a link about funding sources and agenda of New America Foundation, along the lines of one of my favorite reader commenters at CHE, IHE, and elsewhere (wherever higher ed stories appear), Unemployed Northeasterner. While the there is a certain conspiratorial appeal to follow the money and think that the think-tanks and researchers receiving money from foundations are being controlled in their work. Or that the foundations like Lumina are being to led in such a manner to direct their grant activities to fatten the wallets and coffers of SallieMae, it is far easier for me to believe in essential laziness of human nature. People are attracted to organizations that reinforce what they choose to believe and organizations attract people that reinforce the beliefs and agenda of the organization. The same is true in making grants to individual researchers and teams of researchers.

Of course, this essential laziness is key to understanding the pronouncements of the RCPI – they read, research, and write in a way that supports their chosen belief system. It’s a lot of work to constantly challenge your own thinking and belief system. It’s also wearying to be wrong all the time – or at least face a reality that says things are not quite as simple and clear-cut as you wish to make them out to be.

I had actually planned to write about the existential crisis that came to a head this week about whether or not there is a student loan crisis. Student loan posts get lots more views. This post might get twenty. I’ve written before about my difficulty in knowing if student debt is a crisis or not, but I am going to reinforce these basic facts:

Fewer than 5% of Virginia’s baccalaureate graduates in 2011-12 greater than $50,000. That means fewer than 2,300. Is this a large enough group on which to base public policy? In this day of of Big Data and seeming lack of sense of a collective good, we can imagine personalized public policy. In fact, I touch on that in a brilliant post over here. A more appropriate concern about growing debt is that, in Virginia, the median debt of graduates who borrow has increased from $15,253 to $25,000. That is a large increase. The percentage of borrowers has only increased from 54% to 61%, but the number of graduates has increased a bit more dramatically.

However, the very best analysis on student debt, crisis or not,  I have seen thus far is from Libby Nelson over at Vox who does a very nice job laying out the issues.

Defining it as a crisis is the easiest way to force change and perhaps attract additional money. I’ve read so many bloggers, activists, reformers, and the like saying “college is not worth the cost” and I still don’t understand why they think so. When I try to unpack their position, it seems very clear that they think students and families should bear little or no cost. That’s a different issue. Sometimes they seem to be saying that employment outcomes of recent graduates bear out their argument – college graduates aren’t all getting good jobs. Is that the fault of college or the economy? So much of this about expectations that it is hard to have legitimate conversations, particularly in the face of underemployed college graduates with significant student debt. That is a real issue, especially as we discuss the future of IBR, ICR, PAYE, and other “solutions” to the debt problem.

The fact that we have to have income-based repayment programs may be the biggest indicator of a problem.

On the flip-side, maybe it is a bigger issue that our solution to rising costs in higher education has relied predominantly on the use of part-time adjuncts in exchange for allowing other costs to rise for students (athletics and other experiential opportunities).

What if the single, unalterable, and perhaps unutterable, truth is this. Higher education is an ungodly expensive enterprise because it requires large numbers of expensively educated individuals engaged in high-touch practice?  (Which is what was in place before the US started failing in these measurements against other countries.)

What if the belief that higher education can be made cheap or essentially free is just plain wrong?

Will we look back in a few decades at all this policy churn and say,

“Gosh, that was a huge waste of effort, but I am sure some of the lessons were important.”



As I wrote in my last post, the lead-up to the MRI was a bit stressful in its anticipation. The next stressor was actually being placed in the tube. It takes me a few moments to grasp control of my claustrophobia and settle into the next 24 minutes. I prep for this by staying up later than usual the night before and limiting my caffeine intake in the morning. If I can’t actually doze, I can generally come close to relaxation.

Once all is done, it is time to dash from the basement to sixth floor to my neurosurgeon’s office. I am so fortunate in this regard as so many of my fellow brain tumor patients often have to wait days or weeks to get the results. I get them within an hour. I really like the way VCU Health Systems handles this process.

Yesterday I learned that the tumor was stable and perhaps had shrunk just a bit, compared to images from May 2013, and April 2012. With that bit of good news I was told to schedule my next appointment in two years – the annual MRIs were done.

Cool beans!

Today I met with my radiation oncologist and he said much the same thing. We looked at the images from a variety of different angles and saw shrinkage in most dimensions compared to last year.

So, life is very very good…and now I can get back to focusing on higher ed outcomes.



Weekend Projects

For the higher ed folks, there is probably little of interest in this post.

I spent the weekend focused on two projects. My wife is having foot surgery on Wednesday and will not be able bear weight on the cast for at least six weeks. This requires that I build a ramp to the front porch to ease access to the house. It also requires that I move out of office/taproom and convert into a recovery room. Both these are now done.

It’s a fair amount of work to do it in a weekend.

It also served to keep me busy enough to not spend much time thinking about tomorrow’s MRI. Having an MRI every six months was tolerable in many ways, but it was a bit much in terms of the wondering about the outcomes. Annually is better, but still the dread anticipation is there. Getting the news of a tumor the first-time was almost of no moment. Getting the news of its regrowth was harsh.

I won’t forget either day.

I also won’t forget that a dedicated home office is a privilege more than a right. Even when I own the home. This is not the first time I have moved my office. I moved it once into our bedroom when my former daughter-in-law, her partner, and the boys moved in after an aborted move to Arizona. When they moved out, the weekend just before I went back to work following my very long surgery, I re-established my office in one of the bedrooms and created a taproom downstairs. That was a great place to sit and drink and have friends over.

When the boys and their mom moved back in, I moved my office into the taproom. And now that my wife needs a place to recover, I have gladly moved into a corner of the living room where I can check in on her frequently.

I just need a place to work, because the work never really ends.