VITAL SIGNSrnHire Educationrnby Mary PridernTechnology as ReformrnHigher education has become hirerneducation. That is the message ofrna series of recent books by RichardrnMitchell, Charles Sykes, Thomas Sowell,rnRoger Kimball, Dinesh D’Souza, andrnRichard Huber. All of these writersrnwould like to see academia reformed.rnTheir proposals range from abolishingrntenure (D’Souza and Sowell) to abolishingrnracial quotas (D’Souza and Sowell),rnto requiring professors to teach (Sykes),rnto restoring the curriculum (almostrneveryone), to abolishing schools of educationrn(Mitchell), to cutting professors’rnsalaries (Sykes and Huber), to publishingrnguides to the universities so parentsrnand students can make better choicesrn(Sowell and Sykes).rnWhile all of these suggested reformsrnhave merit, the reformers have been unablernto come up with any mechanism tornimplement them. Today’s students, alreadyrnill-taught through the first 1?rngrades, are not howling for better qualityrnuniversity education. A majority ofrnthe younger students are in college tornparty, not to study, and would be morernlikely to oppose reforms than to promoternthem. Their parents also seem clueless,rnby and large, to the parlous state ofrnthe universities. Even homesehoolingrnparents, who have awakened to the problemsrnin the K-I2 educational establishment,rnplan to send their children to collegernwithout worrying too much aboutrnwhat is going on there. In a last-ditchrnattempt to find some group with the willrnto reform academia, Sykes presents usrnwith a vision of trustees and legislatorsrnstorming the gates of academe torndemand changes. Short of a major miracle,rnthis will not happen. Trustees arerntrustees and legislators are legislatorsrnbecause they have learned the art of notrnrocking the boats that matter. Butrnthanks to high technology, the reformersrnmay get their way after all.rnUniversities and colleges are able torncharge world-class prices for incompetent,rncorrupt, and absent professorsrnteaching Mickey Mouse courses and arernable to force students to submit tornnonacademic brainwashing sessions andrnother infringements on liberty becausern(a) they have a monopoly as the sole dispensersrnof degrees and (b) businesses requirernuniversity degrees as credentialsrnfor almost any decent job.rnThis bottleneck could be eliminated ifrnbusinesses no longer found Americanrncollege degrees credible. It could also berneliminated by eliminating degrees altogether.rnFinally, we could get around thernbottleneck if numerous new, affordablerndegree-granting organizations sprang uprnto compete with the old, defiled templesrnof academe. Until now, all three possibilitiesrnhave been unthinkable. Entirerngenerations have been sold on the idearnthat the more education you had, thernmore income you would make. Andrnstarting a campus-based institution capablernof competing with other campusbasedrninstitutions requires an investmentrnof tens, if not hundreds, of millions ofrndollars.rnUntil now.rnLewis J. Perelman’s School’s Out: Hyperlearning,rnthe New Technology, and thernEnd of Education (1992) sent shockrnwaves through the academic world.rnFirst, Perelman pointed out that there isrnno longer a positive correlation betweenrnyears of education and total lifetime income.rnAfter you spend $100,000 on yourrncollege degree, you may never even makernit back, let alone with interest. Second,rnPerelman proclaimed schools were obsolete.rnAll schools, from kindergartenrnthrough post-graduate facilities. Why?rnBecause with affordable new technology,rnthere is no longer any need forrncampus-based institutions. In fact,rntomorrow’s campus-based institutionsrnmay find themselves in the strange positionrnof trying to vend an inferior productrnwhen better, far less expensive ones arernalso easier to obtain.rnNot everything in Perelman’s book isrnworthwhile. For one thing, he believes inrnbetter learning through yet-to-be-developedrnbrain-enhancing drugs. Perelmanrnalso assumes that all education operatesrnby imparting skills and knowledge—^bothrnof which can be done by computers—rnand ignores the part of education thatrninvolves imparting wisdom—which requiresrna human mentor. These odditiesrnaside, his book is technologically rightrnon. Everything he wrote about two yearsrnago is here or is almost here:rn* A small entrepreneurial companyrnoffers taped lectures ofrnaward-winning university professors.rnAlthough these “SuperStarrnTeachers” courses do not take fullrnadvantage of the technology—rnthey are mainly “talking head”rnlectures with few or no visualrnaids—and are not even world-classrnteaching, they have generated arntremendous amount of interest.rnAt present, the lectures are beingrnpurchased mainly by adults whornwant to refresh some material theyrntook in college or pick up a coursernthey missed, but there is no reasonrn(other than the unavailability ofrnuniversity credits) why this kind ofrnvideo course couldn’t take thernplace of many on-site courses.rn”* Several universities, such asrnthe University of Phoenix, nowrnoffer entire degree programsrnthrough online courses and assignments.rnStudents interact withrnprofessors and other students viarn44/CHRONICLESrnrnrn