If we cancel student debt, then we should also create a US Open University.

Key Points

  • A US Open University would address the potential problem of a build up of student debt in the future. It would be a single, nation-wide university funded by the federal government.
  • It would be tuition free and it would produce online course content (including online textbooks) that would be “free” in that their development and maintenance would be financed by taxpayer dollars.
  • Further, its governance structure would encourage the automation of academic work, something that is very unpopular in traditional colleges and universities. Why, you ask: because faculty share in the governance of these institutions and faculty do not want to automate themselves out of a job.

Back in 2021, I posted an article that made the case for a tuition-free US Open University. Although it did not discuss the student debt issue directly, it did discuss a long-term solution that may be of interest to those of you who care deeply about the student debt crisis today.

Why worry about a long-term solution, you ask.

If you care about today’s student debt crisis, then you may have in mind a temporary fix: We should just cancel the student debt that exists today.

But, even if you are in favor of cancelling the existing student debt, you may also recognize that there are problems with temporary fixes.

If we continue to loan money to students to pay for their college tuition (and other related expenses), then we may be facing another student debt crisis a few years down the road. What then? Should we cancel that debt, too, and then wait a few more years for a new debt crisis to build up.

A more comprehensive way to address the problem would be a two-fold solution:

  1. Have the government cancel the current student debt.
  2. Establish a tuition-free public higher education program to address at least part of the cause of the student debt problem going forward.

Of course, if we try to make all public institutions of higher education tuition-free, it might turn out to be either very disruptive or very expensive or both.

Some institutions of higher education, for example, may not want to be tuition-free because accepting money from the US Federal Government may entail undesirable cost control measures. The Feds may not be willing to sign a blank check to cover all the expenses that any given school might think appropriate.

My proposal for a tuition-free higher education would be to create a single, nation-wide open university that would be tuition-free. This would be a US Open University that is similar to the British Open University, which has been in operation since 1969. Also, my proposal for a US Open University would address the high cost of college textbooks, too.


References


Beshears, Fred

How is educational technology integrated in the teaching and learning process?
by Fred M. Beshears
https://memeinnovation.wordpress.com/2020/12/14/how-is-educational-technology-integrated-in-the-teaching-and-learning-process/

The title of this blog post really raises two distinct questions. Here’s an overview of my response to both.

Question 1: How is educational technology currently being used in the teaching/learning process?

  1. Instrumental uses of technology
  2. Informational uses of technology
  3. Instructional uses of technology

Question 2: How does educational technology become integrated into the teaching/learning process?

1. One example of evolutionary change: the development of writing and printing.

2. One example of revolutionary change: the development of the British Open University

3. The Professional Development Team Approach to Content Development

4. Replacing the Big Lecture Classroom with Small Study Groups

5. A Tuition-Free US Open University

Facebook post by Fred M. Beshears from 2016:

Just finished reading Kevin Carey’s latest book:
The End of College: creating the future of learning and the University of Everywhere

He’s the director of the Education Policy Program at the New America Foundation, a Washington DC based think-tank.

Although I found this to be an interesting and informative read, he’s definitely biased in favor of disrupting and unbundling the traditional hybrid university model. He’s very supportive of the two major MOOC platforms:

  • edX, a non-profit with major funding from two schools with big endowments – MIT and Harvard
  • Coursera, a for-profit started by Stanford AI Professors Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng

He believes that initiatives such as edX and Coursera will eventually evolve into a University of Everywhere in the US (and beyond).

If one didn’t know otherwise, one might get the impression from reading this book that distance education was invented by AI Professors at Stanford in 2011.

However, Carey does make one brief mention of the British Open University (p. 231), a national, public, distance education university that has been going strong since 1969.

But, for some unspecified reason, Carey’s hopes and expectations for a University of Everywhere all point to private sector initiatives such as edX and Coursera.

And, most of my friends on the left also seem to think that if a University of Everywhere does become a reality in the US, it will be a private sector undertaking intended to disrupt and dismantle the traditional, brick-and-mortar hybrid university. They, too, seem to forget (or ignore the fact) that the British Open University was started by a Labor government in the UK.

Many of those on the left in the US either work for an existing college or university, or they have many friends who do. So, their tendency is to want to preserve (and perhaps gradually reform) these existing institutions.

So, my friends on the left (especially the academics) are not supportive of a University of Everywhere that might disrupt the status quo. Sometimes they claim that they oppose the idea because they think it would be a for-profit enterprise.

But, if asked if they would support a government sponsored University of Everywhere, they oppose that, too. This even when they know about all the good work the British Open University has done, and how it has been able to hold down the cost of education in the UK.

Since 2005, I’ve been suggesting that the US should either: 1) buy out the British Open University and put their course content in the public domain or 2) establish a US Open University patterned after the British OU (but with the funding and mandate to put their course material in the public domain).

Unfortunately, I’m a voice in the wilderness. Both the left and the right oppose the idea, but for different reasons. Those on the right would like to see a for-profit University of Everywhere. Those on the left want to preserve (or gradually reform) the existing hybrid university system.


Nova, Annie

As Biden administration leans toward $10,000 in student loan forgiveness, advocates push back
Annie Nova
27 May 2022
https://www.cnbc.com/2022/05/27/advocates-slam-reported-biden-plan-to-cancel-10000-in-student-debt.html

  • Advocates expressed anger and disappointment on Friday in response to news that the Biden administration is leaning toward forgiving $10,000 in student loans per borrower.
  • Some Democrats and activists have insisted that President Joe Biden needs to cancel at least $50,000 per borrower to make a meaningful impact on the country’s $1.7 trillion outstanding student loan balance.

2 thoughts on “If we cancel student debt, then we should also create a US Open University.

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