Back to the Future

George Leef is a back-to-basics sort of guy. In this week’s Clarion Call, he goes way, way back, all the way back to the time of the Ur-capitalist himself, Adam Smith. George conjures up a world in which many professors were paid directly by students. As a result, they were — and will be again if George is correct about this sort of thing’s becoming a trend — motivated to teach well. That is, instead of doing the bare minimum required to get their paychecks from a relatively disinterested third party, as is often the case when professors are paid by universities. 

While the MOOCs get all the ink as the next big thing, it may be that the more important innovations are on a smaller scale, along the lines of the “direct payment to professors” schemes George writes about.

There are some other small-scale ideas swimming about out there: small start-up colleges with extremely low overheads, or white-collar apprenticeships at degree-granting private employers. When you stop to think about, which is really more of a threat to the higher education status quo: massive, impersonal online courses offered by major universities, or small, independent, individualized programs with close, well-defined relationships between students and teachers?

Maybe George has been channeling Joseph Schumpeter as well as Adam Smith. 

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