The University of Nothing – The Bylaws

I’ve said several times on this blog that the education system is broken and is in desperate need of change. I now think we are finally starting to see the emergence of a new era in education reform. One led by the private sector.

The issue I still struggle with is how to balance the intersection, or lack thereof, between cutting edge methods of education with societal expectations of having to graduate from an accredited university.

Specifically, what is the difference between a Harvard business professor teaching a Harvard class, in Harvard, vs. someone like a Fred Wilson teaching a business class in his firm’s office? What is the difference between a computer science professor teaching JavaScript in a university building vs. a computer science entrepreneur teaching JavaScript in some office space in NYC?

To me, the answer simply boils down to a piece of paper. A degree. Being able to say you graduated from a prestigious program or accredited university which is still very highly regarded within our society. My friend calls this a “luxury good.”

Furthermore, what does it really mean to have “accreditation in the United States?”  According to the US Department of Education:

The goal of accreditation is to ensure that education provided by institutions of higher education meets acceptable levels of quality.

Well I think its clear that the “levels of quality” are definitely not acceptable. Just go watch the movie Waiting for Superman.

And how exactly does a University even achieve this “accreditation?”

Accrediting agencies, which are private educational associations of regional or national scope, develop evaluation criteria and conduct peer evaluations to assess whether or not those criteria are met. Institutions and/or programs that request an agency’s evaluation and that meet an agency’s criteria are then “accredited” by that agency.

So I’ve always wondered, “what if there was a way to leverage the best technologies and platforms for education while still maintaining an element of prestige or recognition outside of the broken, very expensive university systems?”

And now I think I know the solution: New Accreditation Agencies and Guidelines.

Here is how it would work:

  1. There would be new, self governed accreditation agencies, with new guidelines, that are not subject to government oversight.
  2. These agencies would be comprised of successful, influential individuals who have rich domain expertise (e.g. venture capital, finance, online ad tech, biology, etc).
  3. The agency itself would be its own university or academic institution.
  4. These agency individuals would oversee: a) the appointment of other “teachers” b) the fundraising initiatives of the “investment pool” (described later) c) public outreach and communications about the agency itself via personal blogs, op-eds on third party publications, etc.
  5. These agency individuals would teach: a) design curriculums, b) teach and broadcast classes using the latest education platforms (e.g. SkillShare, YouTube), c) make introductions as needed on behalf of their students
  6. These individuals would invest: using the “investment pool,” these individuals would allocate money to students that have demonstrated the ability to succeed as a jobs creator, otherwise known as entrepreneurs via their class projects (described later).
  7. The investment pool would be comprised of capital raised from non-profits, endowments, donations and there would be no contingencies tied to the money.
  8. At the end of the curriculum, the students would be given a degree that is widely recognized by the participating members of the agency (e.g. the influential VCs, financiers, executives, etc). Instead of graduating in hopes of getting a job, these students would be graduating with an extensive network of active working people with a possibility of getting money from the “investment pool” to fund a business.
  9. Student tuition is not required.
  10. Tests are not used to assess students. Projects, prototypes, and inventions are.

Although fairly abstract and not fully vetted, I think the final result would be getting a bunch of smart people together, with money to help fund those smart people’s ideas, while providing the students with an umbrella of recognition, and a network of business contacts that could rival an accredited or prestigious university. All the while the students would be learning in the most efficient ways possible.

The best part is, the only people that would care to be involved in such a program would be those looking to build real businesses which in turn will drive innovation, new jobs, and real growth.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=2258182 Matt Louisell

    Dan,
    I think the way the educational system is funded is screwed up.  Many young adults avoid going to college due to the cost of entry.  I think we should reward students for taking higher level classes in math and science.  Students shouldn’t shy away from pushing themselves in the classroom due to the inflated costs of a university degree.  I think we should pay the students for taking higher level classes.  And, all professors should be compensated based upon the achievement level of their students.  I also hate the fact that an arts teacher makes the same amount of money as a math or science teacher.  The educational system in the U.S. does not follow the laws of economics and that is why our students are lagging relative to students in other countries.

    Matt

  • http://danreich.com danreich

    Good points. You’re right to say the laws of economics don’t work, but I’m suggesting an alternative to those that want a higher education. Something that would live outside of traditional academic institutions and that is built by folks in the working world.

    I’m not sure I would want to pay student for taking higher level classes, but I would pay students for taking those classes if they have a specific need (e.g. starting a business).