Some Thoughts From Foggy Bottom

Earlier today, the Washington Monthly and Education Sector, with support from the Lumina Foundation for Education, hosted a great discussion on the future of higher ed reform down at George Washington University.

Hopefully I’ll eventually have audio to put up, but in the meantime a few highlights and thoughts:

-Kevin Carey of Education Sector, in talking about some of the issues raised in his excellent Monthly piece on the future of online learning and the effect it could have on traditional colleges, pointed out the difficulties faced by companies like StraighterLine that are trying to provide entry-level college coursework online at drastically cheaper prices than regular schools.

Since there is at the moment no real way to compare, say, the effectiveness of a given school’s Introduction to Algebra course to StraighterLine’s method of delivering the same material, StraighterLine and its ilk have no opportunity to justify their claims that their approach is much more cost-effective.

-In that same vein, Paul Glastris, the Monthly’s editor-in-chief, pointed out that “price becomes a measure of quality” in higher ed simple because we have so few genuine measures for determining which schools provide the best educational value. Yet another reason colleges are so reluctant to give up certain sorts of data.

-529 savings plan caught a serious amount of flack during the event and, having now read Kevin’s authoritative takedown of them (helpfully included in the obligatory folder of information and news clips handed out at the beginning of every such event in the District), I now have a better sense of why. They seem more like a nod to doctrinaire conservative economic theories than a meaningful solution.

All in all, a very useful panel. And if you haven’t checked out Education Sector yet, you should.

Jesse Singal

Jesse Singal is a former opinion writer for The Boston Globe and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. He is currently a master's student at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Policy. Follow him on Twitter at @jessesingal.