Just because it’s innovative doesn’t mean it works.

Something hovering around the edges of discussions about colleges is that higher education needs a “new model.” Sometimes it’s a new financial model and sometimes it’s a new form of delivery but either way a lot of people seem to think there’s something wrong with the status quo. No one, however, seems to know what to do.

One Ohio State University professor has an idea about how to change American colleges: make them more like Wikipedia. This idea is frighteningly half-baked. He presented his scheme at an education conference in Anaheim, California. According to a piece by Marc Parry in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

In a session called “The University as an Agile Organization,” David J. Staley laid out the findings of a focus group he conducted asking educators what a college would look like if it ran like Wikipedia.

Of course, just because Staley conducted a focus group on what a college would look like if it ran like Wikipedia doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to run a college that way, but okay. Parry continues:

It wouldn’t have formal admissions, said Mr. Staley, director of the Harvey Goldberg Center for Excellence in Teaching at Ohio State University. People could enter and exit as they wished. It would consist of voluntary and self-organizing associations of teachers and students “not unlike the original idea for the university, in the Middle Ages,” he said. Its curriculum would be intellectually fluid.

And instead of tenure, it would have professors “whose longevity would be determined by the community,” …and who would move back and forth between the “real world” and the university.

The trouble with this line of thinking is that Wikipedia is free, and Wikipedia is sort of low quality. All of this talk of freedom and networking ignores the fact that scholars benefit from real institutions that provide them with basic services, facilities, and assistance when they’re doing research. Now obviously this isn’t true of every discipline and every institution, but it’s true in the aggregate. Wikipedia—note in particular its prohibition of original research—is only a gathering place for real research, performed elsewhere and with great effort over many years.

The larger problem here is that America already has colleges “without formal admissions,” in which “people can enter and exit as they wish,” and where instructors’ “longevity is determined by the community.” These colleges are awful places. They’re called college dropout factories.

These sorts of schools do not produce scholarship and do a terrible job educating their students. These colleges do not represent a model worthy of emulation. [Image via]

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Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer