Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Could Education Ever be Outsourced and Offshored?

Yesterday, I listened to Matthew Crawford on the Diane Rehm show (go here to listen--you'll need to scroll down). I've written about him before (go here to read my post and here to read Crawford's article in The New York Times). I plan to buy the book, although in the past, I've read the books of authors making the NPR tours, and I often feel as though I've already read the book: the authors tend to cover the most interesting and salient points of their books as they're interviewed.

On the Diane Rehm show, Crawford made several references to college, and the way that we approach college these days. He said that we've turned college into a form of consumption, not an investment. He talked (so briefly and so tantalizingly) about our creation of an academic arms race and credential inflation. Jobs that used to require a high school diploma now require a B.A., and jobs that once required a B.A. now require graduate work.

I keep wondering at what point people will start doing the math and decide that college doesn't make financial sense, even if we approach it as the ultimate consumer experience and not as an investment. The conventional wisdom tells us that a college graduate will make $300,000 more over the course of a lifetime than a non-college grad. If the college grad has spent $100,000 on that college education, a sum which is entirely probable (and perhaps too low) if that grad went to a private college, the profit drops to $200,000. If that college education was financed by loans, loans which need to be paid back and which charge 6%-10%--well, now the math just makes my head hurt.

The other thing that Crawford discussed sent a chill through me. He referenced Princeton economist, Alan Blinder, when he said, “The emerging distinction in the labor market is not between those who have more education and those who have less, it’s between those who do/have some service that has to be done on site versus those that can be delivered over a wire.” So, if you're a surgeon, your job is likely to be secure. If you're the person who interprets the x-rays, well, that work can be done from anywhere--and likely will be done more cheaply in other countries.

I used to think that education needed to be done on site. With the recent explosion of distance learning, I'm no longer sure. I worry that in 20 years, people will view education the same way we're viewing the automobile industry. I find myself thinking, well, what did those factory workers expect? I wonder about my own blind spots about my own industry, education. I'm midway through my career, so perhaps these changes won't be as devastating for me. Yet those of us in the teaching fields should probably be making some alternate plans, just in case.

1 comment:

Shefali Shah Choksi said...

i think you might be worrying needlessly: education happens to be one of the oldest obsessions with our kind and it is likely to survive in some form or another, much like our species.
and after all, what is our species going to do with all the money they make, if not get themselves & their progeny some education? i think it's like buying shoes. our lives are defined by our obsessions which are illogical and beautiful.