All posts by Kevin Carey



I know you’re already sick of reading about MOOC’s. But I’m afraid there’s no avoiding them. In The Chronicle this morning, UCLA philosopher Pamela Hieronymi argues:

Education is often compared to two other industries upended by the Internet: journalism and publishing. This is a serious error. Education is not the transmission of information or ideas. Education is the training needed to make use of information and ideas.

And so forth, before concluding:

Can technology make education less expensi…


The Mystery of Moral Blindness

There are two quotes from the Penn State scandal that I can’t get out of my mind. This:

In a confidential note, [former senior vice president for finance and business Gary C.] Schultz wrote, “Behavior—at best inappropriate @ worst sexual improprieties.” He also noted, “Is this the opening of Pandora’s box?” and “Other children?”


“This approach [of failing to alert authorities] is acceptable to me,”  [Penn State President] Spanier wrote in an e-mail to Mr. Schultz and [Athletic Director] Cu…


Let’s Put ‘Gainful Employment’ Ruling in Perspective

Last year the Obama administration implemented “gainful employment” regulations designed to identify higher-education programs, primarily in the for-profit sector, that load students up with debt in exchange for low-value credentials and degrees. The trade association representing for-profits promptly filed a lawsuit, and won a significant court victory yesterday when a federal District Court Judge ruled that the U.S. Department of Education failed to justify one part of the regulations. Becaus…


On the Romney Higher-Education Plan

Over at The New Republic, I discuss how the K-12 part of Mitt Romney’s recently-released education plan is highly focused on markets and student choice. The higher-education side is, too, where it’s arguably more appropriate. College students are adults (although many just barely) who, in theory, can choose among a vast array of institutions. Romney is right to say:

“Students and their families must also be given the information they need to intelligently weigh the costs and benefits of the ma…


Stanford’s Credential Problem

A couple of weeks ago, while discussing the announcement of the Harvard / MIT edX initiative, I included a brief recap of what’s been happening over the last six months in the land of Massively Open Online Courses (MOOC’s), which began as follows:

Throughout the fall 2011 semester, a group of well-known Stanford professors had been running an unorthodox experiment by letting over 100,000 students around the world take their courses, online, for free. Those who did well got a certificate from the…


The X Factor

Today, Harvard University jumped on the accelerating online-education train. The creation of edX in partnership with MIT marks the latest development in what’s shaping up to be a fascinating contest between the nation’s leading research universities and its most ambitious private-sector entrepreneurs for domination of virtual higher education.

Things began heating up last December. Throughout the fall 2011 semester, a group of well-known Stanford professors had been running an unorthodox experim…


Everyone Should Learn Statistics

I spent the last two days on jury duty in the District of Columbia. (Whatever the broader shortcomings of D.C. municipal government, their process for hauling you into the jury pool every two years works with uncanny efficiency; watch this space for jury-related blog posts in early May 2014.) It was a DUI case, and, sidebar, before we talk about the need for statistics education, let me say this: If it at some point in your life you decide to spend a long Tuesday evening partying at the home of…


Freemium Higher Education?

The present for-profit higher-education industry is largely an artifact of federal financial-aid policy. Students have the right to sign over their federal grant and loan dollars to any accredited college, and if you look at how much the big publicly traded for-profits charge, you’ll see a tight distribution of price points that not coincidentally track closely with the maximum amount of federal loan money students can borrow. Because accreditation is difficult and time-consuming to get if you s…


More Notes on the Rise of Thrun Credits

There’s an important distinction between what an organization does and what it sells. Sometimes those are the same thing, like at the sandwich shop near my office. But sometimes they’re different. For example, there was once a common misconception that newspapers were in the business of selling news stories to news readers, when they were in fact in the business of selling advertising to grocery stores and H.R. departments. They did the first thing in order to be able to sell the second thing.



Plumbers Need Postsecondary Education, Too

In a post titled, “We Need Both Plumbers and English Majors,” Kevin Drum suggests that Rick Santorum may have a point in criticizing the Obama administration’s focus on helping more people earn postsecondary credentials:

The detracking movement did a lot to undermine vocational education, and people like Bill Gates and others have since been influential boosters of the idea that everyone should go to college. But I’m with Dana [Goldstein] and the Ricks [Santorum and Perlstein]: not everyone eith…


Federal Regulations Are Not Making College More Expensive

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to testify at a U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee hearing on innovations in higher education affordability. You can watch the video here. It was an interesting morning marred by a long discussion of an essentially bogus idea: that college keeps getting more expensive because of onerous federal regulations.

Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) was the first to raise this notion, and she returned to it several times. She said it was …


Tenured Radical’s Strange Ideas About Policy

In the State of the Union and again in a speech at the University of Michigan last Friday, President Obama laid out a new higher education agenda. As I wrote at The New Republic, it’s an ambitious and welcome plan that’s important less for what policies are likely to pass Congress in an election year (few) and more for setting the parameters of future debate. Naturally, the higher-education lobby hates it, because that’s what lobbies paid to protect incumbent interests in accountability-free gov…


Rick Santorum Doesn’t Understand How the Labor Market Works

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum recently criticized President Obama’s initiative to increase college-going as “elitist snobbery.” Said Santorum:

I have seven kids. Maybe they’ll all go to college. But, if one of my kids wants to go and be an auto mechanic, good for him. That’s a good-paying job – using your hands and using your mind. This is the kind of, the kind of snobbery that we see from those who think they know how to run our lives. Rise up, America. Defend your own f…


California’s Higher-Education Disaster

There’s no doubt that the ongoing crisis of governance in California and resulting disinvestment in the University of California system is deplorable. But this recent Washington Post dispatch from UC-Berkeley doesn’t exactly paint a picture of a campus in deep crisis:

Star faculty take mandatory furloughs. Classes grow perceptibly larger each year. Roofs leak; e-mail crashes. One employee mows the entire campus. Wastebaskets are emptied once a week. Some professors lack telephones. … The state s…


Credits, Credentials, and Collective Consciousness

As was reported yesterday, well-known Stanford professors Peter Norvig and Sebastian Thrun are currently teaching an online course in Artificial Intelligence that is available, for free, to anyone in the world. Unlike the previous generation of open courses, which were limited to lecture videos and syllabi, students taking this course can submit homework and take quizzes and tests for grades. When the midterm was administered last month, 175 Stanford students sat for the exam in Palo Alto, while…


When Will the GAO Investigate Non-Profit Colleges?

The newly published GAO investigation into academic standards at for-profit online colleges reveals, unsurprisingly, a mixed bag: Some of the for-profits expelled GAO investigators posing as students for cutting class, skipping assignments, and turning in plagiarized or deliberately bad work. Others let the behavior slide and happily cashed the tuition checks. Given that some big for-profits get 90 percent of their revenue from federal financial-aid programs, and many students at for-profits are…


The China Syndrome

A couple of weeks ago I was at a conference about higher education when someone observed that the word “tuition” has deep etymological roots in the guardianship / mentoring elements of learning, and that the present habit of discussing college “prices” reinforces a strictly transactional fee-for-service concept of higher education that demeans the institution. It’s a fair point, but then I read this Chronicle / New York Times article about the huge surge in recruitment of Chinese undergraduates …


Higher-Education Disclosure, in Theory and Practice

Earlier this week Education Sector and AEI co-published a report on higher education disclosure. In a nutshell, colleges are required to report and disclose certain kinds of information to the federal government and prospective students, in exchange for which colleges receives billions of dollars in public subsidies through the federal student financial-aid system. It’s a pretty good deal, and yet we found that the majority of all four-year colleges sampled were failing to disclose information l…


‘The Art of Fielding’ and the End of Student-Loan Default

My new Chronicle column makes the case for converting the entire federal student-loan system to income-contingent repayment, administered by the IRS. To illustrate why this is a good idea, consider the recent Vanity Fair article (now an e-book) about Chad Harbach’s debut novel, The Art of Fielding.

In a nutshell, Harbach borrowed money to get an expensive Ivy League education and then a master’s degree. Instead of cashing in by developing world-destroying financial instruments, he spent the nex…


Selling Students Down the River

One of the principal differences between K-12 and higher education is that people representing elementary and secondary teachers often go to elaborate lengths in denying the extent to which they’re pursuing a narrow self-interested agenda at the expense of student welfare and the public good, whereas in college they’re completely upfront about it. Two recent examples illustrate. Last week, the Chronicle reported how Syracuse University chancellor Nancy Cantor’s efforts to enroll more minority an…