Online Education and the Market for Superstar Teachers

I have argued that universities will move to a superstar market for teachers in which the very best teachers use on-line instruction and TAs to teach thousands of students at many different universities.  The full online model is not here yet but I see an increasing amount of evidence for the superstar model of teaching.  At GMU some of our best teachers are being recruited by other universities with very attractive offers and some of our most highly placed students have earned their positions through excellence in teaching rather than through the more traditional route of research.

I do not think GMU is unique in this regard–my anecdotal evidence is that the market for professors is rewarding great teachers with higher wages and higher placements than in earlier years.

The online aspect, which enhances the market for superstars, is also growing.  Here from a piece on online education in Fast Company are a few nuggets on for-profit colleges which have moved online more quickly than the non-profits.

Today, for-profit colleges enroll 9% of all students, many of them in online programs. It's safe to assume they'll soon have many more….for-profits are the only sector significantly expanding enrollment — up 17% since the start of the recession in 2008….the University of Phoenix, which with 420,000 students is the largest university in North America.

Interesting explanation for why for-profits still lag:

Since there are no generally accepted measurements of learning in traditional higher education, the proxy for the value of a diploma on the job market is prestige. Rankings like those of U.S. News & World Report depend on reputation; spending per student, including spending on research; and selectivity — a measure of inputs, not outputs. On all these measures, for-profits come up short.

But how long can we expect the inability to measure to protect academia when there are big profits to be made?  Robin Hanson would argue that most of what is going on is signaling, i.e. that prestige is what is being bought and sold and not prestige as a proxy for some other measure of quality.  No doubt there is some truth to that but there are plenty of fields, dentistry, engineering, computer science where measurable quality matters as well.

It's true that the university equilibrium has lasted a long time but that doesn't mean it can't break down very quickly.

Addendum: Bryan Caplan laughs but Arnold Kling has the right idea.


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