Questions that are rarely asked (are we ready for “home college”?)

From Hollis Robbins:

As a matter of economics, why not consider the option of hiring a single professor to teach a first-year curriculum to a small number of students? At the level of the individual student, it may make sense to some families. Rather than spend $50,000 for a year of college at a selective private institution, one could hire a single Ivy League-trained individual with a doctorate and qualifications in multiple fields for, say, two-thirds the price (far more than an adjunct professor would make for teaching five courses at an average of $2,700 per course).

The idea becomes more attractive with multiple students. A half-dozen families (or the students themselves) could pool resources to hire a single professor, who would provide all six students with a tailored first-year liberal-arts education (leaving aside laboratory science) at a cost much lower than six private-college tuitions, and at the level of a real salary for a good sole-proprietor professor.

A low-cost, high-value first-year education would allow students to transfer into a traditional degree-granting institution at a second- or third-year level, saving a year or more of tuition. Home-colleged students would have a year of personal attention to writing skills, research skills, oral-presentation skills, and the relationship of disciplines in the liberal arts.  The attention to oral and written skills may be particularly valuable to non-English-speaking students looking to succeed at an American college or university.

Accreditation is key, but if the problem has been solved at the secondary-school level for home schooling, why not in higher education?

Read the whole thing.


The link is broken

As Niall Ferguson points out in his book The Cash Nexus, the idea of universal education and compulsory education in the late 19th century made the state even bigger. So this is a step in the right direction, if it can get accredited by the right bodies. Sadly it's unlikely to happen in our lifetimes I'm afraid.

What I don't understand is how after four years everything on your resume us fine and everything on your professors' CVs after a few more years are their individual accomplishments. If those are fine why is accreditation Fout four years of your life when you are uneducated such a problem?

One thing I think is both cause and effect is we have an upper-elite bias in thinking about this. I think that is a problem in itself, but we also tend not to think about the 99% who just Ned a basic credential to get their foot in just about any door.

I don't think that I even went to class more than a few times in my first year of college. It was still quite an excellent year.

Haven't we gotten past the idea that college is about learning? There are many methods of learning that are more efficient than a top private school. Hiring your own professor is one of them, though still at the ridiculously inefficient level. But people go to college to have a social experience and get a shiny credential, which a private professor wouldn't provide.

Also, community college is an existing model which is cheaper and likely offers a better education than what was described. You are not going to be taught by an ivy league trained individual, but how likely are you to land an ivy league person who is any good as your private tutor? This is not going to be many people's first, second, or third choice for career path. Plus a community college will offer a better credential (even in an imaginary future where somehow these private tutors are accredited, it is hard to see it being prestigious. Accountability will be a real problem).

Well quite. And the summary above omitted the huge advantage of boys going to college at 19 when the freshwomen are 18.

Plus a community college will offer a better credential

But that credential really doesn't matter -- the community college (or the hypothetical 'home school college') doesn't appear on the graduate's resume. The only thing on there is the BA from the university that he or she transfers to.

What is the quality of your fellow students in a community college?

Or most colleges, unfortunately.

I think it depends on the program (which is also true in most universities). Around here it's possible to transfer from the community college to the flagship state U. But it's through a program that's designed for that purpose, so the courses are rigorous and all the students in them are intending to transfer. They can't be unmotivated, either, since a high GPA is needed for transfer admission, and there are no large lecture courses. Seems like a pretty good deal.

There are at least two problems with going to community college, then expecting to transfer to a rigorous four-year college.

1. You fellow students will generally be rather unmotivated. Peer effects will probably cause that to rub off on you.

2. Many of your fellow students will not be well-prepared or cognitively tops. So the courses you take will generally be "dumbed down" compared to courses at a rigorous four-year college. That means you will be in for a shock when you transfer, and you may find that though the course names were the same, you didn't get a good deal of what your new fellow-students got.

That's the beauty of online, particularly concurrent.
It also doesn't have to be community college.

I think if you are going to direct your own higher education you need to take the reigns, and that means selecting courses discriminatingly as well as getting more out of them than they maybe were designed to give.

Much of the general studies classes you don't even need a course to learn, a library card will suffice.

For the students who need an environment to inspire or motivate, those folks probably can't go an alternate route, and may have problems with the conventional route. If they go alternate, it might do them well to take a year or two before college (work, military, etc.), or even get their first year done with the lower standards you reference, then take time, then finish up.

Reins. Sorry, in college I sat next to a guy who couldn't spell. ;)

Regarding point #1, though there is truth to this point, there is also another reality in math/science/engineering courses: foreign students (from, for example, China) will be quite well motivated and extremely well prepared. These students will have already taken the courses in their country of origin and will merely be reviewing the course materials to improve their English.

Roger, did you ever actually *attend* a CC? Because I think you are just making this up.


Roger, in my experience a four year private university was full of unmotivated people being paid for by their parents who were there to have a good time. I don't have firsthand experience of community college, but I believe the rate of people paying their own way and later-in-life attendees is higher. Both tend to be far more motivated groups.

Anyway, my point is not that community college is great, just that an existing inexpensive model seems to me clearly superior to the hire your own prof proposal.

I agree with Dan. I attended at prestigious university in Australia, and most undergraduates were funded by parents, and looking to do as little work as possible. In the same city, there was a downmarket public university that taught engineering and accounting to adult learners and Chinese and Indian students. The difference in work ethic was very, very noticable.

"Accreditation is key, but if the problem has been solved at the secondary-school level for home schooling, why not in higher education?"

I have no doubt that this will happen. It's on the priority list under, right after black-hole powered warp drives powering our personal starships around the galaxy. /s

Seriously, someone who thinks this about homeschooling literally has no clue about education en masse.

I don't think it works from either the student side or the financial side, unless you can scale up significantly.

Students, especially in their first years, are supposed to take a range of courses. It seems like a long shot to find an individual who is qualified to teach e.g. Calculus I , Spanish III, English Lit, and Intro Psychology competently AND at the same time find 4-5 students who live near each other, want to take those courses, and are well matched academically. Ditto Calculus II, Spanish IV, Econ I , and Intro PoliSci for the following semester (well, OK, maybe Tyler can handle that one :-). Lab sciences are probably impossible to suuport...

From the point of view of our polymath professor, it's not clear that it would be a good deal. Teaching several very different courses at the same time is much more work than teaching multiple sections of a small number of courses.

So you actually need 4-5 professors over a year, meaning that you need 20-25 students to pay them. Arranging schedules and locations, collecting tuition payments, paying salary and taxes, etc. start to become more complex - administrative overhead creeps in...

Coordination among students becomes much more complex: A group of 4-5 students can be formed from close friends who can informally choose their curriculum and select their polymath. A larger group of relative strangers will need more formal structures, both to structure the course offerings and to deal with how to recruit both students and professors - administrative overhead creeps in...

Given the way wages for adjunct professors have been driven through the floor, it's really not that expensive to get people with most of the needed skills.

I can see 4 or 5 professors getting together to offer this service to a total of 25 or 30 students. If it's Monday, one group of 5 students has professor A on math, another group has professor B on literature, etc. Each student would have an advisor monitoring their progress, who might be a separate specialty from any of the professors. It would be sort of an artisan, small-batch microuniversity.

A million years ago I did several weeks home tutoring for a 16 year old who had missed a lot of school through ill health. I declined to teach Latin, and could not teach German, art or music. But I had a go at French, English, History, Geography, Physics, Chemistry and Maths. He then passed his public examinations with flying colours. The level was I suppose about American college entrance standard of that time, so maybe about college freshman standard nowadays. The idea that someone who himself had a decent education couldn't cope with a range of elementary college teaching seems weak to me. Of course, I had left it to his school to cope with his missed laboratory classes.

I agree. Who wants to take Chemistry and History from the same professor? But I'm not sure the scaleup is that bad.

I see this coming more from the faculty side than the student side -- the small army of poorly paid adjuncts in large urban areas looking for other opportunities, and organizing themselves into nonprofits.

There may be some states interested in fast-tracking the state accreditation process (lowest level) for schools of this type covering the first two years of college.

I think this could be done by an Indian call center.

Rather than an Ivy league professor (status signaling, anyone) why not a very good math tutor from India giving you one on one tutoring on your calculus or programming class.

Better yet, the classroom experience will be in the Bahamas, where the students take up residence at the pool, and the class and tutoring is handled by the prof in India.

Pass the pina colada.

Once you separate in person training and teaching from on site teaching, any combination

What you are describing will happen. Year one of college will be replaced by AP credits earned in high school. Year two will be online learning via MOOCs. Years three and four will be typical luxury U but the courses will be taught be a mix of adjuncts, grad students and professors. The traditional model of 4 to 5 years of luxury U is dead for all but the very wealthy and those that need science labs.

You could have regional science labs serving the home colleges. They could be just as well equipped as a brick-and-mortar university science lab, or even better equipped. This might be an extension of the activities of a science museum -- it would bring in income, as well as getting more people engaged with its other programs.

Public libraries are now getting into the act with high school labs (you need a couple lab sciences to apply to college), sometimes they provide equipment, sometimes just space. You can also order a lot through Carolina Biological Supply, Home Science Tools, etc. For grade and high school, you can get pretty far. There's nothing I did in college labs (general education credits) that I couldn't do using these resources and a safe space (like the ones you describe), with the exception of some astronomy stuff, which you'd need to travel to get to.

Ap rigor is a joke. At least compared to a truly top school such as MIT or Caltech.

Six AP scores of five. AP credits are not accepted. You can place out by exam. I placed out of one class. Almost no one places out (1%). The subsequent course work is challenging.

The ivy schools all take ap 5 as automatic credit. The ivy schools are not at the same level. For them it is signaling all the way.

What percentage of kids go to a top 25 school? AP rigor is more than fine for the normal students with average IQs.

According to the MIT website, they do grant credit based on AP tests.

Lets discuss the subject that isn't discussed here:

accreditation and credit transfer.

And, then let's discuss proficiency exams rather than graduation.

This is how I suspect MOOC's are going to work in the future. Hire someone qualified to teach the MOOC to meet with you (online if necessary) and get the liberal arts college faculty experience. The accreditation issue can be solved by the MOOC provides and not the professor. Perhaps this is the way Coursera et. al. will monetize their business model.

So much of American freshman education is at the level that in other countries is (or was) covered in Secondary school, that this trick ought to be easy to pull off.

Look at one of the most extraordinary colleges in the US: Deep Springs College, with no tuition or fees assessed, 22 freshmen and sophomores live and work on an alfalfa ranch in a corner of California so remote that the postal address is in Nevada. Their labor keep the ranch and college going and they play a large role in its governance, selecting faculty, etc., making do with about three professors in residence at a time, none with tenure. Still all-male, but they're working on changing that. Perpetually one of the most selective colleges in the US, the graduates are highly regarded as third year transfers to Ivy-league level institutions. The great wonder about Deep Springs is not that it exists after a century but rather than it has not been duplicated.

Thanks for that reference.

The trouble will be getting credit transferred to the 4-yr. The university makes their money on the VLAC (Very Large Auditorium Courses). One professor or perhaps a couple grad students and a sea of faces each paying hundreds of dollars for the "experience." That is part of why they fear the MOOC.

Competency testing could negate this, as well as the "Ivy league-trained" condition for the individual doing the teaching. The emphasis then could be on "skilled" teacher instead of "famously credentialed" teacher.

This could work as a specialized service provided through a community college or perhaps one of the for-profits. That would increase costs a bit but deal with administrative and accreditation issues when the independent contractors are attacked by the current cartel. With competency testing, a program such as this could save the more academically motivated students from the lingering last two years of high school. Instead of treading water, they could improve their rhetorical abilities, knock out a few gen ed courses (art or music appreciation, anyone). Punch up their Calculus or language using computer based learning. Most of this is already available and would just need a independent-contractor guide.


And, take a step back from even there, and ask: could we do do a pre-college class to bring kids up to college entrance by using your model. Maybe we should be focusing on kids who will struggle in college unless they get better prepared for it.

I'm not wrapping my brain around why this would be the way to go.

I guess the idea would be folks who want a prestige degree, semi, but for those folks the accreditation thing is everything. When you want to say I did my four years at X before going on to Y, you don't want part of X to be, essentially, private tutors.

For everyone else, this is super in the bag already.

I know home school students who have taken a lab science through a rural co-op from a mom with a BS and passed the CLEP at age 15. I know tons who are finishing their last two years of college with online concurrent courses from the closest state colleges and getting much of that paid for entirely (e.g. English 101, you take the college course online and it serves as your high school and general education college courses at the same time). We have a charter here that gets its high school students an associates degree by the time they finish high school.

Just discussing it with my kid yesterday, I hate for her to lose her first year of college, the easiest so you can spend more time on other things than classes, but with prices the way they are I don't see why would would pay for four years of college when you can get one or two of them out of the way for free or cheap. The Ivy League Schools are even dipping a toe into letting people transfer in from this sort of thing (there's a story somewhere about Brown's first student of this sort).

Nothing against hiring a guy, but it's pretty unnecessary.

I love it! I can now say I have a "home PhD" !!!!

Looking at the original story, the writer is not coming from the POV of getting kids a first year education, he's coming from the POV of how to employ all the liberal arts PhDs he knows.

He notes one of his friends could teach Surrealism and film (among other things and other friends).

And he generously says "Home-schooling at the secondary-school level has proved itself an adequate substitute for public or private high school. " Way to underwhelm the crowd you're marketing to.

As a side note, home education already has programs using personal mentors:

Doesn't tutoring companies already offer what the author is wondering about?

You can certainly hire private tutors to help you get a bunch of CLEPs under your belt, or help you with advanced placement, etc.

I know there are a lot of private companies like Sylvan that address lower achieving students, but there are services like Wyzant that put tutors together with individuals, I see a lot of call for helping with ASVAB, etc.

I does look like the author is trying to start a business himself.

I don't think the clubing-together-to-get-a-private-tutor model is likely to be very popular. In markets where the granting of qualifications and the provision of teaching services have already been unbundled - such as English Foreign Language testing, an area I work in myself - people who purchase teaching services tend to go with either individual, one-to-one tutoring for a few hours a week or participation in larger clases provided by various institutions. Students studying for such unbundled exams have the freedom to study using whatever materials they can find or buy (on-line or off-line) and attend taught courses and hire private tutors (again, on-line or off-line) as needed.

Question for the group: what is your All-Time Private Tutor Power Ranking? Simply put, who are greatest private tutors of all time? To qualify, you have to have spent some portion of your adulthood earning your living by tutoring one-on-one or a small group.

My top two:

1) David Hume
2) Adam Smith

1. Socrates
2. Plato
3. Aristotle

1) Splinter
2) the rest

The very astute Carl Menger was personal tutor to the young Prince Rudolph, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian empire. While Rudolph's life took a tragic turn it probably wasn't due to the teachings of Menger. It's an oddity that today there are ordinary citizens that are in reality more wealthy than emperors of the past and easily able to afford private tutors of unquestioned ability for their children, yet send them to colleges with faculty of dubious credentials. Of course it's not really an oddity, it's signalling, and even more important, an opportunity for the kids to rub elbows with members of the next generation of the elite.

1) Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein 2) Karl Popper 3) Niccolò Machiavelli

dan1111 and others nailed it. Thx!

We have an existing public institution that delivers 1/2 a degree at 1/4 of the cost. It is called community college and it is fantastic.

It could be expanded to 3 or 4 years. It never will. MY does not think much of public choice theory. That is a shame.

As much as I like the CC model (low overhead, career oriented certificates) I understand that like 4 year colleges, salary of graduates has been falling. I'm going out on a limb to say that this is because the top degree now at a CC is not terribly career oriented, but is an AA in Liberal Arts and Sciences / Liberal Studies.

Nursing is a distant second.

I absolutely do believe that CCs can be augmented with high status MOOCs and etc., but watch what you wish for. More AA sin Liberal Arts and Sciences / Liberal Studies may not be that useful.

john personna,

that AA in Liberal Studies is not intended to be a terminal degree but an equivalent to the first two years of a BA/BS, the program of broad studies (including introductory and survey courses in math and science, social studies, and humanities and, typically, courses in college level writing) before a student declares a major and the coursework specializes accordingly, and thus will attempt to cover everything that a four year program would expect of transferring students. The terminal AAs -- in nursing, dental hygene, carpentry. auto mechanics, or industrial machining, for examples -- have a different function and serve different clients. For those who do go on to complete a four-year degree, the salary advantage over terminal AAs is fairly clear, and there are many of these terminal AA areas in which the job market has seriously declined in recent years, so a blanket association of these pre-4 year liberal arts programs with falling salaries is highly problematic.

OK. I had thought the AAs in Liberal Studies were "to have an AA." Perhaps we need some more data, both on how many Liberal Studies AAs end up being terminal, and how the career oriented AAs perform in their own right. Right now "has AA" is a broad bucket.

My son attends Flagship U- cheap compared to Fancy U, but not cheap.

He took Calc 2 in summer school at the CC, and his teacher was as dedicated and knowledgeable as about anyone who taught him at Flagship U. Really impressed. $500.

Maybe he just got lucky, but picking up a class here in there- some college kids can't find full-time work in the summer - can be a great value.

And throw away the most valuable aspect of the school, the networking with the other students and faculty? Not likely.

The kids I know today are on skype (or whatever) half the day and night. Do we oldsters acutally understand their networking patterns?

(Interesting to note that "networking" was a computer communications term back-applied to social interactions, social interactions that are increasingly played out on computer networks.)

(My sister couldn't quite believe that women didn't invent "multitasking.")

Hmmm ..... I wonder what grading will be like when the parent is sitting in the kitchen writing the check while the professor is passing out the exam. You will need independent exam writers and graders.

Many of the problems with this silly idea have been discussed. But several have been missed, I think.
First problem: Science. I reject the notion that "liberal arts" without STEM has significant post-secondary value. "Lab sciences" are NOT an "adjunct" to liberal arts; it is precisely the opposite. Related problem: The goal here is to graduate MORE liberal arts majors??? Really??? Yeah, we don't have enough of those out of work already. Second: Recruitment. This has been discussed: much of the "value" in this approach is cost shifting (ie. less efficient). Who is going to coordinate the students, pool the payments, rent the classroom, choose the subjects, administer the competency tests, arrange for a substitute the week that the tutor is ill, and on and on and on. Maternity leave? EEOC? OSHA? IRS? Third: Of course these "Ivy Leaguer"s (who can't land a decent job) will all be fantastic, both in their grasp of the subject matter and in their ability to teach it. Lets trust but verify. How do we do that? How do we make sure that the "generic" course is what EACH of the students will need when they transfer to their 4-year college of choice? Last I heard, in college the courses were coordinated year-to-year. Fourth: It will either be canned (and painfully boring) or require the teacher to spend (I estimate) about 8 hours a day, 6 days a week preparing for who grades the students' work? and when? Fifth: quality. Personally, I would never teach the Casimir effect as an example of the energy of the vacuum. It's an idiosyncracy. So, how is this "Ivy Leaguer" monitored for consistency and quality...or is it OK for her to teach that JFK was assisinated by the CIA? Keep in mind, she will have virtually ALL of the power, and power corrupts. Next: the Ivy Leagues specifically, and most colleges and universities generally, (although with many exceptions) have strongly resisted any evaluations of their graduates competencies, both in terms of knowledge skills gained and in terms of career. Given that reputation and word of mouth is the only way in the foreseeable future that a specific educational path can be evaluated, who would risk wasting this much money and more importantly their kids time on a dark horse? Next: One teacher means 1 POV --exactly what you should NOT get in college. Next: Perhaps some of you are familiar with the concept of Teacher's pet...with no balance comes opportunity for severe abuse in a variety of subtle and not so subtle ways. // I am only vaguely familiar with the U.K system of education, but isn't this a lot like what the tutors do over there? Seems to me this would be a nasty way to make a living, almost slave labor...or a labor of love, requiring extraordinary effort and committment by the lecturer, eliminating most of their personal life.

"one could hire a single Ivy League-trained individual"

Ivy because... your kid needs to know which one is the salad fork?!

But if education gets cheaper, what's the reason to have sport scholarships? It will make the football useless, no way!

And one big issue I didn't SEE mentioned above (appologies if it was) - one BIG function of college is to GET THE STUDENT OUT OF THEIR PARENT'S HOUSE AND MAKE THEM AT LEAST PARTLY RUN THEIR OWN HOUSEHOLD.

The value of 1st year liberal arts isn't really in English Writing I, it's in being forced to deal with a landlord, being forced to manage your own laundry, managing your relationships (or lack of) with the opposite sex, deciding to take or drop Russian I, meeting students in the EE program and deciding you should go learn about that. Life lessons, semi-random encounters, opportunities to meet people you would not have met and be exposed to things you otherwise would not have seen.

Does that require the ivy league? Probably not. But at some point "home schooling" has to become "NOT home schooling"...

Thank you. At 18, my son needed to go away. When he came back, he was better, but started backsliding. "He's not done yet", we thought "Put him back in."

And so on. YMMV, but a 4-year process is typical here.

If you really want them to run their own household -- and appreciate the value of a college education -- let them work for a year and live off their earnings. The School of Hard Knocks is a lot better at teaching this than a cushy dorm in a nice college.

Does it require the Ivy League? No. It doesn't even require college.

Lots of the home school students I know spend a year or more overseas -- for example, working in Thailand with orphans / crime victims. Many of them started working at 15 while studying -- doing things like retail, but also working on a ranch helping with calving season from a saddle.

I'm thinking that's life lessons. My freshman year in college, half the lessons I should have learned I didn't (eating at the cafeteria is hardly feeding yourself) and the other half the lessons I learned I wish I hadn't.

Read "I Am Charlotte Simmons" for a take on the life lessons today in college. I'm not saying you can't do really well, socially, there. I'm saying you have to already know what you're doing, or you're going to wind up with four years of hooking up and a BA in sociology, still unable to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and with three credit cards you signed up for from a booth in the quad.

The Ivy League part was largely shorthand but I see how it set lots of people off.

Finally. I've been waiting for this idea to take hold.

Take away the monopoly on "accreditation" and this isn't a problem.

You have a great sense of humor. Bravo!

In 1951, ahead of the peaceful liberation of Tibet, the U.S. plotted and supported the reactionary forces of the Tibetan upper classes to resist the People's Liberation Army to liberate Tibet. While its plot to help the Dalai Lama flee Tibet failed, it said.

Comments for this post are closed