How @POTUS could solve US Education overnight

(aka, let’s see if I can back up this claim)

Mr. President,

First things first, welcome to Twitter! Glad to see you are continuing to be a leader with whom we can dialogue.

Second, you should know that I’m only posting this here because I’ve yet to hear a response from the letter I sent. I am not trying to try to start some partisan malarkey. And if anyone uses this as a reason why we shouldn’t try our damnedest to complete the President’s original proposal you’re part of the problem.

To my fellow Americans (damn, that never gets old!), this is a public post of a letter I wrote to the Whitehouse in February, 2015. We better our democracy through participation so please poke holes in this argument!

The goal is to solve this problem.

Let’s keep level heads and open hearts. Let’s show Congress how it’s done. If you like this post, let your representatives know.

With that, I serve at the pleasure of the President.


“Dear Mr. President,

I escaped undergrad and graduate school with only one student loan.

I was lucky.

Education has made all the difference in my life. Like many I was ecstatic to hear your proposal for free community college. Education is the engine of a better world.

But we have a problem; a rightward Republican Congress, widening income inequality, and a looming election (which everyday seems to detract from our real goals of governing). I worry that a proposal of $60 billion over the next 10 years (even if fossil fuel subsidies can pay for that in 100 hours) will be negotiated to little more than career counseling. Counseling does a lot of good.

My generation needs more.

The following is a humble proposal for how we could:

-Provide two year community college to anyone for $0
-Guarantee States continue direct funding of community colleges
-Raise support from both sides of Congress
-Lower the proposed cost (by >90%)
-Keep the Internet free
-Simplify the sign-up process of government aid
-Elevate the quality of education available
-Build out the US’s digital infrastructure
-Garner backing from the Environmental Lobby on an Education Bill

Here we go.

The E-University Standards Proposal

The White House, Congress, and the Department of Education should collectively declare (likely the main problem) a set of standards for online courses. They would outline a basal level of education for a two year program. If a person completes a certified track of online courses (whose curriculm meets or exceeds these standards) they can claim, with all the authority of the Department of Education, a two year degree.

Just a standard.

A fiat degree.

A handshake.

A chance for millions of hard working Americans to show employers what they’re capable of.

A declaration that we value learning, from whatever source, so long as it builds our nation.

There are hundreds of websites and services offering online education at the college level for free, right now. Coursera, KhanAcademy, Udemy, One Month, YouTube, edX — there are no shortage of resources to keep curiosity going. They come from the best universities in the world, offered on a range of subjects, curated by the teachers of those universities, and offered to anyone with Internet access.

There are few prerequisites. There are rarely fees. Link accreditation to a time constraint or a certain grade, it doesn’t matter. The only hindrance to students should be their curiosity, not their financial position.

We should do this. We could do this.

Predicted Outcomes of Declaring Standards

  1. MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses) rush to create Learning Paths meeting the Standards declared.
  2. Prospective students, attracted to $0 cost learning, flock to the service.
  3. Attrition rate for a free service skyrockets as the cost of leaving is low.
  4. MOOCs using a microfinance strategy (or cheap, monthly services like Spotify’s $5/month) see student attrition decline. This is an historic problem with online courses that public accountability can solve.
  5. Ivy League curators begin offering pilot paths equal to International Baccalaureate (bridging the gap for many between a GED and BS).
  6. Online footprint allows for flexibility residing with students who can easily compare quality of courses against others (using any number of services that will emerge).
  7. The quality of education people have available goes up.
  8. Online presence lends further leverage towards the fight for Net Neutrality as students’ success would depend on ability to have cheap, reliable Internet.
  9. This provides an opportunity for Congress to propose a digital infrastructure project for bid to the private sector.
  10. Sign-up, often handled through social signup (i.e. Facebook), makes analysis easy for aid providers / scholarship committees and simple for students.

Anticipating Objections

Republican Congress:

Many members should rush to support a bill that is so obviously free market, educates the population (strengthening the household), and reduces your proposed $60 billion expenditure over the next 10 years to $3 billion at best. There will be a faction that claims, “In 10 years this will prioritize public research institutions and cut out the less entrenched / less impressive, “for-profit”, private institutions.”

To this, as a Republican, I can only say that if someone believes that in ten years you will need to pay someone else to learn what you could have learned on your own hard work you’re not thinking like a Republican.

Teachers’ Unions:

Teachers may feel marginalized by this proposal. They might think it changes teaching to a degree where they are no longer needed.

Understand that this could not be further from the truth.

The most impactful teachers of my life were so because they believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. This is vital to the online format.

Digital allows for a level of accountability and encouragement not possible in traditional settings. It continues after the bell. It happens in the context of the student’s lives. It makes the parent-teacher conference a constant conversation. (This is a niche social network waiting to happen.) Setting standards for online college education doesn’t hurt teachers, it empowers them to flip the classroom. Now they can spend 100% of their time teaching, whether in-person through a meetup, or remote.

Community Colleges:

There is a chance that this would cause States to cut funding to community colleges and put all cash into student aid. (The math on this is the state will attract $3 in federal aid for every $1 spent). If there is a national incentive to move college online, this strategy of cutting funding ultimately hurts the State and community colleges.

With cheaper options available online, raising tuition and aid is only financially viable if no one knows of an alternative. The only response to a E-University Standards declaration is to capitalize on the “Our degree is real” position, arguing (correctly, for now) that there are nuances within the classroom that are difficult to carry online. This position only survives if they can continue to drive the price of their community colleges lower, or show metric proof that their degree is more valuable.

Also, pivoting to this strategy pits States against their school boards and teachers unions. How do they think that fight will go? How can you tell another hard working teacher they need to spend more of their small paycheck on supplies?

There is another opportunity here when it comes to aid. As working students may not have access to consistent Internet a concession to allow federal education loans finance laptops with a buy-back clause at the end of the term (ensuring against fraud and further prioritizing participation in the program) would provide consistent Internet to working students and guarantee the recycling of hundreds of thousands of laptops for new hardware. Thus, education garners the support of the Environmental Lobby.
“So to conclude my conclusion that I’ve previously concluded…

Summary

  1. Free community college level education provided to the whole of the American population (and constantly improves)
  2. Further funding for brick-and-mortar community colleges
  3. Slashing of a proposed expenditure
  4. Clout in the fight for Net Neutrality
  5. The structure for a simplified aid sign-up process
  6. Incentive for private sector digital infrastructure projects (and the jobs it would create)
  7. The support of the Environmental Lobby to create a more educated populous and recycle resources in the process
  8. The unified backing of both parties on an education bill.

In my ignorance of D.C. politics this seems like a better plan. I’d love your thoughts.

Daniel Mirolli

Okay Internet, serve me that humble pie.