Mt. Vernon Register-News

Opinion

December 28, 2013

College and the American dream

(Continued)

Our obsession with higher education often came out in stories that were ostensibly about completely separate issues. Coverage of the federal government shutdown in October featured a lot of student voices, but little of it focused on working-class and poor students, whose food and child care subsidies were hit hard because wealthy pols in Washington couldn’t play nicely in their publicly subsidized sandbox. And while you might be hard-pressed to think of a fodder less suited for a higher-ed think piece than the morass that is the U.S. tax code, Elizabeth Stoker and Matthew Bruenig pulled off a wicked smart analysis in Salon of how inequalities manifest through tax policies, are rewarded by legacy admissions at prestigious universities, and altogether make a mockery of American meritocracy.

The Times declared 2012 “the year of the MOOC,” but there was considerable time-lag. A database search of U.S. newspapers shows 286 references to massive open online courses in 2012; that’s a sizable increase over 2011’s grand total of three MOOC references, but it’s dwarfed by 2013’s 1,351 references. (And that’s with a week left in the year. If Coursera’s Andrew Ng catches a cold on New Year’s and makes a MOOC about it, there could be a spike.)

Though 2012 may have been christened the year of the MOOC, experts such as Audrey Watters had predicted in hackeducation.com that 2013 would be the year the MOOC met reality. She may be right. True believers once promised that MOOCs would do everything from democratize learning, ameliorate racism and sexism and classism in college access, and lower the cost of tuition. But by the end of this year, MOOCs had been handed a very public flogging by public San Jose State University when faculty and students pushed back against MOOCs replacing core undergraduate classes. MOOCs’ high attrition and low completion rates made assigning course credit-the ultimate measure of successful higher ed — more difficult than investors had expected. When a bill came up in California to mandate that public universities accept all transfer credits from not-for-profit and for-profit online college providers, faculty organized and revolted.

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