Education as a service
On inflation, computer operating systems, and long-term support for college degrees
The rising cost of higher education, particularly at private institutions, is a widely-acknowledged problem. Even a short-term slowdown in the rate of increase isn't enough to offset the long-term trend of growth that has been much faster than overall inflation over the last four decades.
■ The growth in college tuition costs is often contrasted unfavorably with improving standards in consumer technology. Today's smartphones are faster, smaller, and unfathomably cheaper than the supercomputers of a generation ago. And it often seems inexplicable why more of those gains in technology haven't spilled over into education.
■ But the contrast raises another interesting question: Why aren't college degrees -- or even high-school diplomas -- tied to a long-term support cycle, like computer applications and operating systems? For instance, when Microsoft sells a license to use Windows 10, it promises that it will support that operating system with free updates until at least October 2025.
■ Diplomas and degrees almost never come with such "long-term support", to borrow the tech industry's phrase. Perhaps that is a failure worth further examination. After all, the complaint about many college degrees is that they aren't worth enough on the job market to allow the graduate to pay back the expense. And whether that criticism is fair or not, it does indicate that people do realize that there is a life-cycle value to the cost of attending school.
■ The Nordic countries have discussed making continuing education compulsory for adults, and it's not the most outlandish idea -- particularly not if taxpayers are expected to support job training and unemployment benefits. Why wait until skills have gone obsolete to start polishing them?
■ Technology continues to accelerate change in almost every field -- conventional automakers are learning to produce electric vehicles, farmers are adapting to both climate change and the emergence of tools like autonomous tractors, and medicine is making long-overdue adjustments to patient recordkeeping and telehealth. Change is everywhere.
■ Particularly in such an environment, perhaps some enterprising educational institutions will learn to offer not only diplomas, but also the educational equivalent of a "service pack", so that new learning can be bolted on to the graduate's existing base of knowledge so the credential on paper remains relevant in the real world.