Monday, December 19, 2011

Holiday Potpourri

As I've stated repeatedly, I try to avoid political discussions like the plague, but yesterday's end of the Iraq War brought to mind many questions that I thought might be worth reviewing in a non-political way.

1) In 2000 (prior to entering 2 wars) the US Defense budget was $387 billion.  In 2012, when we should only be fighting one "war" as we chase 5 bad guys around a wasteland in Asia our Defense budget will be $662 billion.  If we could somehow turn a switch and ratchet back our defense spending to just the obscenely high levels of 2000 then we could save over $275 billion per year that could pay down debt, cut taxes, build infrastructure or basically pay for every full-time college student's tuition in the US.  I know that's wishful thinking but what is the Holiday season without a little fantasy :)

2) As I read another story about our withdrawal from Iraq (side note: can we please make an effort to pronounce the name of their country correctly? It is NOT eye-rack)  I wondered how well we know the country that we've been at war with for the past 9 years.  As we were departing the country yesterday the country's prime minister, a Shiite, had the country's vice-president, a Sunni, detained at the airport.  If you had to guess what percentage of the population in Iraq is represented by Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds what would you say?

If you guessed 52% for the Shiites, 28% for the Sunnis and 20% for the Kurds give yourself a gold star (these are all rough estimates).  The point is that during out time in Iraq the Shiites and Sunnis have appeared to be working toward the same goal - namely getting us out of there.  However, now that we are gone there is a real risk that the Shiites will decide they'd like to run the show as they are a majority.  Oh, and that real big country to the east of Iraq that seems to want to stir trouble --- roughly 90% of their population is Shiite.

Here's another step forward in the future of higher education - "On Monday, MIT is announcing that for the first time it will offer credentials — under the name "MITx" — to students who complete the online version of certain courses, starting with a pilot program this spring."  This is one of the two models of higher education emerging over the next twenty years.  Gone are the days of sending Johnny off to some campus in the rolling hills of Vermont.  The college experience of the future is going to be online, rigorous and target specific career opportunities. 

Stanford opened up a course earlier this year for free and the response has been overwhelming.  The professors have said that the quality of work they are receiving from the online students is on par with what they are getting from their Stanford students.

I even downloaded one of their courses on App development and watched the lectures while working out in the gym.  It's pretty impressive stuff.

"MITx" as a non-profit entity established inside the university that will offer an "MIT-sanctioned certificate" for completing various courses or, perhaps eventually, whole course sequences — though MIT emphasized full degrees will not be in the offing.

How exactly will it work? On a conference call Friday, university officials were short on many details — how many courses would eventually be offered, how much it would cost, even the name of the first course for the experiment in spring.

They did say they would focus, at least initially, on science and engineering, where assessment is fairly objective and easily scaled up. Users might include a high school senior who wants to take an early freshman class at MIT, or college students at overseas universities where a particular course isn't offered.

One day I'll let the cat out of the bag with regard to my other vision for the future of higher education but I think there is a business model there that could be worth some coin so I'm going to refrain from giving that one away for free :)

1 comment:

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