The New School | Glenn Harlan Reynolds

Summary of: The New School: How the Information Age Will Save American Education from Itself
By: Glenn Harlan Reynolds


The New School by Glenn Harlan Reynolds offers a comprehensive look at the evolution of the American education system and how it is being affected by economic shifts and technological advances. The book provides an overview of the growing cost of higher education in the United States, pointing out the unsustainable nature of tuition fees while questioning the value of a conventional college education. It sheds light on the bubble-like nature of the current education system, where student debt is skyrocketing, while job prospects for graduates continue to dwindle. Reynolds explores the potential impact of alternative education models, such as online learning and apprenticeships, on the future of American education.

Evolution of Education in America

America’s education system, both at the K-12 and postsecondary levels, has undergone significant changes over the years. What began as informal, non-standardized one-room schoolhouses, evolved into structured, standardized systems in response to the demands of the Industrial Age economy. The Prussian school system, with its emphasis on precision, conformity, and centrally mandated learning programs, became the model for American schools. Similarly, American colleges, modeled after the English system, shifted towards the German system’s emphasis on research and graduate education. While these changes have greatly influenced the education system, the fundamental structure of the K-12 system has remained unchanged, becoming less rigorous in recent years. The impact of a changing economy and rising tuition costs suggests the need for a new approach to education in America.

The Cost of a College Degree

College tuition in the US has risen by an alarming 439% since 1982, fueled by low lending standards and easy student loans. The cost of a four-year degree has become a major concern for students and parents, pushing many to question its value. While some colleges claim to justify their high fees with the “college experience,” many students graduate with crippling debt and low-paying jobs that don’t require their expensive degrees. This, along with reductions in government funding, has contributed to a trillion-dollar student debt crisis that affects not only graduates but also the broader economy. As a result, online education may be the real pioneering solution to this issue.

The Looming Crisis in American Education

Students and parents are beginning to question the high cost of tuition and the burden of student debt. This has led to a trend of enrolling in lower-cost schools or online education that may threaten the traditional postsecondary education system. In response, some smaller colleges have reduced tuition fees to boost enrollments. However, high-cost colleges lacking an elite brand may have to take similar measures to survive. Without major changes, these institutions will be the first to collapse in the education bubble burst. This scenario may lead to a broad, deep transformation of the existing college and university system or its takeover by online alternatives.

Prepare Yourself for the Bursting College Bubble

The book advises parents and students on how to prepare for the bursting college bubble by seeking low-cost and high-quality colleges, considering the rigor of the intended program, evaluating the need for college education, and choosing schools that prioritize critical thinking, writing, and reasoning skills. The author also advocates for online education, which will empower students instead of threatening them. The book highlights the flood of new professionals that resulted in a pay decrease and a lack of worthwhile jobs and suggests alternatives to traditional college education, such as blue-collar occupations that pay well without the need for a college degree.

The Disruption of Higher Education

Online learning is expanding and may replace traditional classroom teaching. The quality difference between the two is small, and employers’ perception of online degrees is changing. The current student loan system is unsustainable, and a more rational system must emerge.

The traditional model of higher education is being disrupted by online learning, which is expanding rapidly. Despite misconceptions that online learning provides inferior results compared to a traditional classroom experience, the opposite is actually true. Students who engage in online learning are often more determined and resilient, and they complete their degrees with a fraction of the cost of traditional degrees.

The perception of the quality of online degrees among employers is rapidly changing. Previously, there was a significant gap between brick-and-mortar and online credentials, but now, the differences in quality are minimal. Prestigious institutions, such as the Georgia Institute of Technology, are offering acclaimed degree programs entirely online, and they are considered equivalent to their traditional counterparts.

The traditional model of higher education lacks the flexibility that online learning provides. Without leaving their homes, students can piece together degree programs with courses from some of the top schools worldwide. Additionally, credentialing options that emphasize comprehensive exams and independent learning are becoming increasingly common.

The current student loan system is unsustainable and must be replaced by a more rational system that takes risk assessments into account. Colleges should accept responsibility for loan defaults and pay a percentage of tuition costs when their graduates cannot find employment. Finally, the higher education system must offer more value to avoid a collapse of the traditional model.

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