Blue Marble Review of Post-Secondary Education

Blue Marble University was founded based upon the observations of the state of post-secondary education in America as reviewed in the following paper.

Note: This Review, which formed the basis for our forming Blue Marble University as a foreign educational institution and also as an entirely virtual university, was finalized in October 2011. Some sections of what was stated may now or in the near future become out of date due to the rapid change in some traditional education models, and also due to the implementation of and contribution of “alternative education” models.  We have been pleased to learn that the USA Department of Education is calling for the abolishment of “seat time” as a factor in accreditation of programs. Seat Time, which is the foundation of the antiquated USA accreditation system, requires a student to spend a certain amount of time (traditionally 4 years for an undergraduate degree) or obtain a certain amount of credits, many of which are in unrelated courses irrelevant to the overall course of study. The report stated that emphasis should be given “to schools that organize around competence rather than seat time…[and schools that provide] more flexible scheduling that fits a student’s individual needs rather than on traditional academic periods and lockstep curriculum pacing”.  U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology: “National Education Technology Plan 2010”, November 2010, P.12. This position was re-affirmed in the January 2012 publication by the same agency:  “Understanding the Implications of Online Learning for Educational Productivity”   Blue Marble University continues to be at the forefront of educational change.  We ignore “seat time” in all of our programs, emphasizing the acquisition of competency instead.

Blue Marble University®
Innovative Education Model for a New World 

Review of Post-Secondary Education
As Related to the Formation of Blue Marble University 

by Walter P. Drake, JD
Director, Blue Marble University
(October 1, 2011)

Much of the Post-Secondary Education System in the USA is so antiquated and filled with legacy humanities courses, that it is factually unable to train students for success in a high technology world. The system should be torpedoed. It will not change, of course. If an institution has a tenured Professor of Philosophy, then best to mandate some philosophy courses even for those students going into engineering or some other field.

Blue Marble University is part of a small but growing trend towards a parallel education system. A system outside the realm of useless “accreditation” formats that have a strangle hold on the US education system.

(1) Interference by government:

Once a province of academia, the education system has now been pre-empted by federal and state government laws. Laws that almost guaranty that any educational innovation be stifled and stamped out. Here are just 2 examples:

Federal Government Interference: Just this month (October 2011),  a new federal regulation states: “…institutions offering distance education programs beyond its states borders must also be approved by the states, outside their own, in which it is operating and be able to document the approval of a given state.”  Ohio State University has formed a group to fight this new regulation which will only add more costs to education. Imagine if you were a small community college or small independent college offering some distance learning courses. Would you have the financial resources to even begin to mount a campaign to obtain approvals? This is just another example of over-regulation by the federal government.

And the States are not far behind with their meddling: Take for example the requirements of Georgia law for the establishment of a new college [www.gnpec.org, Minimum Standards and Criteria: Nonpublic Postsecondary Education Commission Institutions, Georgia Code 20-3-250.6]

(a) BA degree “requires full-time attendance for four academic years”. Now why is that? BA programs should not be longer than 3 years, and should not have a specified time at all.

(b) Certain courses are required:

“The degree granting institution offering a special purpose baccalaureate degree program ensures that a minimum of …30 semester hours or 45 quarter hours are required in general education and that at least one course must be required in:

   Mathematics such as algebra, trigonometry, analytic geometry, calculus, statistics and other higher-level mathematics;

  Science such as biology, botany, chemistry, ecology, physics; 

  The Humanities such as English, literature, philosophy, logic, history of arts and sciences, philosophy, communications, composition, speech and drama, and combinations of such courses; 

    Social Science such as history, psychology, government and sociology.”

And although this example happens to show Georgia, all the States are the same, with respect to their interference in what should and should not be taught. All the above required courses should be eliminated from any educational format except in those cases wherein a student is specifically pursuing education in those areas.

Blue Marble University will offer innovative industry specific curricula, and it will not offer worthless generic general education degrees which train a student for nothing, as is occurring with just about every other educational institution in the USA.  States and the federal government should not be in the business of regulating academia, particularly that of post-secondary education.

(2) The Antiquated Accreditation System

The Accreditation System propagates and perpetuates the antiquated educational system, by likewise requiring colleges and universities, for purposes of accreditation, to offer certain specified subject matter courses in their curricula.

Accreditation, which was solely voluntary 10 years ago, has now been mandated. Ten years ago, the majority of colleges and universities were not accredited. Now, these accrediting bodies are  “in the money”.  And they are out to generate big profits because they wield the “stamp of approval” and all the institutions must pay up. An accreditation review may cost $15,000 – $20,000 for some accrediting bodies.  Plus an institution would need a team of attorneys, accountants and education consultants to comply with the application process at an additional cost of $25,000-$50,000. These kinds of outrageous fees can be absorbed by the big mega-universities; but cannot be paid on a continuing basis by budget offerings which strive to maintain low tuition rates for students.

What is worse than the fees charged, is the fact that the accrediting bodies focus on the course offering program, that is, the program of study. And an institution had better follow what all the others are doing in terms of offering the same general purpose educational courses, an example of which is described above with respect to Georgia regulations. Simply put, to get a BA program accredited, an institution is required to offer the same general purpose education courses. Tenured faculty  must be given courses to teach, even if their courses lack any relevance in today’s world or with respect to the student’s interests.

When all the regulating and accrediting is over within the next few years, only the mega-universities will be left standing. Not only will budget virtual colleges be gone, but also will be the small liberal arts colleges and small technical, specialty colleges, which will also have difficulty maintaining the teams of lawyers, accountants, and professional consultants necessary to maintain approvals and accreditations. They will close or be merged into one of the mega-universities. I even wonder about small community colleges, although I suspect they will get some sort of exemption.

Blue Marble University will offer industry specific and technology specific programs that will prepare the student for immediate employment in those fields of endeavor.  A computer science BS degree will start right in with programming, and will not waste the student’s time with required, non degree relevant course material.

(3) Virtual Universities are Probably Not Possible in the USA

Where can a virtual university go in the USA to get approval to issue degrees? Well, almost nowhere. A very small number of states, possibly 2-3, such as California,  do permit a virtual university to file for approval to issue degrees. One would question why this is so, or in fact why must a group of faculty apply for permission to issue a degree when, historically, faculty as a group, formed a school, college, or university, taught their students, and then issued a degree to recognize that the student had mastered the subject material. This is the traditional educational model, and it did not involve governmental regulation. Our earliest colleges and universities had no approval from any governmental body to issue degrees.

Although a pathway to approval exists for a virtual college in the USA, such as via an application to the California Bureau of Private PostSecondary Education, that pathway is expensive.  The package, including $5,000 filing fee,  would cost about $20,000. But more than the costs, we have a climate that is detrimental to the virtual university model. While California does permit a totally virtual university to be approved at this time, it is more than likely that in the near future, new regulations will eliminate virtual universities altogether, and require that all institutions offering degrees by distance learning also have a campus.

A quote from the Georgia regulations is instructive: “It is generally assumed that institutions using a distance education method of delivery will already have an adequate on-ground program in place.”  With the advent of computer technology, a campus is no longer needed to become educated. Consequently it would seem that the only reason for such a position is to retain market share and to prohibit low budget quality offerings from coming into existence. 

Education, once the province of Academia, is now a big big business, including the so called “non-profits”, which are not non-profit in any sense whatsoever except for their IRS designation.

The six year grand experiment in computer/internet based virtual education, which involved the hope that students of modest means could obtain an affordable education via distance learning, is coming to an end in the USA. No one in power  wants the virtual education model, except of course the mega-universities, who charge students essentially the same for online education as for on campus learning, even though there is very little cost to delivering education over the internet.

(4) Education is Now Big Business, and exists not to benefit the student, but to line the pockets of investors in for-profit schools, or build up investment portfolios for so-called “non-profit” institutions.

Over the last 5-10 years, post-secondary education has attempted to embrace the internet and to offer internet based distance education for students unable to attend a campus, or for working adults that wanted additional education but in a more convenient fashion. Nearly every educational institution has experimented with the internet, and in some cases, such as University of Florida, online education has outgrown campus-based education. Of course, the University of Phoenix online programs are well known.

In concert with these changes, came the “for-profit” universities. Investors and investment funds bought up existing fledging institutions (or created their own) and rapidly expanded their services, particularly with respect to online programs, targeting working adults and those recently leaving US military service. Examples of for-profit universities are Capella University, University of Phoenix, Argosy University, Ashworth University, DeVry University, and Kaplan College, to name just a few. And rather than offer a reduced cost of education based on savings due to internet technology, it turned out that these for-profit businesses have been charging almost the same tuition for online education as a student would pay for on campus learning.

The lack of reduction of tuition costs reflective of increased technology has been seen also for all the existing not-for-profit well known universities. Students have yet to enjoy the cost savings technology can offer. Even for online programs, the existing pattern has been to charge tuition not based on cost of delivery to the student, but rather based on what is the maximum government loan the student can obtain!! As another example, consider this note by Anya Kamenetz in her book:  “DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education” (Chelsea Green Publishing 2010), at page 90:

“USC’s MAT program (online master’s program in teaching) is innovative in terms of the students’ experience, but not in terms of institutional structure. They still charge the same for the online programs as they do for the in-person ones, for example, avoiding the key question of whether technology can cut costs. In fact, the dean of the education school, Karen Gallagher, seemed a little defensive that I was even asking: ‘I don’t know if I’d use that word-efficiency’, she said. ‘We actually haven’t sat down to do a one-on-one cost comparison. If you want a USC degree you have to pay USC tuition.‘ ” [Emphasis supplied]

When one can find an excellent english based foreign medical school for $3500/ year,  the graduates of which become physicians practicing in the USA, it is very difficult to understand why, in the USA, basic education is so costly.

(5) Change is Coming

Daniel S. Christian has presented the most exhaustive collection of new initiatives in education, which he calls the “Walmart of Education”, published on the web at: http://www.calvin.edu/~dsc8/walmartofeducation.htm . In a paper titled: “What goes up…Must come down” published at his website at: http://danielschristian.com/learning-ecosystems/2010/12/22/what-goes-up-must-come-down-a-paper-re-the-costs-of-obtaining-a-degree-in-higher-education-by-daniel-s-christian/ , he summarizes the current status of these new initiatives as follows:

“Change is coming. The perfect storm has been brewing within higher education, and it does not appear that current models are sustainable. Further impetus toward change is a related and compounding issue for today’s graduates–the unemployment rate….the point here is that no one wants to fork over what amounts to a second mortgage/the price of a new home, only to discover that they –or their son or daughter- cannot get a job. This is not the return on investment that colleges have been touting for years.”

And consider these observations by Gideon Burton [gideonburton.typepad.com], being a summary of his 2009 podcast (podcast unavailable) presented at academicevolution.com, concerning his basic premise:

“Todays ‘Renaissance Student’ constructs him/herself  independent of Academia”

If one were to seek one example of what is available to educators on line, one would find the best example at http://academicearth.org. A university degree program could be created just using the free lectures, videos, and demonstrations by world renowned instructors, that are collected at that site.

An amazing work is the continuing observations of Dr. Gideon Burton as to the growing non-relevance of traditional education, the title to his paper being: “Dear Students: Don’t Let College Unplug Your Future”.  He shares these incredibly telling insights:

1. Speaking of traditional education, he notes: “Your college experience is likely to set back your education, your career, and your creative potential”.

2. “The credentialing system of college will ultimately prove less important than whether you use your college years to generate a body of visible and durable online work, openly accessible to the world, shouting who you are louder than any ‘graduated with honors’ certification on a transcript one must pay to see.”

3. Students must “conscientiously build your online presence”.

4. “College is trapped inside of its ways, and it wants to keep you there and make you believe that only through the grace of its curriculum and degrees and super special experts…will you ever do or say anything of value”.

The full text of Dr. Burton’s insights appears at his website, Academic Evolution:
http://www.academicevolution.com/2009/01/dear-students.html

(6) An Example of a New Education Model…Acton School of Business

Finally,  consider the following summary concerning the formation of  Acton School of Business, presented by Jane S. Shaw,  “The Ivory Tower: Crumbling From Within” (April 21, 2009. Acton offers a 1 year MBA using the Socratic method of teaching is “unaccredited”, yet is ranked by the Princeton Review as near the top of US business schools. 

“In 1996, Jeff Sandefer saw a fatal mixture of moral decay and arrogance at Enron Corporation and publicly predicted the company’s decline. He was right; Enron disintegrated within five years.

Now Sandefer senses the collapse of another hallowed institution, the U.S. system of higher education. He doesn’t know when it will happen, but he sees the “beginning of the end of a thoroughly corrupt system.”

Sandefer was the keynote speaker at a forum sponsored by the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in Guatemala City on April 5. Atlas, a nonprofit institute that nurtures free-market think tanks around the world, is turning its attention to universities as well. The goal of its “Teach Freedom” seminars is to explore how universities can support the principles of free markets, limited government, and the rule of law, but the forums cover many aspects of higher education.

The meeting revealed some bright spots such as Eastern Europe, where independent universities are being formed. The message about higher education in the United States was bleak, however, especially in Sandefer’s eyes.

Sandefer has credibility as the founder of an unusual school, the Acton School of Business, located in Austin, Texas. Acton offers an intense one-year MBA program that has sent shock waves around the country. Ranked by the Princeton Review near the top of all U. S. business schools, Acton is built upon the idea that students are customers who hold the school accountable. 

All of the faculty are successful entrepreneurs and the program is based on the principle of “learning by doing.” Students must sell door-to-door, design and operate an assembly line, plan a call center (such as an airline reservation system) and “stand in the shoes of an entrepreneur” in over 300 real-world case-study discussions. Students also take a “Life of Meaning” course, which forces them to find a calling in life, a mission that allows their skills to be used in a way that, in Sandefer’s words, “brings great joy” and serves others.

Most students can obtain a scholarship that covers the one-year tuition. If, when they are done, they decide that they have not sufficiently benefited from the experience, they don’t have to pay it back. If they have benefited, they can pay 10 per cent of their annual salary until they reach the full amount owed.

When Sandefer casts his eye on higher education as most schools practice it, however, he sees something completely different, a “pedagogy of arrogance,” which he summarizes as: “I‘m the expert—I talk; you listen.”

Sandefer ticked off a few rough statistics to support his point that the economics of higher education will ultimately bring it down. For example, $200 billon out of the $300 billion spent on undergraduate education is going to academic research, not teaching, and a lot of that research results in “narrow-focused research articles that few read.”

Eighty per cent of higher-education resources are spent on tenure-track faculty, he said, but non-tenure-track faculty teach 70 to 80 per cent of the students. “If the tenure-track faculty went on strike, no one would notice.”

At Acton, the focus is entirely on the student, creating what Sandefer believes is a “pedagogy of humility,” rather than arrogance. The “teacher as expert” model is replaced by experienced entrepreneurs, who, through the case method and experiential learning, show that asking the right question is far more important than being the smartest person in the room.

Sandefer says he understands that the ivory towers of academia are built to withstand attacks from the outside. But he believes that continued bureaucratic rot from within, combined with innovation and disaggregation from the outside, may finally bring them down. The victors, he says, will be students, parents and taxpayers.”

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Note: Acton School of Business is not accredited, nor likely to ever be. They use experts as Instructors, rather than PhD faculty, and hence “fail” the faculty test.

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7. How Will Blue Marble University Contribute to the Growing Non-traditional Education Models?

By being an innovator offering a new style of educational programming.

The goal of Blue Marble University is to provide a new model of quality education at an affordable cost. The education should be useful and career based. The product should be very affordable, so as to allow people to re-educate themselves over time. “Life-long learning” is a recent catch phrase, but in reality is not achieved at present due to the high costs of education, including online programs.

Blue Marble University will be innovative in four principle areas:

(A) Innovative Curricula

We have some new and exciting programs that can be completed entirely online. We have a 2 year Bookkeeping and Tax Preparation program after which you can start your own bookkeeping and tax business. Our Business Science programs go deep into  “Big Oil”, “Modern Railroading”, and “Global Transport”.  Our Computer Science program doesn’t just teach Information Technology…we delve into Gaming and software engineering for 3D worlds. We have some terrific graduate engineering programs including  a doctoral program in Instructional Technology. Do you like Biology?? How about a 3 year D.Sc. degree in Stem Cell Science or Plant Tissue Culture. In appropriate cases, students may help develop their own curriculum on the fly, and all students have to create along the way an independent work, whether it be a video, film, book, publication, website, or something else. Students may also suggest their own programs entirely (with approval and appropriate instructor guidance of course). Because all of our programs are science oriented, even those that may involve business or education, only Bachelor of Science degrees are awarded to undergraduates. And we continue to develop career oriented Adult Job Training programs as well. These are some examples of where we want to go with respect to curricula.

(B) Cost Innovation

Our annual tuition cost for all programs (except Adult Job Training Certificates)  is $3900 USD per year with a payment plan; discounted to  $2750 USD per year if paid in advance in a lump sum.  Because we offer all programs via distance education model, the savings generated by not having to maintain expensive campus facilities is passed on to you.  When one can find an excellent foreign medical school for $3500/ year,  the graduates of which become physicians practicing in the USA, it is very difficult to understand why,  basic education is so costly in the USA.  Knowledgeable students and their families have already caught on to the fact that they can find excellent education overseas at a fraction of the usual cost. We will do our best to maintain our low tuitions, and will do so in part by remaining a “virtual university” without significant campus or administrative facilities. You won’t be paying for buildings or building maintenance or repair. We will strip out just the education part, and so your tuition fees will go primarily to your educators. Your tuition will be based on our cost to deliver the program to you (plus a little profit), not based on what is the maximum student loan you can obtain from the government, nor on the maximum amount the government will pay for education for armed forces veterans.

(C) Innovative Faculty

Our instructors will be educators that will have to do more than just teach what they know. They will serve as student mentors and facilitators of education. Their primary mission will be to guide the student throughout the entire program, find resources, find people with specialized skills that may be interested to take one or more students as interns. They have to teach how to solve problems. In many respects, what we require from our instructors may be more difficult than what they are used to, because they will also be learning along the way where to find information, how to put it together, how to gain useful concepts. And then they have to impart these mental exercises to the students. Instructors knowledgeable in specific industries will also be sought. There is no greater knowledge to be transferred, than that from an expert in a particular field or with respect to a particular industry or technology.  Which is why Instructors need not have a PhD degree, nor any degree at all!

(D) Innovative Students

Blue Marble is not for everyone. We are looking for students that have come out of high school prepared. We do not have time to teach basic math. But we may refer students to the many remedial courses available for free on the internet, where appropriate. We are seeking  goal oriented students that desire to succeed.  As a virtual university, students are encouraged to pursue other activities outside of  education, such as working, volunteering at medical facilities,  interning for companies in industries in which the student  may be interested,  participating in creative matters, or travel. It is a big world out there when one has not explored any of it. We may give you a text or two. But, in addition, students  will be required to explore the world’s resources and materials for new information related to the particular degree program. This means primarily via the internet. But also means an exploration of libraries and other facilities near one’s home town. We may send students on independent field trips to meet various people or see various places nearby. A student  needs to know everything there is to know about Google Maps. In the end, we hope the student will have and understand the seeds of innovation, how to solve problems, where to look for materials to aid in solutions, and finally, have the skills to succeed in any endeavor.

8. Conclusion

Blue Marble University will position itself to be a part of the New Education. We have no interest in being a part of the old-world education models. Students must be able to compete globally. Although we believe that the accreditation process perpetuates the old antiquated model of humanities based education,  yet, in due course we will pursue some form of  international recognition which is believed to be in the best interests of our students and our institution.

The “value” of accreditation is lacking already, and eventually people will wake up to that fact. If you are a prospective student, let me ask you this: Would an employer, say, in the oil industry, be more interested in an applicant with a general but accredited BA degree, or in someone who graduated from a Blue Marble unaccredited industry specific program who already knew all the special lingo for the oil industry and knew how the industry worked because they were able to skip all the normally required humanties filler courses and started right in on learning the oil industry??

In order to have the freedom to offer exciting, dynamic, and career oriented programs, our institution has been formed overseas, as an international virtual university.

In taking this approach, we are mindful of the fact that for students interested in pursuing certain licensed careers, such as medicine, dentistry, physicians assistant or nursing, those students may have to follow the traditional pathway of education as mandated by the appropriate licensing boards.

But what we say to those students is this: investigate some other pathways! Why spend 4 years in an undergraduate college preparing for entry into a medical school, when students in other countries begin medical studies directly from high school?? Thailand’s medical schools begin after high school as well as the Philippines amd other countries.  Even the USA has some six year programs that begin after high school. Same for other licensed professions….LOOK OVERSEAS for more economical and higher quality programs.

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Epilogue

As of January 2011, enrollment at University of Phoenix was down 42%. A former Enrollment Advisor for the University comments: “U.O.P. became so focused on their for profit status that they forgot to focus on ensuring the level of education at minimum matched the investment from their clients”.

Daniel S. Christian writes comments on “Fixing Accreditation from the Inside”: If the accreditation bodies don’t respond to the growing suspicion towards them – and towards higher education as a whole – it will be like water going around a rock in a stream. People will flow right by them – whether the government assumes control or not.

This Position Paper in no way is intended to demean or disparage the many professional and dedicated educators in all fields and in all levels of education. My hat is off to you…you are the best! You give yourselves to the world and to your students. This position paper does intend to be critical of the rampant, aggressive, and stifling overregulation of education by the United States government and its respective States, which regulations and rules, as well as the cost of compliance with such rules, is completely stifling all educational innovation. Bureaucrats go home and leave education to Academia. Furthermore, “accreditation” should not be based on program content or duration which thereby eliminates innovation as well. The Distance Education Training Council, which provides accreditation to distance education has a better approach: they pass on the merits of the teaching methodology and outcomes, rather than on content. Their accreditation goes to the institution, rather than to the specific program, which thereby allows an institution to experiment with new forms of education delivery and to adjust programs rapidly to fit the times.

Distance Learning University, Distance Learning Education, Online Degrees

If referring to this paper, please cite as:

Drake, WP, “Blue Marble University Review of Post-Secondary Education”, October 2011, BlueMarbleUniversity.com