Colleges have been hit hard by the COVID lockdown, and some of them will not survive. Their product has become amazingly expensive. A forced migration to online learning gives them a less rewarding product. Americans love college, and they think they get good jobs because of college. and they have been willing to pay a lot for college. But, at some point, they will walk away.
We can save college. This article proposes an unbundled “flex” college that will increase rewards and reduce costs.
Our proposal, outlined here, is to use top online courses as a raw material. Students will gather to study in “pods” of about ten individuals. We can locate these pods on campuses or rewarding locations around the world. Then we add a well-equipped coach and teaching assistant to the group.
We are recruiting. We’re especially interested in college students headed for a gap year who want to build a startup, while testing and improving our pod structure. Please apply here.
College satisfies three different types of needs:
- Get a degree
- GO to college. Get the campus experience. Grow, socialize, and network.
Learning can be simple and cheap. A lot of people learn on their own, from colleagues, from books, from practice. If they need more structure they can take a class online. However, high school and college aged students benefit a lot from the motivation, feedback, and focus of being in a group.
Getting a degree is more complicated, and more expensive. It often pays off with a better job. But, it is a risky investment that requires a multi-year commitment from the student, combined with brand building from the degree granting institution.
GOING to college is a lot more expensive. A college is a bundle that includes learning, a degree, and a campus experience. The campus includes learning-oriented features such as professors and lab equipment. It also includes social features (a bunch of students doing lots of fun student stuff) and lifestyle features such as athletics and arts.
An unbundled college will put these components together in a way that works better for students. Ideally students will learn. They will get a degree with significant career value. They will make friends for life and weave them into careers. They will have a fantastic experience, and they will get it at significantly less cost. And, every student will have a high probability of completing a degree and getting these benefits.
Our proposal is to separate the instruction and the degree from the campus and the college experience. We will provide the instruction and the degrees at global scale. We will franchise out the experience to amazing local entrepreneurs and campuses.
We’re not exactly sure how this will work. We’ll need a team and a lot of guidance to figure it out. But, we have a basic approach and goals.
The Flex College Approach
Online curriculum as the raw material
Flex college makes the most of online instruction. We now have a surplus of online courses to choose from. The available catalog includes increasingly refined and globally produced media, study plans, and lectures, plus a whole new set of courses delivered online by traditional colleges. This material increases quality and consistency. Flex college supports the classes now being offered by traditional colleges, while curating the best online courses. The curriculum is not a finished product, but it’s good raw material.
We believe that in-person support is important for social satisfaction and learning effectiveness. We are organizing small groups to live and work together.
This experience is mobile. Students can move between pods around the world. We’re opening the door for pod hosts ranging from traditional campuses equipped with labs and lawns, to international cities, to surf and ski camps.
On-site coaches and teaching assistants are a missing link that will make online instruction more effective and more satisfying. Our teaching experts have studied this role, and we are building tools to support it. Supporting coaches is our special value add, the technology and technique that we are most committed to investing in.
Student leaders and self governance
Students have an amazing opportunity to design their own journey. We hope to build pods around student leaders.
Individuals in pods will decide on health and safety policies for their own pod. With full buy-in from each member of the group, policies are much more likely to be effective than unrealistic policies which colleges are trying to enforce.
Quality and consistency
We have always viewed teaching as an art, and not a science. By making it into a science, we can give every student the benefit of working with great artists. Then we can measure and increase the value of a degree.
We should be able to deliver all of this world class instruction, including the local teachers, for less than half of the cost of normal college tuition.
The cost of college has more than doubled since 1980 as a percentage of median income. This makes it less accessible. If we are merely as efficient as those old non-computerized boomers were in 1980, we should be able to deliver a great college experience at half of current costs. We can’t start with an existing college. It has too many expensive people, administrators, and departments. We have to start from zero and build a more efficient structure.
Increase the probability of completing a degree
Students will have more options that result in a degree. They can move between a full-time residential campus, inspiring locations around the world, and a transition to work with after-hours meetups. We will be seeking campuses and lifestyle entrepreneurs to host pods in all of these locations.
I am not sure how students will use the flexibility in locations and formats. I am sure that more of them will finish their degrees.
Current educational institutions only pay attention to their students for a few years. Then the student is cast off into the next set of challenges alone. Why is that? Once we know a student, we can organize ourselves and our systems to provide a lifetime of recommendations and support.
It’s one of my main goals in life. Students can use the portable campus and small-group cameraderie to find more ways to have fun.
Where does this project come from?
I am Andy Singleton, a software entrepreneur (founder CEO/CTO of Assembla, PowerSteering Software, Cambridge Interactive) with a kid going into college this year. My collaborator John Stadler made his first million launching an electronics company, and since then has dedicated his life to founding schools in the US and China. We first met while working on a crypto project.
Join the team at Flex College
Let us know if you are interested in joining the team, and apply here.