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Last night at dinner I got into a conversation with Greg Gottesman about the trillion dollars of student loans outstanding in the United States. Greg pointed me to this awesome TEDx Talk that he did recently on the topic. I just watched it – if you are interested in higher education in any way it’s worth 12 minutes of your life to watch it right now. I’ll still be here when you finish.
While Amy and I don’t have kids, we’ve funded the college educations for several relatives and the children of several friends. We’re fortunate that we can write these checks as the parents couldn’t have, and in each case the experience has been life changing, with no strings attached, for the young men and women. They went to schools they previously couldn’t have afforded and when they graduated they had no student debt.
When I consider their paths without our support, it would have been harder. Each of them is an amazing young person, but they are able to explore more things, in different ways, because of the education they got. And as I watch them continue to learn and grow, through their work experience, additional education, and online activities, I realize that the chance they had to go to college is still a critical part of the American dream.
I’m interested in this at many levels. My wife Amy is on the board of trustees of Wellesley College and cares passionately about her alma mater, the amazing experience of going to school there, as well as the increasing cost of education. I’m on the CU Boulder Chancellor’s Strategic Advisory Council and one of the major topics we have been discussing is the escalating cost of education and the dramatically decreasing public funding of education. I’m an investor – directly and indirectly – in a number of companies creating new online education systems. I’m a content provider for some of these MOOCs, with some courses coming out over the next twelve months. And I’ve started to take some courses as a way of learning new things while understanding what works – and what doesn’t work – with this new approach.
Up to this point, I’ve been focused on the cost and content side of the equation. Until last night, I didn’t think much about the implication of the student funding side (e.g. debt) of the equation – either the long term macroeconomic effect on society or the short term microeconomic effect on the recent graduate now saddled with student debt.
There are plenty of creative approaches to this, including many experiments underway with schools like MIT and Stanford in conjunction with new companies like Udacity and Coursera. The activity on the course and content side seems vibrant, which has the opportunity to lower overall costs.
But I don’t have a clue about the financing side, and am going to think more about it. If you have any insights, feel free to toss them in the comments or point me at stuff I should read.