NOTE: My statements are not necessarily my opinions. I often post point-counterpoint essays in which I strongly take one side of an issue and later counter that with antithetical views. This intellectual exercise helps me see the merit in opposing opinions and augments my creativity.

Obama's plan to limit college tuition price hikes

President Obama proposed a plan to limit college tuition price hikes to no more than the rate of inflation. I call that a great idea, but college presidents blasted it, calling it “fuzzy math” and “political theater of the worst sort.”

Many state legislatures have reduced subsidies to colleges, who jacked up their tuition to make up for the shortfall.

First, here's something to think about: why should people who don't go to college subsidize those who do? State subsidies are a way to make others—often even poor folks—help pay for the education of students from families with more money.

model of college student
Men: If you saw someone this hot in class, wouldn't it affect your concentration?

Second, if college leaders weren't bereft of common sense and imagination, they could easily think of a way to dramatically slash costs while improving educational quality. Facebook's chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg has a remedy for poor education: “Why do we have lots of college lecturers around the world? Why do we not take the best person and show everyone?” Exactly! I advocated that many years ago.

When I attended college in the 1970s, the lectures for a few of my classes were presented on local cable TV, and I learned just as much in them as I did in other classes—probably more. At home, I could focus all of my attention on the lecture, whereas in class, my pre-Accutane mind often found the biology of hot classmates more appealing than the subject matter. By staying home:

  • I didn't waste 90 minutes going to and from class (I lived off campus, and had I lived on campus, I would have wasted even more time dealing with students more committed to partying than studying).
  • I didn't waste gasoline, wear out my car, or risk dying in an accident (college students are not immune to traffic fatalities). I had a few near-misses that could have killed me, but others weren't so lucky. One of my classmates, the yummy daughter of a celebrity, was killed while driving. One day she was sitting in class, the next day she made a pit stop in a morgue before heading to her grave.
  • I couldn't catch a cold—or worse—from someone seated near me. More than a few college students get meningitis. A Dateline program showed many of them who were killed or horribly disfigured by Neisseria meningitidis, the germ that causes meningococcal meningitis. According to the CDC and The National Meningitis Association, approximately 3,000 cases of meningococcal meningitis occur every year in the United States. About 15% of the cases are fatal, and 15% of survivors end up with brain damage, organ damage, multiple amputations, or other atrocious permanent effects.
  • If I were a woman, I wouldn't risk being raped or killed walking around campus.

With the Internet, all students could be taught by the very best professors. Instead, most colleges force students to learn from professors who aren't superb teachers who inspire their students, creating a thirst for knowledge and lifelong learning.

Internet lectures could supplant live instruction, but what if students had questions?

First, the best professors would explain things so well that few students would need help understanding it.

Second, instead of giving students only the best professor on a given topic (such as force, mass, and acceleration in physics), perhaps the top three or five could be offered.

Third, the best students could earn extra credit or money by helping others in Internet forums. I was paid (peanuts) by Michigan State University during my undergrad years to tutor students who needed help.

Colleges want us to think they're so smart, yet today's educational system isn't much different than what we had well over a century ago. The first person in my family to attend college, Chester Arthur (the 21st President of the United States), would feel right at home sitting in a class in 2012.

Colleges want to live in an insular world in which prices don't matter. They want people to believe in the value of what they teach, yet they price it out of the reach of many people.

Colleges serve to maximally benefit their professors and administration, not their students! If colleges were more concerned about their students, they would do everything they could to give them the best possible education at the least cost, risk, and inconvenience.

spot a typo?
If so, please tell me about it.

Got your thinking cap on? Consider how the Internet uses hypertext to link topics, then think of an analogous way to turn lectures into hyperlectures. A hyperlecture isn't just an online lecture, but one that could help students master information, not just barely memorize it for a test. Hyperlectures would make lectures more fun, engaging, and valuable. College would be less frustrating and more thrilling. Americans past the age when most adults stop learning might find hyperlectures so appealing they tuned out Dancing With The Stars and tuned into educational activities that could help them compete with people in other nations who receive much better educations.

I often speak with American engineers who don't know their products very well and clearly give little thought to improving them, even when the ways to do that are utterly obvious. I've spoken with some who were such dimwits I wondered if they were mentally handicapped.

If Americans were smarter and more creative, they could successfully compete with China despite the latter's low-cost labor advantage, but the American educational system hasn't given students the tools they need. We tend to blame politicians for our slipping prosperity, but much of the blame should go to us and colleges dumb enough to think that 19th century educational methods are all students need to compete in the 21st century.

My sixth-grade teacher called me “slow” and I struggled until 11th grade, but I then serendipitously discovered how to boost IQ and creativity. That enabled me to earn virtually all As my last two years of high school and throughout college, ace the MCAT exam, and graduate in the top 1% of my class in medical school. My dunce-to-doctor transformation proved that it is indeed possible to catalyze intelligence, but most educators are so clueless about learning that they can't do nearly as much for their students as I did for myself. Educators typically favor labor-intensive approaches that optimize their incomes and enhance their job security, not the job security of their students. Their educational monopoly is little more than a cartel, with students the unwitting victims of antiquated teaching methods.

Colleges won't innovate until they are forced to do that. Let's force 'em. If hidebound educators won't adapt, we could bypass their stranglehold and give students the educations they need at a price they can afford.

Many students who pay for college spend years after it paying off student loans, with some declaring bankruptcy, and many postponing marriage or buying a home. I lived in an apartment and drove an economy car for years after medical school, which prompted a hot auto saleswoman to rib me for driving what she termed a “loser's car.” Times are now much tougher for college grads, but colleges could make education better and more affordable. However, I predict that they won't until America's prosperity has slipped several more notches. As long as American educators can continue to bleed students, they will.

The views expressed on this page may or may not reflect my current opinions, nor do they necessarily represent my past ones. After reading a slice of what I wrote in my various websites and books, you may conclude that I am a liberal Democrat or a conservative Republican. Wrong; there is a better alternative. Just as the primary benefit from debate classes results when students present and defend opinions contrary to their own, I use a similar strategy as a creative writing tool to expand my brainpower—and yours. Mystified? Stay tuned for an explanation. PS: The wheels in your head are already turning a bit faster, aren't they?

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald

Reference: Imagining dialogue can boost critical thinking: Excerpt: “Examining an issue as a debate or dialogue between two sides helps people apply deeper, more sophisticated reasoning …”

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