Which Of The Following Choices About Online Learning Is False?

Which of the following choices about online learning is false? Read the quiz here.

Twice in the past decade, education publishing giant Scholastic went public to raise revenue and profits. This summer, another education publisher raised $300 million by issuing 40 million shares. The offering was really just a way for shareholders to drive up the value of their holdings. In education, a successful IPO involves a good excuse, a good time, and a few clever public-market features that make investing in education profitable for the investors. But it usually doesn’t bring down the bad news: namely, that college is useless and needs to be fixed.

For Scholastic, the first IPO included growth opportunities to offset the secular decline in book sales and short-term improvements in profit.

For K12 Inc., now controlled by private equity, the IPO provided an exit for investors who are sitting on losses.

But they shouldn’t have taken the public route. Instead, student and teacher involvement should be sufficient to keep educators focused on curriculum and teachers on the job. That’s just not happening.

All the current wave of college attendance is not about getting into school, reading a book, or even completing an assignment. Students like to try to crack into a lab and test out of a computer course. They can spend lots of time on an online chat site during the day, promoting and reviewing social media accounts for their friends.

The amount of time devoted to online learning is still up in the air. A 2018 McKinsey study estimated that students in eight US states spent more than five hours a week on non-work assignments online—an amount only exceeded by high school students.

This is just what occurs on a cursory examination of the benefits of online learning. But on the flip side, research indicates that students spend much more time in order to fulfill their minimum-wage jobs. That leaves little time to pursue higher education.

This decline in interest in a college education has consequences for parents, taxpayers, students, and the economy. With less going toward college, students are paying higher tuition—and taxpayers are paying their share. We will also see less diversity in our workforce with fewer traditionally educated minorities entering the workforce.

The money saved on college is used by other private entities to provide online services, perhaps an advanced test prep course, or formal corporate training. Private businesses are providing private goods to people who are demanding private goods and, in the process, drawing from public coffers.

Is all of this a win for the public purse? It depends on how it is used. If consumers aren’t satisfied with online services, they can demand a more personal service—having someone visit them in their home or office.

If education is the main destination, then the prices should reflect the present economic reality—not the false sense of wealth we experience through soaring home and stock values. Class size should be kept low to make college affordable for students from lower-income families. Sending a single letter instead of an individual response is one effective way to provide such an interaction.

When it comes to the economy, every job should pay a living wage, and the timing should match the market demand. But with the rise of online learning, there are little jobs for the people who do heavy labor in our society—and lots of jobs for individuals who are just checking in and keeping the lights on.

In truth, the economic and social benefits of online learning are so minuscule as to be forgotten. Students shouldn’t have to rely on the market to serve their needs. They should have access to online learning not for educational purposes but for personal use. If online learning becomes easier and faster, personal use will become a means to providing a public service and not a diversion.

Willie Perkinson is a policy analyst at the Center for Policy Innovation in Washington, D.C.

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