More Universities Recognize The Value Of Free

from the free-the-lectures dept

We’ve written many posts on business models that involve giving something away for free, and one of the points we’ve tried to hit home is that giving things away for free is not some utopian, un-capitalist notion. It’s often an important component of a solid, profit-making business model. The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article today looking at how universities are increasingly embracing this concept, with many top schools offering things like class notes and lecture videos free to the public. Some schools, like MIT, have been doing this for awhile, but what’s interesting is how many schools are now pushing more and more free material out to the public. Ostensibly, the reason for doing this is to “democratize education”, but there’s clearly self-interest as well. Schools compete with each other for students, professors and money, and they hope that by showing off their academics in this way, they can do better at acquiring these things. Individual professors also recognize the potential for increased prestige, which is evidenced by the number of professors that are now blogging. Of course, there remains a big gap between the value of free downloadable lectures and that of a paid university education, so there’s little chance that doing this will eat into their core business. For other business — and the music industry is a prime example — the challenge should be expanding this gap, by offering something of real value above and beyond what’s available for free.

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Comments on “More Universities Recognize The Value Of Free”

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dorpus says:

Worthless college graduates

Throughout the world, there is an oversupply of college graduates and not enough skilled laborers. The USA, as an example, has been repeating the bullshit for 50 years about how there is a “shortage of science and engineering graduates”. The reality is that there are far too many of them, and not enough jobs to go around. The US imports vast numbers of foreign students, most of who end up going home because there are no jobs for them here.

In Asian countries, employers penalize job applicants for having college degrees. College graduates have taken to lying about being “high school graduates” to get jobs. The millions of unemployed young people with college and advanced degrees are emerging as a serious social problem — they are turning into cyber-hooligans embracing extremist movements on the net. The economy does not need worthless pencil pushers who work in their starched white shirts, shuttling electrons on computers. The economy throughout the world needs more workers who are willing to work with muddy hands and greasy faces. The education industry is in a state of denial.

Justin Pakosky says:

Re: Worthless college graduates

i agree. i wanted to go for a bs in computer science but were flooded so i thought ms/phd but that still has little job security and thats why i ended up going for nursing. i couldn’t have been more shocked that an associates degree could be better than a masters. 10% of the jobs available are professional and 40+% have degrees for them. they tell us the more education the better but with current trends a lot of skilled (deplomia/associates) pay better

dorpus says:

Re: Re: Worthless college graduates

I almost went into nursing myself. But I have a borderline disability that makes it painful to stand up for more than half an hour, so I ended up choosing to become a mental olympic athlete instead by going to grad school in statistics. It’s one of very few technical fields with good job prospects.

Helen says:

Re: Worthless college graduates

Unfortunately this is not entirely correct. There is in fact a shortage of science and engineering graduates, with an emphasis on engineering. According to the National Science Foundation, science and engineering degrees made up 32% of all bachelor’s degrees awarded in 2002, however only 1.6% of these degrees were in a field of engineering. (You can see this survey at Most fields of engineering are predicted to as fast as the average or above average. (See these statistics at Though there may be a surplus of graduates in certain technical fields, it is not entirely correct to suggest that all new holders of technical degrees are facing a crisis situation.

dorpus says:

Re: Re: Worthless college graduates

Helen: Unfortunately this is not entirely correct. There is in fact a shortage of science and engineering graduates, with an emphasis on engineering.

Notice that the links you quoted only “predict” a shortage of engineers. They do not say there is an actual shortage of engineers. I have known many, many engineering graduates from top schools who were unemployed for 1 year or more after graduation, because the “predicted shortage” of engineers was just that, a crystal-ball prediction. I used to be an engineering major myself, and when I could not find anybody interested in hiring a summer intern (after talking to 200 companies), I read the handwriting on the wall and changed majors.

Clifford VanMeter (user link) says:

Re: Worthless college graduates

I have a degree that is largely useless in the real world (a BFA in Illustration with a minor in Philosophy). Yet, I’ve managed to do pretty well with it (I’m a partner in and interactive director for an advertising and web development company).

Every one of the people working for me also has a degree, as does my business partner. I certainly don’t penalize people for having one. I will note that when we were looking for programmers we discarded more than 2/3 of the applicants as unqualified, in many cases despite their degrees, and of those we did hire, only about 1/3 last more than a year.

The problem is that most are non-thinkers. They do a fine job as long as they are being told exactly what to do to complete a project or solve a problem, but as soon as they are asked to provide solutions, they fall to pieces. Yes, I do blame the educational system for that. We teach far too much by rote, and spend far too little time teaching critical thinking and problem solving. Memorization is irrelevant in the information age. I don’t care if you KNOW the answer, as long as you can FIND the answer — and I don’t care how you find it. Google, forums, other programmers, calling people you went to school with or by your own extrapolation. Just find it! This is the opposite of how students are taught in schools.

dorpus says:

Re: Re: Worthless college graduates

Cliff: The problem is that most are non-thinkers. They do a fine job as long as they are being told exactly what to do to complete a project or solve a problem, but as soon as they are asked to provide solutions, they fall to pieces. Yes, I do blame the educational system for that.

But then, what if the worker presents a creative solution, but the boss doesn’t like it and fires him? Most bosses in the real world don’t want smart workers to embarrass the boss. A new graduate is likely to understand the true science or true theory better than the boss — I’ve witnessed it many times myself. Bosses have wrongheaded notions that build up from years of sloppy thinking.

dorpus says:

Re: Re:

The art of making sense of the numbers is a very human enterprise, and will remain so for the foreseeable future. How was the data collected? Is the methodology sound? Which model is appropriate? What assumptions are going into the theories? Computers can automate these tasks and spit out a result, but only human expertise can determine its validity.

If you did well in calculus, that’s one thing. You’ll need to also do well in linear algebra, which is a whole other level of abstraction — many people stumble in this course with its deceptively simple title. You also need good communication skills.

Cixelsid says:


Pah. Linear Algebra is the easiest math course available. That and numerical analysis. I went to one class and realized my Graphics Textbook has more insights into Vector, Matrix and Complex Number algebra than any of the books written by so-called professors. I took it until my third year and never studied more than half an hour for an exam. Linear Algebra was known as an easy A among most of my peers if you needed to up your yearpoints. Anyway, I graduated in 2001 and had my pick of a few companies who were interested in hiring me, I seriously doubt any High School graduate can just jump into a job like that, unless the job involves wearing a paper hat and saying “Good day may I take your order” all day long.

As for your comment about college graduates being in oversupply: you’re an idiot.

dorpus says:

Re: Dorpus

There are ways to make linear algebra easy, if only matrix operations are taught. If you say that your graphics textbook taught you all you need, that says more about the quality of your education than your ability. But I agree, there are people who don’t deserve college degrees, running around calling themselves engineers.

So college graduates aren’t in oversupply? Have you talked to people with bachelor’s degrees in physics, math, English, History, or any number of other subjects?

Xanius says:

Re: Re: Re: Cixelsid

Yeah, the pointed kind would be the Dunce Cap. As opposed to a normal paper hat that you wear at McDonald’s.

On topic though, I don’t really see how this is an example of free bolstering a business, the business model is rape my pockets so I can get a piece of paper saying that I’m at least as smart as a parrot. Anyone can hear and repeat information, and get the degree from it. Very few of the people that go to college and get a degree learn anything.

Hell, I took a micro economics course less than 3 months ago and I can’t remember half of the stuff in it because it was required to get into the business school and I won’t be using it past that point.

Luke says:

From my experience the physics, history, English degrees aren’t all that particularly useful in the real world. Engineering degrees on the other hand seem to do rather well – now the job may not be directly related to the original degree, but the only people I see without a college education are either working the manufacturing line, are low level maintenance guys, or are secretaries. The upper level maintenance guys tend to have had an education in some sort of trade school.

If you don’t have the college education you can still do well for youself, but as a college grad – I prefered to spend 4 years in school and make a salary that took my father nearly a decade to reach without a college education.

Anonymous Coward says:

Maybe this kind of stuff would stop if states like california wouldn’t stick its highschool flunkouts in college and get them a degree. Saying that college degrees mean nothing is just plain ignorant of what is actually happening. State schools and community colleges are giving people degrees who don’t actually deserve them and don’t actually know the information. Get someone from a near-ivy school and you get someone who knows how to think. Everyone that says “college degrees are useless” just failed out of college and are mad that people they thought were less intellegent than they were worked a little harder and did a little less crack and ended up graduating. Have fun working under a moron just because you were too lazy and stupid.

And to that person teaching classes with only a high school diploma : that makes me sick. I’m glad I’m not stuck in your school and that everyone teaching me has to have at least a PhD, you know, like a professor.

Cabal says:


Preach it brother Cliff!

The American school system (and I include the vast majority of post-secondary education) is not concerned with ensuring the next generation can think, but instead proving they have the capacity to learn.

Many technical degrees are outdated within years of recieving a diploma. A degree merely states this person had the minimum competencies required to complete a course of training which covers elements of the job which may or may not be relevant to performing the job. If a career were a car, the diploma is the drivers license. It doesn’t mean the driver will be competent, safe, or capable of racing in NASCAR. It only means that person met a minimum list of qualifications defined by a committee.

As critical thinking, creative problem solving, and effective communication are subjective and difficult to metric, we measure things which are concrete. “How many graduates can perform simple math, grammar, and basic ‘civilization survival skills'”. Those are easy to test, assess, and timely. Ahh, sweet, unambigous numbers which you can make a superintendent jump through hoops for!

Instead of metricing pointless things like “57% of the high school population can appropriately punctuate a simple sentence,” why not look at things like: “This group, educated with this methodology, after 10 years were employed at X percent, at Y average salary, with the following distribution of relevant post-secondary education”. Timely? No. Accurate, that is for the statisticians to judge… but at least the data correlates in to real world success.

And that’s really what it’s all about: With more and more information available at your fingertips, it doesn’t matter what you KNOW coming out of school, but what you can DO with it when given a chance.

David Binkowski (user link) says:

Why should universities and colleges be promoting themselves differently from the rest of business? I regularly present case studies and “how to” seminars to co-workers, potential clients, existing clients, and yes, other agencies. The idea is to reinforce that you’re the expert in your field and that as industries mature I’ll be the first to “get it”. In fact, this feels like a very natural extension of their other marketing practices.

Anonymous Coward says:

The problem with the education system is that they are more concerned with the number of graduates than actually teaching you anything. If you are failing a class, they are more worried that its going to look bad for them than the fact someone isn’t learning. The problem is that educators feel they ARE a business. They need to stop acting like store managers and actually TEACH.

Of course there are exceptions. I mean I’ve had a whole 3 teachers actually teach me something since 5th grade, after which things tend to repeat themselves. And in the case of one what I was taught wasn’t what the class was about! In my lifetime I’ve had over 50 different teachers. I liked about half, but only a handful were really Teachers.

Anonymous Coward says:

ends to means

College is not the place to start learning critical thinking and problem solving. It is simply a place to expand on those skills. As a student you should have already been exposed and know how to construct ideas for papers or solve problems with given tools. Unfortunately, if you haven’t learned some type of critical thinking, there is little hope of you suddenly learning it in college. Universities are simply there for people who want a secondary education.

I attend the University of South Alabama and have had some wonderful teachers. Being a computer science major, I see a lot of people that struggle with CS classes because they lack some very basic skills. Even if the teacher had an entire semester to sit down with the student one on one there wouldn’t be enough time to catch up. That is why those students usually leave or just skate by. Universities do the best they can to weed out incompetent people, but no system is perfect.

I realise that as a non college graduate there are still plenty of opportunities for employment and success. A college education cannot just be measured in the amount of money that can be earned after graduation. Exposure to the world, people, culture, and ideas are also valuable additions to ones life. College is not about just graduating. It is also about the experience.

Charles Boyle (user link) says:

un-capitalist notion!

Der Tech;

Oh my goodness “un-capitalist notion”, what a shock?- what a sinfull thougth?

Capitalism the art of the people who are smart, or with chutzapah, or who are heartless, or who are strong, or who are talented, or who are filled with avarize with the mantra “MINE ALL MINE, SCREW THE THE LITTLE PEOPLE.”

George Will condeming General Motors for running
a well-fare institution, instead of a company to build cars. Right on George blame the little guy who made
their life better by being unionized. How about it Mr. Welch still sleeping at night after sacking all those employees to make it look better for Wall Street?

How about you Mr Reagan, can you hear me where ever you are, Mr. Trump heard you he became an icon by your example, “YOUR FIRED”,
remember those words. I am sure the Air Traffic Controllers of America do! “Step on the little people”,
the mantra of the “Haves”. Oh yes don’t forget “The Trickle Down” economy lesson you preached, needles to say the trickel dried up before it came down.

Keep it up America, in case any one has forgotten. our [America] is still an experiment, only two hundred an thirty years old. Other great nations of the past thousands of years have fallen under the weight of greed and avarice.
Right now America is doing the perverbial “Mirror Mirror On The Wall……..” shadow dance. The answer the “Haves” expect, is the only answer possible “Why Of Course You Are The Best America:?

Just don’t look at New Orleans, ignor “Off-Shoring”!
Cast a blind eye to the slums in each city! Our President supporting cheap labor from Mexico because of the Republican fat cats who own all those companies!

Charles Boyle

Just an observation says:

College education

Some people do not need a college education. I did not go to college, and I have been just as successful as anyone I personally know that did. I am an office manager for an environmental construction company. I handle hundreds of tasks with no problem, from the basic filing duties, to bookkeeping and troubleshooting computer and network problems. And none of them involve wearing a paper hat and asking if I can take someone’s order. I just felt that real world experience would serve me better than reading textbooks and taking exams. I earn well over $40k per year (and in my mid 20’s). So I am proof (ok, maybe the exception to the rule) that college education isn’t always necessary.

Philosopherott (profile) says:

College and knowing

I think that the debate of over surplus college grads not getting jobs has nothing to do with the amount of education but with the quality of education. I am getting a better education with a philosophy degree and taking the communications and tech class i want then the people majoring in them. People go to college and try to find the fast and easy way out. I find challenging classes and professors that care if i learn. I also know people that frankly do not need to go to college because they are good at what they do without a piece of paper say “look at me i showed up to a class that was to big to know me as a name.” I think that a degree says a lot, this is a personal opinion, but i think that knowing the job and having the ability to execute that job is just as if not more important. A PhD is not going to give you people skills but high-school is not going to give you all the book smarts you need. it all depends on the job and the persons general knowledge.
P.S. my philosophy degree did not come with spell check so sorry if there are misspellings.
Part of my point right here. If this where a paper i would have an English writing major check this for grammar and spelling b4 i turned it in to a prof or an employer

nwogu christian says:

seeking for adimssion

Application for admission into university in usa
i am. Nwogu Ngozichinyerem christian ,a citizen of nigeria wishes to
apply in university in usa.
However,i will you to inform me about the nature of the admission
into university.
I mean the requirements and the date of the current admission.To
that effect,i had made my secondary
school result without any faulire in it.Whilemean ,iam boy of 20
years old of abia of nigeria.

Thanks for your co operation
Nwogu ngozichinyerem christian

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