Better How?

I’m the proud product of both some famous colleges and some cutting-edge online and outdoor programs.

And I’ve had to shake my head a little bit at recent weeks’ news that students at famous colleges are now demanding tuition rebates because the online experience isn’t the same (or isn’t as good) as the on-campus experience.

The famous colleges are being hoisted on their own petard: they argued for years that there was something irreplaceable about what they did on campus and in the classroom. Online (or “distance,” or “mediated”) education was inelegantly differentiated from but definitely lesser than the “real” thing.

So the students’ demands are only logical: they’re spending a quarter-million dollars on an experience, a credential, and a status symbol — not for knowledge transfer.

And now we’re all forced to confront different definitions of “better:” pound for pound, a month in the backcountry with NOLS or online with the altMBA was a better education than any given month on campus. But as an acculturating experience, a container for the formative years between 18 and 22, and as a door-opening credential, the college campus experience won hands-down.

We’ll have all different kinds of education on the other side of this crisis, but now’s a good time to think about which kind of “better” you’re looking for — as an applicant, a student, an employee, or an employer.