Rethinking college education: Put the student first, not the university | Dan Rosensweig


There’s a really interesting question which
is: what are the ramifications of the college education system—potentially, and we believe—in
a bubble that’s likely to burst (and is already bursting), and with parents and employers
looking to find alternative ways to get their kids or their students the skills they need
to be able to be successful citizens and successful in business? So what was interesting about the education
system is everything in the education system was designed to support the existing system,
like most businesses—designed to serve the publisher, the professor, the administrator,
all the people that worked at the school. But you looked at the student and you said
they’re forced to live in a dorm they don’t want to live in, pay a price they don’t
want to pay. They’re forced to use a cafeteria the first
year or so because it’s in the best interest of the school, not the student. They have to pay a fortune for books that
they don’t want to buy and subjects they don’t want to take. You just think of all the things. You go to an ATM on a college campuses, the
kid takes out $10 and they pay $3.50 as a fee. And so we realized very quickly that the biggest
problem with the education system was that it served everybody in it but its core constituent,
which was the student. And so one day I wrote on the bottom of my
email to the staff – I just put it in as a tagline – “We put students first.” And that became the way in which every decision
we get made gets filtered through it. What we do, why we do it, when we’re going
to do it. What we can charge for it. The order in which we offer it. How many different modalities or languages
or devices can it be on? All of those things are if you put the student
first what would the student want? Now some people say, “Well if you do that,
Dan, they’d all want it for free.” The truth is they wouldn’t if they didn’t
think they could get it for quality for free. So, for example, there are free alternatives
to Chegg Study but they all prefer to pay for Chegg Study, because what we give is not
free—We give overwhelming value for the money. And so by putting the student first the choices
that we make become limited. The definition of success becomes clearer. How does this help the student and can we
benefit by doing that? The order in which you do it, how much you’re
willing to invest and the return on that investment become much clearer by putting the customer
first. And look, we live in a world now where everybody
in the middle is being cut out if possible. So we’re living in a much clearer world
of direct consumer if you will. So think about it. If you can’t satisfy your customer you don’t
have a business. If your customer is forced to use you it’s
easier to disrupt you. But if your customer looks at you and says
they know who I am, they understand my problems, they care about me, they give me overwhelming
value then you build a giant moat versus your competitor. So the best way I can put it to quote or paraphrase
I should say Marc Andreessen, software is eating the world. So think about it this way. Colleges are a lot like movie theaters. You go to the movie theater and you have to
wait in a line or if you get the ticket you get to go in, but you’re still going to
sit next to somebody you don’t know to watch a movie you may or may not want to see. You’re going to pay a fortune for popcorn…
or would you rather be sitting at home on your couch watching Netflix, what you want
to watch, when you want to watch it, how you want to watch it with the people you want
to watch it with, at a price you can afford? And college is the same way. Why do you want to go to a campus which takes
an hour to get to, an hour to get home to take a single class? So that’s half a day when you need money,
when you’re hungry. So the consequence of this ultimately has
to play out in a pretty dramatic way. There’s no sort of incremental fixes. There are things that colleges are doing that
can sustain some of them for a while. They’re working with really good organizations
like 2U or companies that allow them to build new lines of revenue by putting their graduate
schools or specific classes online. But overall if you were to interview (and
we have and we’ve read the surveys and you can find the surveys), 50 percent of college
presidents and their CFOs feel that their college is on shaky financial footing. Just start with that. So the more expensive it gets, the fewer kids
that can go. And so to get kids to go you’ve got to create
a discount rate. When you create a discount rate then you’re
really not getting the revenue that you need to get into the school. But then on the flip side of this, this is
really since 80 percent of college kids will tell you the primary reason they go to college
is to get a better job. Then we really have to involve the employer
also. So companies like Chegg we have the employment
data. I can predict if you go to X school, take
X classes, get X majors and you’re going to live in Y state, I can predict with pretty
good certainty the eight companies you’re likely to work for and what you’re likely
to get paid. And because we’ve read a hundred million
resumes over ten years and followed that pattern to see. From our perspective though we ought to be
able to figure out what skills you want as a person, what skills benefit you depending
on the career path you’re looking to go to. So liberal arts is extraordinarily beneficial
for a subset of people. Critical thinking, communication, all of those
things. But modern day critical thinking, modern day
decision making and modern day communication and rhetoric, those are all things like SEO,
SEM, right. They’re no longer how to write a speech
and stand up. They’re different forms of communication. So all that has to evolve. But from my perspective once employers are
willing to believe that somebody who’s learned these skills from this place is employable
and can be successful in their environment those things will change. And so today there’s a lot of companies
working on it. There’s micro degrees at Udacity. There’s Coursera. There are college universities that are doing
exclusively online now. They’re just doing it under their brand
name. There’s going to be a lot of different ways
that people are going to attempt to do it. But at the end of the day many of the jobs
are going to require some sort of technical background. It doesn’t mean you have to be an engineer. In fact the majority of employees at Chegg
are non-engineers. They’re finance people and marketing people
and business people and PR people—There’s lots of people in lots of different kinds
of jobs even in tech companies. But everything is utilizing technology which
means you can actually test for proficiency. And so a lot of the things that we’re going
to focus on is whatever level you’re at, how can we level you up? Because if you want to get better somebody
ought to be able to help you get better and that will help you both in school and in your
career.

47 thoughts on “Rethinking college education: Put the student first, not the university | Dan Rosensweig”

  1. But how will the poor administrators make millions of dollars and get tax cuts? Who's going to buy all those yachts and personal jets. Think about those who are affected.😤

  2. Netflix uses an algorithm to also tell you what you should watch…. Free Public high school produces just as many quality college ready kids as private, why wouldn't a free public college produce the same quality as a price gouging private college? Just sayin'…

  3. Man, none of this shit is necessary outside the US. In Australia, University is world class, partially government funded, and the students are given inflation only loans from the government, paid back when their income hits a threshold.

  4. So many problems with this guy. First, Big Think, STOP MAKING ADS FOR THIS GUY!!!!!! It isn't an intellectual debate if the guy says, "this is the problem, and I have the solution if you give me money." Hate to break it to you, but that's an ad. Second, making everything online isn't the way to fix higher education. One does not just learn whatever skill one wants to learn in university. You also learn how to give a speech, communicate with others, proper professional dress and most importantly how to formulate an argument with a solid thesis and present it. I hate to break that to you Mr. Rosensweig, but you can't teach that in a "Netflix" atmosphere. 18-year-olds need to learn that in the real world, you just need to be an adult and put on pants and go to class like every other normal person. We as a society can't be dreaming up newfangled Netflix schools. We need to make our current schools affordable so that everyone has a shot at higher education because that's the American dream. So please America, don't abandon it.

  5. And let's not forget to use new textbooks that have exactly the same text but with a different forward which changes all the page numbers around thus rendering the used textbooks useless. Gotta pay that football coach's million dollar salary somehow. Cause that's what higher education is all about!

  6. His initial premise is fulla s==t, AND subsequent ones. We server burgers, they suck! But for you and you only-we deliver so you don't have to travel, stand in line etc. Fix the ;suck' part w/o trying to promote your company.

  7. "College is corrupt as the Catholic church was 500 years ago. They’re charging people more and more. You have this system of indulgences, you have this priestly (professorial class) that doesn't do much work. And then you basically tell people that if you get a diploma you’re saved, otherwise you go to hell. And we need to push back on this idea that only way you get saved is the Catholic church 500 years ago, or today by getting a diploma from college." -Peter Thiel

  8. It will only cost about $20 billion to give every homeless veteran a house. —> Congress: No money!

    Bernie's tuition-free college proposal will cost about $70 billion a year. —> Congress: We can never afford that!

    Trump proposed to increase military spending to $717 billion next year. —> Congress: Yes USA!

    GOP tax cuts for the rich is going to increase the deficit by about $2 trillion. —> Congress: It's worth every penny!

    ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………It's all about priority actually.

  9. I totally agree with the idea of a learning process that fit the natural appetites and the interests of the student. On the other hand we have to recognize that there is another pressing deal in America: every person has the right to pursue an education course indipendently from his financial possibilities.

  10. Spot on talk… Well said
    I see most of the comments are complaining rather steping up and do something about it.
    My friends the door is wide open like never before you have big chance to succeed to do whatever you dream to be.

  11. You got to somehow lose the stereotype of online class or college as being bullshit degrees or courses. I don't know how one would make online only classes rigorous and tough. Plus this guy worked for Chegg and Guitar Hero, interesting.

  12. There's free (and better) education in a lot (if not most) European countries… Why can't you do that?
    Oh, I know… Socialism. #evil

  13. When my coworkers and I talk about college, we're in the hotel and lodging industry, I tell them this… 1) High school isn't preparing our kids for the future. Sure high school teaches you how to read, write, do math and whatever extracurricular classes that you may have taken, but no one ever spoke with me as an incoming freshman about what I wanted to do when I got out of high school and geared me towards classes that could help me achieve my goals. For example, I took typing just because I was a credit short of graduating, because I thought that it would be an easy class and for the most part it was. Little did I know that a few short years later I would begin my career in the hotel industry and use typing each and every day (then once the internet and social media came along I use typing for that as well…). But while I'm blurring my way across the keyboard, I've noticed several of my coworkers peck. Sure they try but they don't type no forty words or better per minute by touch with a near zero margin of error like I do. 2) Not everyone has to go to college. College should be available if you want to go, but prospective students need to be made aware of what they're potentially getting themselves in for – namely the associated debt. You always hear about you need college, you need college, you never hear anything about the debt. I didn't go to college just because I didn't want the debt. Instead I got started in the hotel industry as a desk clerk and worked my way up the ladder until now I'm a core individual at the hotel that I work for. 3) Not everyone that does go to college has to go to the expensive name brand college. Junior college, community college, that no name college out in the middle of nowhere… I grew up in Dallas, I almost went to a college that no one has ever heard of, McMurry University, in Abilene towards El Paso. What I didn't do was expect to go to SMU, TCU, Harvard, UCLA as McMurry could probably have taught me the same things cheaper if I had ended up going. The "name" of the school on the diploma will probably open a few doors a lesser name wouldn't, but I'm much more interested in if you can convince me that you actually know what you're talking about as opposed to which school you went to. We also need trade folk. When my HVAC broke down this past winter, I didn't call some Harvard educated kid to fix it, I called the HVAC company. He got his hands dirty crawling around my attic but I'm sure he makes a really good living as HVAC is a must have thing for most everyone. 4) We as youth need to decide to study courses that actually matter. I pay attention when I read about college courses and debt and such. I'm always amazed at some kid chronicled who's graduating with a degree in science, math or engineering only to be followed in the next example by a kid graduating in art, philosophy or religious studies or some of these stupid courses that get created in response to what's going on in our society. I've got an SJW friend who's going back to school for her degree in religious studies (ancient religious studies) and latin. Both of which I'm sure will not be of any help in today's job market but I've held my peace about it so far…

  14. The oligarchy by design enslaves us with education debt, car loans, and mortgage payments. The costs of education are skyrocketing beyond any reason. It is all a scam.

  15. Great Advice!!! When I wen to College I really enjoyed learning. When I started working I wanted to take courses after work cause learning was fund. Then the University (Boston U) decided that they were teaching too much in courses. The president of the U decided if they teach half as much in a semester they could get you to pay for 2 courses that used to teach the same in 1 semester. The first course I took like that was so unpleasant that I stopped taking courses in the evening cause it was just a waste of time and money. Sitting in a classroom for 3 hours hearing the teach drag out a 30 minute lecture was not education but torture.

    When the University contacted me about a donation I told them I will only give them money if they fire Silberman who watered down the courses. I never herd back from them until he died. Then got a call asking for money. I ask them how did they get rid of Silberman they told me he died. I said I said only if you fire the asshole but will make 1 exception on the day I read a police report that the Deans conspired together to poison him to get him out is the day I will contribute money. To date I've not heard any such report from the Boston Police department.
    For the record, Colleges and Universities should never water down courses. If anything they should gradually expect more from their students not less.

  16. College is a waste unless you're really going for something really technical. It's basically a business that does not care about it's customers. They chew you up and spit you out. They give 0 F's about you being employed after.

  17. I think he makes an interesting analogy with the movie theater. Let's extend it further , though. Despite being forced to sit next to smelly people you don't know and pay a fortune for concessions, when 'the' movie comes out, or when you want to get the best watching experience possible (Oscar bait movies) you're still going to make the pilgrimage to the movie theater. That's because it's got the biggest screen, the best sound system, and something intangible that makes it feel like the 'right' way to watch a big movie.

    You can say the same thing about old-school, residential college. Does anyone really feel like they're getting their money's worth when taking online classes in their current form? Does anyone who went to community college or commuted from home instead of living in the dorms feel like they had the full college experience? Sure, if I do college from my couch I don't have to share a bathroom, eat in the dining hall, etc but I'm missing out on something intangible that makes college nearly everyone's favorite time in their lives. If you dangle something like 'choice and less money' vs 'no choice, more money, but you get some great experiences' in black and white like that you're missing the bigger picture.

  18. I'm so happy that we have a good education system here in the Netherlands. When I go to school, I enjoy it, and I have the feeling I have learn tons of stuff, amazingly fast. Higher education is waaay better than high school here, for exactly the reasons you just said

  19. Wouldn't it be way better to spend all the money you spend on college on companies where you want to work? Jist say "here is 30.000 bucks, can you please teach me how to work here?" I think no company would refuse such an offer, even if you are a complete idiot. You would basically get a school within a company that makes you perfectly fit for jobs they provide

  20. I agree that higher education has a long way to go to be truly student centered, and that many 4-year colleges need to do a much better job working with the labour market. But the idea that “students love to pay for Chegg study” is laughable. The humanities are way more relevant today and tomorrow than any narrow computing subject like SEO. And he’s wrong that eating in the cafeteria doesn’t serve the student — retention and student success are better when students eat together on campus!

  21. American Educational at War and "Waiting for Superman". (Documentary).
    After reading this article, I thought about issues: 'American student loan debt crisis.'

    However, the American Students likely falling behind  foreigner students,  like China, Japan, South Korean.., on financing for school, textbook and tuitions. Especially the poor students have to work a part-time job…

    https://www.1843magazine.com/features/the-long-march-from-china-to-the-ivies

    Note: "According to Make Lemonade, there are more than 44 million borrowers with $1.3 trillion in student loan debt in the U.S. alone. The average student in the Class of 2016 has $37,172 in student loan debt."

    Feb 21, 2017
    (Student Loan Debt In 2017: A $1.3 Trillion Crisis – Forbes)

    "experiences that will demonstrate how they embody the ideals of empathy, leadership or resilience: they volunteer at soup kitchens for homeless people, they start a sports league for disadvantaged youths, or – if their families are wealthy – they fly off to Haiti, Guatemala or Ghana to build houses for the poor."

    Moreover, slaves master is always wanting makes more profit.
    And apparently, master slaves never get satisfied from himself.

  22. imo
    Putting the student before the university is—like putting the customer before the stockholder—a right/smart/good idea that won't happen without brute force.
    imo

  23. This is so true. Everything should be online, there is no reason everyone has to be forced to go deeply in debt and go to some University to get higher education. Training in the tech world is easily 50% online or more. Having to go to a university campus is the same as having to go to a brick and mortar store instead of buying online. It should be an option, not your only choice. The university system probably resists because they feel it threatens their control and livelihood, but think how much larger their potential pool of students would be online. If you develop a sterling online reputation for education, your pool of potential students would literally be in the billions. Some forward thinking university is going to realize this, aggressively pursue it, and wind up being the Microsoft or Apple of online education.

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