Rent a professor

If it costs $30,000 a year to go to university, and it takes four years to complete your degree, then your degree will cost $120,000. Wouldn't you be better off taking that money and renting a professor as a personal tutor for a year?

5 Responses to “Rent a professor”

  1. Shane Culpepper says:

    In a word, no. To me, going to university was about breadth and learning how to learn for myself. You are unlikely to achieve either by having you hand held by someone who is very good at exactly one thing. The transition from rarely thinking for yourself (and apparently now: "competition destroys self-esteem") in high school to university is an important one. Just because MIT makes course lectures available doesn't mean it will be easy to learn something useful from them. That's an intangible skill that takes great time and patience to master.

    I think these skills are even more important today when the norm is to have several different careers throughout your lifetime. I do agree that biasing hiring preferences towards ivy league degrees is silly. The top performers in a company (or university) can come from just about anywhere.

    It is a real shame that education is being perceived as the business of providing a piece of paper for cash. An undergraduate university education is not basic training for a particular job. It should be much more than that. Universities should not be viewed as money making enterprises either. If they are, the educational system as we know it is doomed.

  2. Definitively. It would almost certainly work. In fact, that's exactly how graduate students sometimes work.

    As for "being very good at exactly one thing": I think that most college students would benefit greatly at becoming very good at exactly one thing. Yet, that would not be a likely outcome: it takes many skills and much knowledge to be "very good at Information Retrieval" or "very good at Database Theory". Sure, professors may pass as "idiot savants", but I assure you that the good ones know more than one trick.

    Why isn't it happening?

    1) Students are trained from the beginning to sit on lectures. That is what they expect, and they almost define learning as "sitting in a classroom". I do not think that students, given a choice, would go for a year with a professor... They *expect* lectures and they think that this is how they learn.

    2) Professors don't really want to spend too much time with undergraduate students. Better lecture for 3 hours and be done with it, rather than have a pesky student around all the time.

    3) We have "graded students" as an outcome. How would you rank students who spent a year with a professor? (Why you need to rank students at all is better left for another day...)

    4) University managers would find themselves, all of a sudden, without much of a purpose. Even "branding" would be called into question... after all, in this model, it matters *which* professor you hook up with, but not *which school* you go to.

  3. punditius says:

    Depends on the kid and on the objective.

    But the one thing a dedicated tutor doesn't give you is a certification that you are now ready for a salaried job in some bureaucracy, corporate, government, or otherwise.

  4. Shane Culpepper says:

    Hi Daniel,

    Note that I was referring to undergraduate and not graduate level training. I agree 100% that 1:1 graduate level training is an excellent model. It is an apprenticeship where you become an expert in a subject. However, the skills provided by a good undergraduate education (breadth and self-learning) are a vital prerequisite. When I say breadth, I don't mean databases versus machine learning. I mean computer science versus natural science or the humanities.

    Learning chemistry from someone who is both an expert and passionate about their subject is preferable to learning it from a computer scientist or even a biologist. This also gives young adults the chance to be exposed to new career paths they might not otherwise have considered and gain exposure to vastly different perspectives. Perhaps these could/should be an outcome of K-12 education, but they certainly don't seem to be at the moment. If you're one of the (few in my experience) people who really know exactly what you want your career to be from a very early age, and you have independently developed the capacity of self-learning, then skipping directly to graduate/apprenticeship-like arrangement should be a valid option!

    When you reach this point, the university brand really is much less relevant. Your mentor is what matters, so choose wisely.

  5. you have (...) the capacity of self-learning

    I think it is a bit sad that this is considered to be an extraordinary skill, prior to attending college. You'd think that this would be a requirement to even enter college!

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