Real Leaders

Who Has The Guts To Change The World?

I saw this coming clearly. Five years ago I attempted to raise venture capital to start a free University. The opportunity was huge. You know a market is ripe for disruption when the price of something becomes outrageous in relationships to its value.

Welcome to the cost of college. It’s not a secret that college tuition rates zoomed past any rational connection to inflation because of low-cost government insured loans. These no-questions asked loans make it easy for colleges to maintain one of the most inefficient business models in history.

A quick look at college budgets reveal how relatively little is actually spent on classrooms, professors, research and teaching compared to building and maintaining huge inefficient campuses and scores of activities unrelated to education. Student demand was fueled by the public relations myth that college education would automatically lead to higher earnings in the good life. Of course higher education is correlated with all the things we want for children – higher earnings, happier marriages, greater health and longer lives. But correlation is not cause, and living a truly good and meaningful life is more complicated than earning a degree.

And spending as much as a quarter of a million dollars to learn what you can learn for virtually free doesn’t make much sense.

In fact, it’s outrageous. It’s outrageous because this craziness has created a generation of Americans with over $1 trillion in student debt. This is not the path to the good life. The fact is our 20 to 30 year-old children are not starting businesses, getting married, buying homes or becoming independent.

The primary economic reason for their ‘stuckness’ is that the soundtrack to their lives is the drumbeat of student debt.

The insane irony is that they are not even earning as much as their parents at the same age. I’m not simply an observer of these facts, I’m a fully engaged parent, coaching my three children between 25 and 30 to help them find their launch code to blast free. It isn’t easy even for the very capable and motivated.

The good news is that we are seeing the beginning of a new era of worldwide education.

For over 40 years we have known that the concept originally called “distance learning” can be more effective than in-person classroom teaching if some simple principles are followed. 1) a great, engaging, expert teacher using multimedia, 2) social learning with peers and 3) application of learning by doing. What educational researchers have discovered over the last 10 years is a way to combine online multimedia teaching, Skype tutoring, social learning where possible “learning-meet-ups.” All this both accelerates and deepens learning. Hallelujah! The educational revolution is marching ahead in full fury.

Universities and colleges are having business model meltdowns behind closed doors because they know a new generation of digitally savvy college students are simply not going to pay $50,000 a year for a college education.

When a major name brand university breaks ranks to create a low tuition option for a full bona fide degree earned largely online combined with a network of onsite experiences, hundreds of colleges will close. The university combatants are already circling each other in a worldwide cage fight to see who goes first. Already 200 universities ranging from Harvard and MIT to colleges in Europe, India and Australia are offering courses by partnering with education start ups liked EDx, Coursera, and Udacity. Imagine this… what if a university like Stanford got together with Google and multimedia creators like Disney to create courses taught by one of the world’s most charismatic experts.

What if the development and maintenance of these courses were paid for by large corporations whose brands were tied to certain subjects?

Like Johnson & Johnson on health related topics or GE for engineering classes. And what if Stanford partnered with Barnes & Noble to turn their declining bookstores into a network of Stanford student unions found in almost every city in America? And what if you could earn a first class four-year Stanford bachelors’ degree for say… $10,000? How many millions of students would choose this? One bonus for a school like  Stanford is that they have impressive athletic teams.

Imagine every basketball game being a home game no matter where they travel? Just think of how many T-shirts they could sell! The good news is that something like this going to happen. Education is one of the largest economic enterprises in the world. Using today’s technology to improve education and create a whole new business model is simply too tempting to ignore.

The question is who will have the leadership courage to bless the entire world with truly universal, first class education. I’m not using the words “leadership courage” lightly. There are many who believe a well-rounded education is the ultimate path to world peace.

You see, two of the outcomes from a university education are open-minded tolerance of people who are different than you and opportunity.

Open-minded people who have opportunity don’t want to fight; they want to build. The future we must build is one of sustainable abundance. For that, we need the full talent of our global brainpower. Everybody has a difference to make. My personal attempt to get something like this kicked off via a project called Citizen One was too far ahead of its time. But now there are others who are far more capable that me, who will literally change the world. I am rooting for them… how about you?

If you could change the world, what would you do?


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