New Orleans A little more than a year ago my friend Na Hyowoo asked me to come give a lecture on community organizing to some 25 or so students meeting at a community center in Seoul, Korea who were trying to handcraft a free, alternative university education. The students came from all walks of life, were mainly young and interested in breaking through the mold, and were in resistance from the cost of higher education in Korea. It was a rewarding and fascinating experience right down to walking over to the nearby bar to have a beer with Na and about half of the class after it was over. Similarly, I agreed to become an adjunct research professor for the University of Workers in Mexico City over recent years which has taken worker education as its mission for decades in a building not far from the Zocalo.
All of which led me with great interest to read a recent piece about the on-line University of the People, begun in 2009 with volunteer help from professors at NYU and Columbia University and offering associate degrees in business administration and computer science for zero dollars. This is a fledgling enterprise, but still a fascinating concept that deserves attention along with some love and support. There are about 750 students enrolled now out of almost double that number who have enrolled from 137 countries. They have about a million dollar budget with more than a dozen staff and a volunteer army of 300 or so. Microsoft gave them a break recently saying it would provide 1000 University of the People students in Africa internships, technical training, mentoring, and cover exam fees. With the rising interest in on-line education there needs to be free and low cost options to give access to more education to low-and-moderate income families, so even with this bit of information, I find all of this both hopeful and exciting.
Why not take it even farther? If it’s free why not cost out the web-streaming from the on-line classes so that more and more people can audit the classes and dip more than their toes into the water and test the temperature? Bumping it over to YouTube as well would allow folks to watch and learn concurrently at an even lower cost than simultaneously on the web.
And, hey, while we’re at it, today is the deadline for applications for low power radio at the FCC. Many of these licenses once awarded and established are going to be challenged to program a full 24 hours. How about making them available for broadcast within our cities during some of that time?
Once we get started in the right direction, there’s no end of possibilities if we look at education as a universal value rather than an increasingly elite privilege. Sign us all up!