03 March 2014

Just How Hard Is It to Get Your Living Room Accredited?

Although billed as a solution to the adjunct crisis, "Home College: An Idea Whose Time has Come" solves a number of other problems as well: the rising cost of college, concerns about quality, the desire to make the resources of the SLAC more broadly available.

Home-schooling is not just for the narrow-minded religious right!  It crops up in liberal academic communities where parents who know what effective learning looks like get concerned that their kids aren't experiencing it in the local school system.  There's a tiny private school for girls where I live.  It was started by a group of parents concerned about their daughters' unhappiness at middle school.  They banded together to share expertise and collaboratively home-school their kids, and their cooperative effort gradually solidified into an institution that now charges tuition and hires teachers.  I've long wondered if such an arrangement would work for post-secondary education, particularly in the community where I live, where there are a lot of underemployed Ph.D's in a wide range of fields.

Would the students miss out on a more standard away-from-home college experience?  Of course.  But most of us know plenty of smart people who have gone through life without it: they commuted from home for college, or they transferred from a community college to a four-year institution, or they came to college later in life.  Would "home college" be a suffocating cocoon of parental hypervigilance? Certainly it could be--but it could also make possible a wider range of community involvement, travel, and work experience.  Wouldn't it simply replicate the structures of privilege that already give most faculty brats a step up in the world?  No more than any four-year college would--and I would hope that the would-be faculty cobbling together such an arrangement would look for ways to extend the benefits of the micro-classroom beyond their own networks.

Obviously, it's a possibility that rises or falls over the issue of transfer credits and accreditation.  No matter how much you learn through intensive study at your kitchen table and the local library, no one cares if you can't package that knowledge as a credential.  But why not bounce this idea around? Everyone agrees that the future of higher ed is going to be unrecognizably different from its past. Most of the projected solutions go big: technology- and institution-driven ways to scale up learning and hold down labor costs.  Perhaps we should also be thinking small.

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