The article “An Open Mind” from the New York Times came out a little while back but it related enough to some of the higher education work I’ve been blogging about as of late so I thought it worth a brief blog this week.

A few lines in particular grabbed my attention. First, and most notably for me, the writer quoted Kevin Carey, the policy director of Education Sector, with a line that echoed strongly something I’ve been saying on the road.

Carey, who audited one of Yale Professor Shelly Kagan’s courses online, wrote about it in Inside Higher Ed and remarked: “I would like one more thing from Yale. A small thing, but an important one. I would like a grade.”

In essence, Carey wanted some acknowledgment or some credit that he had completed the course along with some feedback on how he had done and what he had learned. And why not?

Now I understand why Yale (full disclosure: my alma mater and a place to which I volunteer a fair amount of my time) might not do this itself because of its risk to its brand— the courses alone do not begin to come close to the Yale experience and all the rest. But to make these open courses sustainable and better, it strikes me that if Yale started up an autonomous school called “Open Education: Powered by Yale” (or something like that) it could wrap a new business model around these free resources and extend many of the other services an education provides to thousands more people than can attend its traditional and highly (some, including its president, would say overly) selective campus for not much cost—and for far less than the amount it seeks to raise to build two new residential colleges to enroll 200 more students at the campus.

Other highlights in the piece for me were the good description of how Craigslist had disrupted newspapers and iTunes disrupted the music industry by unbundling songs from albums and then the parallel to the unbundling of the “four elements of educating: design of a course, delivery of that course, delivery of credit and delivery of a degree.”

The description of Peer 2 Peer University continues to excite me as well. I love the part from its cofounder, Neeru Paharia, when she says, “Having a degree is a signal. It’s a signal to employers that you’ve passed a certain bar.” The article continues: “Ms. Paharia doesn’t think degrees are necessary.” I couldn’t agree more. People focusing on that metric to determine if the U.S. is properly educating its citizens are focusing on the wrong thing ultimately. P2PU “is working to come up with alternative signals that indicate to potential employers that an individual is a good thinker and has the skills he or she claims to have—maybe a written report or an online portfolio.” Good stuff.

Lastly, the final paragraph that describes Shai Reshef’s University of the People nails disruption on the head when he says: “A lot of people are telling us, ‘It’s you or nothing.’ … We’re the alternative to nothing.”

Classic. Maybe Yale could learn something.


  • Michael B. Horn
    Michael B. Horn

    Michael B. Horn is Co-Founder, Distinguished Fellow, and Chairman at the Christensen Institute.