Kyle, who worked on the film Default: A Student Loan Documentary, set up this “Staff Picks” section at the Borders in San Francisco.

Update: Per the comments, here are all the books (besides mine) that I can distinguish. The ones I’m familiar with and can recommend, I’ve starred.
*The Student Loan Scam, by Alan Collinge;
The Five-Year Party: How Colleges Have Given Up Educating Your Child and What You Can Do About It, by Craig Brandon
*Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa
Gotcha Capitalism, by Bob Sullivan
Debt-Free U, by Zac Bissonette
Higher Education? by Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus
The Lost Soul of Higher Education, by Ellen Schrecker
A Chance to Make History, by Wendy Kopp
Crisis on Campus, by Mark C. Taylor
The Heart of Higher Education, by Parker J. Palmer

I posted on Fast Company a little bit ago debunking the idea of an education bubble. People seemed to like the post. I again posted today on Fast Company about Peter Thiel’s 20 under 20 program. Thiel, one of the most vocal advocates of the bubble, is putting his $ where his mouth is, paying 24 young and by most accounts brilliant entrepreneurs $100K to drop out of college and pursue their dreams. Lots of people read the post.

I am on an email list with some nerdy friends (a few neuroscientists, a few public interest lawyers, a few doctors, a video game artist, etc) and one asked me a bunch of questions about Thiel today so I figured these ideas continue to be of interest.

Here’s what he wrote:

Anya, can you speak to Thiel’s assertion that a college degree is no longer a surefire job guarantee? His spin on the bubble seems to be less about the whether or not education is valuable, but more about the value as it relates to, basically, working after college.
Can you also speak to his assertion that tuition rates are inflated, in part to simply look expensive and therefore valuable?

Here’s what I wrote:

-can you speak to Thiel’s assertion that a college degree is no longer a surefire job guarantee?

I would say that on average, for most people, a college degree is still a necessary, but not by any means sufficient, qualification for a decent job.

The *relative* return on a college degree is substantial, but its growth since the 1970s is due to the downturn in incomes among those who do NOT have a college degree. (AKA: I’m not any taller than I used to be, but my sister shrank, so the difference between our heights is more)

Here’s the graph:

The bitter pill to swallow is that while the return on college has failed to increase in a generation, the cost of college has grown substantially–is now saddling 66% of graduates with average $24K in student loan debt. So college is a much worse deal now for more people than it was when Peter Thiel graduated from college.

And yes, I absolutely agree with him that college tuition is overinflated for a million reasons. (DIY U Chapter 3 if you’re curious, or you can flip through this slide deck )

All of this is intensified in the current recession, which is bringing historically high unemployment rates for college grads. The Times reports about a fifth of recent grads are unemployed and another fifth are working in jobs that don’t require a degree.

Yet since the education demands in our economy continue to rise,(David Autor at MIT is good on this topic, or the Georgetown Center on Education and the W0rkforce) it doesn’t follow that college is going to go by the wayside. What I see happening instead is increasing pressure on the marketplace to produce affordable quality forms of college– is a pioneer–and more intriguingly, the emergence of more specific, practical, modular forms of qualification for careers that combine some aspects of assessment, portfolio, and reputation based networks. Github and Behance are the two examples I always use.

Found this column interesting in the Chronicle, although for different reasons than the author does. Rob Jenkins points out that success rates in online college courses tend to be lower than those in face to face courses (he mentions but does not cite studies of 50% vs. 70-75% success rates). Doesn’t that make sense if, as he points out, online courses are often harder than their f2f equivalent? They require more reading, more writing, more self-motivation, and they build technical skills along with the skills covered in the class.

Then again, don’t understand how online courses can be more difficult in one part of this essay, and lacking in quality in another part (he refers snidely t0 the practice of teaching anatomy online. I guess he’s never seen this.)

I disagree that the answer is to screen students to determine if they have the chops to succeed online. I think what colleges should do is constantly refine and improve online course design. Adaptive learning software makes this easier than ever. They should add hybrid elements where appropriate, which don’t necessarily have to take place in a classroom. Jenkins gives a great example of this: an online speech course where students must go out and give a speech to their church, community group, or other real-world setting. Evidence, not prejudice, should determine the development of online vs. f2f courses. In truth, what we’re really talking about is online vs. hybrid courses, as it’s rare to find a course that doesn’t have an online component, whether the syllabus on a web page or the ability to connect with professors via email.

The other troubling fact in the piece is when Jenkins mentions that online courses have become a “cash cow”: “colleges can produce online courses much more cheaply while charging roughly the same tuition.”

THAT’s outrageous. Students deserve to pay something closer to the true cost of their educations. Price gouging by a publicly supported institution is unattractive and unethical.

PS: Check out this great article by the founder of Techchange (and a professor) on up to the minute tools for teaching hybrid courses.