The Free University of San Francisco, run out of a store basement in the Mission District, is a philosophical conundrum. The university, launched with a series of lectures on Feb. 5, has no grades, no official curriculum, no paid (much less tenured) teachers, no accreditation and no campus. Crucially, it also has no tuition. But the people who would be most likely to benefit from a free education lower-income people and people of color - also are the least likely to show up. Does anyone care?This country doesn't have a future unless it does a better job of creating educational access for its citizens. The cost of not having a college degree, for instance, has never been higher for a young person's long-term prospects both financial and social. At the same time, the cost of getting a college degree has become prohibitive for the working class and increasingly, the middle class.Study abroad in Sweden.
California's community colleges - still the best deal in this state - are oversubscribed and overrun. So putting aside all of its revolutionary rhetoric, a place like the Free University of San Francisco could have a real, tangible, practical impact on its students. If it wants that.I fear that it doesn't want that, however. Here's the university's current course schedule:Evidence, Literary Rebels,Art Seminar,Minorities and the Critical Decade,History and Political Poetry,The Essential Plato and Aristotle and Intro to Western Music.The people who want to take classes like these can afford to pay for them.You're going to attract people who have degrees already, is my guess, with that kind of curriculum,Anthony Lising Antonio, an associate professor of education at Stanford University, told me.People who have enough money and stability to pursue this. It's learning for learning's sake, which is good, but is not what's driving low-income folks to go to college.Students can also get a lot of exposure while studying in such universities and different course Industrial Engineering,International Agricultural Sciences and Mathematics.
So here we have the conundrum, and it is a conundrum taking place all over the higher education community. There's nothing wrong with the Free University's approach. In today's shifting, chaotic world, a liberal arts education might be a person's best bet for developing the skills needed to flow and bend with radical job changes and uncertain employment opportunities.
But for a variety of reasons, those who are most in need of higher education are unlikely to seek out liberal arts courses. If they're the first in their families to go to college, they're under pressure to make the huge investment pay off, and liberal,Master Course, arts courses have no immediate practical applications.
There's a social component, too lower-income people don't know many liberal arts graduates, don't get assistance in choosing majors and careers, and feel (rightly) intimidated by environments where there's no one from a similar background.That's part of the reason that online, for-profit colleges have been so successful at recruiting these students.They focus on technical education, practical education, Antonio said.And they have a very aggressive financial aid outreach. That's part of their model.Of course, those for-profit colleges haven't been so good at graduating their students or getting them into income-earning professions. That's why they're under investigation.And that's where we come back to the Free University. Courses in, say, database management or electrical engineering might be tedious, but they might have a bigger positive impact on San Francisco than the current curriculum.
With the state's public universities increasingly unable to provide an affordable education to Californians, a practical curriculum might even be a more revolutionary approach. In today's economy, it might even attract a large number of college graduates.Imagine the possibilities if that were to happen how exciting would it be if stratified San Francisco finally had a place with a diverse student body, made up of people from different economic classes? A place for different people to share their ideas and strategies? What better education could there be?I know, I know. But that's the power of education - it teaches you how to dream.