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By Tim Hunt

Revolutionizing higher education

Uploaded: Jun 28, 2012

The Democrat-dominated Legislature is doing everything possible to clear the way for the public to approve the governor's tax increase initiative in November, including a questionable deal on tuition for higher education.
Trailer bills to the main budget bill that passed this week put the tax increase in the No. 2 position on the ballot even though eight other ballot measures had previously qualified. Assuming leaders of both houses garner enough votes to again postpone the vote on the $11.2 billion water bond to 2014, and then Brown's tax plan will be first on the ballot.
Trailer bills also contained language that promised the University of California and State University systems $125 million each if the tax increase passes and the systems freeze tuition. That puts the governing bodies and executive leadership of both systems on the spot. Taking the deal and forgoing funds from tuition increases requires a major bet that voters pass the ¼-cent sales tax increase along with increase tax increases on high-earners.
Whether the governor and the Legislature have built enough urgency and consequences into the measure to convince voters will not be determined until November. Polling earlier this month showed 52 percent favoring it, a narrow margin with four-plus months to go until election day.
With Congress and the president apparently having cut a deal to keep the very low rates on college student loans, none of the policy makers are talking about how to reign in the soaring tuition costs at both public and private universities that has run way ahead of inflation for the last 20 years.
Leave it to our friends in the Silicon Valley who specialize in revolutionary disruption such as what that the Internet is doing to traditional media.
The Wall Street Journal on June 16 contained a long interview with Sebastian Thrun, the Google exec who heads the Google X team that invented the self-driving auto.
He came to Stanford in 2005 to lead its team in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Grand Challenge to create a vehicle that could autonomous navigate 132 miles through a desert. Thrun and a colleague continue to teach a class on artificial intelligence that is only open to 200 students at the private and pricey university.
Thrun decided to offer it online and, in a few days, had 14,000 people enrolled. By the time the course launched online, there were 160,000 people enrolled of which 23,000 finished. Notably, only 30 of the 200 Stanford students showed up in person—the rest took it online just like the other 23,000 folks, the paper reported.
The instructors dumped taped lectures for the online version and instead asked students to solve problems and then discussed those solutions in the next class. The top 410 students were from the online group.
The cost per student was $1 per class at a university that tops $50,000 per year. Writer Andy Kessler reported that's more than 1,000 less than the per pupil cost for k-12 or higher education.
Think of what leverage like that could do for educating people here and abroad. It should give some university presidents and governing boards a lot of think about as they continue to raise fees.
It also opens some great opportunities for entrepreneurs. Thrun already has set up a company to pursue how to deliver the best online education.