In order to show the power of online higher education in people's lives, you need to see an example from someones life . Below is the story of my education. It is not the worst story in the world, but it is far from the ideal that it pitched by politicians.
When I was very young (pre-school) they were concerned that I was behind other students. In truth, I was bored. When I was in third grade they decided that I was so advanced in reading that I should not be reading books for little kids, they decided that I should be reading "Anne of Green Gables". Yeah, I could read that, but why didn't they pick "Lord of the Rings"? A year later they gave me a test that they said proved I was a genius. (I then assumed that if you could read "Anne of Green Gables" and take a test, you were a genius) As a result of that I could stop going to regular school and go to the GATE program school. "Will I be allowed to skip grades?" I asked. "No." they said. "Will I be allowed to do advanced things?" I pressed. "No." they said. "Is there anything new at all?" I asked. They explained, "No, its your regular school work, but we will give you more of it." "No, thanks" I said.
From that point on, they then decided that I was dumb as a box of rocks. To combat this, my mother put me into summer school before my first year in middle school. (free babysitting had nothing to do with it) Here, I was allowed to take any class I wanted. So, I took pre-algebra, computers, and science. They said that any credits I earned in summer school, would count the following year. To my surprise, when I received my new schedule for middle school, it was....plain. I was denied algebra or geometry and given remedial math. I was given the same science course (with the same teacher from summer school )-again. (Although I should mention I was soon transferred to the same science class with a different teacher.) This made no sense as I got an A or B in every class. My mother and I went down to admissions to clear this up. I was relieved to find out that they said I had never attended summer school so there was no mistake. I put my head down and went to class. In class I discovered lots of other students with the same problem. My math teacher in fact tried to make us feel better by telling us that this was for our own good to reinforce what we had already learned. We were screwed, but at least we were together. So then we were all screwed. Great!
When I got to High School I was finally allowed to take "pre" -algebra. I aced the course to the point that I was tutoring other students in the class and did not need to take the final. They then put me in a competition for "pre"-algebra. I was number 1 in the school and number 3 in the state in my course level. From this point on they again decided that I was a genius. (Apparently a genius is one who aces a course after taking it twice, can take a test, and can read "Anne of Green Gables") I was allowed to take Honors classes. I only took honors Physics. They had wasted too much time for me to take AP math or English courses. By my sophomore year, I had enough of what they said. I decided that High School was a waste of time and went to "test out". They then informed me that the "tests" were only given once per year and I missed it. I put my head down and went back to class.
I graduated High School and never bothered taking the SATs or ACTs After all, what would they say then? Plus my parents were poor and I didn't have any money to go to collage anyway. Its not like those tests are free. As a janitor, I worked my way through junior college and eventually received a BA in Theology. I picked theology because I wanted to impact the way people think. A person's theology is a good indicator of that. but that is a different post. After all, they don't pay attention to janitors or theology degrees anyway right?
The "they" in my story is the Education system. You see I had wonderful teachers that were very good at explaining ideas, inspiring students and helping them excel. The system on the other hand is not designed to allow everyone to advance, but only a few lucky ones. Somewhere along the line I believe most students give up at the thought of trying to excel and make peace with what they think is possible for them. College placement then, boils down to the motivation of your parents or their income level or both. You see, Economic Discrimination is perfectly legal and the hallmark of the current education system. There will never be enough scholarships for all the students that want to go. As such, for most the idea of going to Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Berkeley is akin to winning the lottery. Its for rich people who are geniuses. (whatever genius is) Or maybe just for rich people.
The system is about to change: Enter www.edx.org. See part 2.