The Tortoise Stirs

I have said more than once that the higher education distance system is a mix of fast private enterprise rabbits, where I work, and slow public tortoises, where I would like to work one day. I love my job but I miss the job security, among other things. Especially here in Illinois, for example, the public retirement system, in which I am already invested, is much stronger, recalling the good old pre-Reagan days when pension funds meant something. The Illinois constitution has a section that prevents the state from touching already existing pension plans. I doubt that any private school is going to protect my retirement so well.

I love my matching-funds IRA plan becuase it forces me to save, but it can’t match a guaranteed benefits plan that’s constitutionally protected (see section 5). So it’s great to see the ACTA, nemesis of most things humane and reasonable, supporting the California commission’s idea that distance education programs, becuase they don’t need buildings and parking lots and so on, could be a way to increase access and decrease costs. What tends to hold back progress, though, is a rigid free market notion that these programs have to be either budget neutral (possible but not likely) or profitable (not in a million years).

No one asks the interstate highway system to make a profit, but for some reason we expect the postal infrastructure, just as much a public service, to make a profit. In fact, the argument over the profitability of public services, including education, has only served to facilitate privatization. The profit motive, as the modern mercenary-based military shows, is no guarantee of efficiency or effectiveness. The public tortoise won’t have a chance if we force college level distance education into the same private box. We just have to figure out how to stop them from using this to make us work more…

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and Smarthinking.com. I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol] writinginthewild.com

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