"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Friday, October 21, 2011

Are Colleges Really Like Cable Companies?

Education is big business, big money. In fact, it is easy to see which business model colleges and universities use when developing their degree programs. I am writing today about colleges in the way that most people think of them and the way that most of them are run, not in the way they were originally conceived or intended. A desire to return to the original intent (whether university education or government) is admirable, but we must deal with what actually exists first. So bear with me.

Colleges Vs. Cable Company Business Model



Many kids go to college not sure exactly what they want to do “when they grow up”, but they know, or have been told that, if they want a good job, they need a college degree. Lack of a golden ticket to a job (a diploma), leaves students with dubious ability to obtain gainful employment.

Cable watchers may not know exactly which programs they want to see, but they know they want to watch television. To do that they generally must purchase a tv signal delivery system. Lack of such a system leaves only one other option for television viewing, gathering the few remaining broadcast channels for free via antenna, but enjoyment of those limited networks is dubious.

Once in college, kids soon (hopefully) pick a major that appeals to their strengths, though there is no guarantee that having a degree in that major will get them a job. This is not the college’s fault.

Once consumers select a cable or satellite company, there is no guarantee that the networks will provide the type of shows they want to watch. This is not the tv service providers fault.

In order to get the degree/credential they want, colleges make students take courses in other disciplines not related to their area of interest (and probably not of interest to their future employers.) You cannot graduate without taking these required courses, nor are they discounted if they are not in your specific area of study. This diversity is considered to be a perk of a liberal arts education.

In order to get the shows they want, consumers are forced to buy several tiers of packages that contain the networks they want. They cannot get specific stations without purchasing the entire tier. This enables the providers to boast of offering several hundred channels of programming while ignoring the fact that most of their subscribers don’t want 96% of those channels. This access to so many other shows is considered a benefit to cable programming.

Colleges must compete for your dollar. Therefore they load all sorts of extra benefits into their collegiate program like: massive student exercise centers with state of the art equipment that rivals many pro teams training rooms , 24 hour food service, free wi-fi, free printing services, sometimes even free laptops. Even if you never use these services, you will pay for them.

TV service providers load many extras onto their subscriptions to inflate the value of their service like: multiple simultaneous recording, music stations (in an age of iPods), free on demand shows (that you’ve never heard of –for a reason), games (that are slower and way more cumbersome than any of the games you have on handheld devices,) etc. Even if you never use these features, you will pay for them.

There is no refund if a teaching assistant taught the class instead of a full professor

There is no refund if their cable signal was cut off because of service outage in your area.

Two significant ways in which these businesses are different:

1) You can get government loans to pay for college. This is one major reason that costs have increased an average of 6% a year for the last 20 years. Scholarships are sometimes available if the college has a large enough endowment fund. (most do)

You cannot get government loans for cable (yet) although you could get a government subsidy for a digital tv converter box two years ago. NJ had a program to offer subsidies for cable to low income people but, though the money was collected from the cable providers, no means of dispersing the funds was ever developed. Eventually Gov. Christie used the money to plug a hole in the state’s budget. Cable companies do not have endowment funds.

2) If you declare bankruptcy you will probably not be responsible for what you owed to the cable company.

You will still be responsible for your student loan debt as this cannot be discharged if you file personal bankruptcy.

The tv service providers are facing new rivals as on-line providers allow consumers to pay only for those shows they actually watch. This a la carte service (e.g. Hulu, Sling, Youtube), especially attractive to the under 30 crowd, is causing a lot of worry for cable/satellite companies. If college is to be, as school reformers like to say, the place where you are trained for a job, the market is ripe for someone to provide the a la carte accreditation people can currently only get from a very expensive, overly broad, university package.

Or maybe people could just take up reading books.


  1. This article needs a share button!

  2. @Anonymous, It has them. They're at the top just under the title.


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