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Online classes are not worth cost of full tuition (thestar.com)
296 points by varbhat 9 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 313 comments

A couple of years ago, I was looking into MOOCs for tech education, Udacity's nano degree in particular. I remember stumbling across a video on Youtube where some Udacity folks were discussing the merits of online education with college professors and admins.

What stood out to me was how vehemently the college folks were against online education. They were visibly livid - there was no way substituting a live class room environment with online education could be as effective, they shouted. They were obviously threatened - they did not want the world they were so comfortable with to change.

Now they are singing a different tune once they don't have a choice - not only are colleges embracing online classes, they are trying to justify full cost for it too.

College students heading into the fall semester should take a gap year. I know I would.

Except "embracing" is definitely not the right word. Very few professors I know are happy about this whole situation. Universities are begrudgingly accepting the fact that they can't have in-person classes, so they have to turn to online alternatives. Tuition can't be changed because the few costs that are being saved (facilities still need maintenance) are offset by the massive losses in revenue from student housing and the added costs in prepping online classes. Very few professors are thinking that they're delivering the same quality of education online, even though they're having to work even more to create and deliver an online alternative from scratch, plus having to teach themselves video production skills.

> Very few professors I know are happy about this whole situation.

Exactly this. It is not the same experience being in the same class and teaching. All the energy that could have gone into that is now spent twiddling with gadgets. There is no coordinated 'course production system' in many environments. So teachers have to improvise and they are ending up on different ecosystems. Many of them are now learning to twiddle cameras instead of helping out students. I think many universities have to take a 'gap year' to bring in companies to help them reorg across departments.

This is as much about their lack of historic engagement with new platforms than a fundamental difficulty in adapting the teaching process or content. Universities have been very invested in a high cost model. It's time to change. This like many things we are now discovering are ripe for reform and have lacked only the right catalyst to set a painful but necessary progress in motion.

It is about content - it does make sence for each university to produce essentially the same content 100 times

> Tuition can't be changed because (whatever)

Nope. What you're saying is "I cant restructure my business becasue I have high costs".

Your competitor disrupting your business could not care less.

Online courses have been around for years and they all still suck.

If anything this is a boon to colleges in the long run - it has proven, without a doubt, how much worse online learning truly is. It has been around for a decade now - and it still sucks.

It is true that for some many it is challenging to have a high quality online course.

I believe some courses could be taken online. For example, here is an amazing course on Algorithms and Data Structures by Robert Sedgewick https://www.coursera.org/learn/algorithms-part1? at Coursera. It works really well for the online format. So, not all online classes suck.

My major was Physics and I was teaching all five years of the Graduate school. I do not have a slightest clue how is it possible to teach Physics remotely at the acceptable quality.

Of course the inherent meaning in the statement is that a large portion of these things do suck, for most people.

I find it telling that most people who start an online course never finish them - why? The experience isn't worth it.

Just like a video call hasn't replaced person-person interaction, nor can an online course truly replace an in-person class - so many more things happen in the classroom or at a university than at home. There is intelligence in human interaction. This is what silicon valley misses.

The majority of online courses suck.

But a minority are far better than in-person.

Toss digital scaling in, and it's not a question of if, but when and how. There are real problems people haven't solved, but most of those have to do with how students discover and find good courses, accreditation, etc.

> I find it telling that most people who start an online course never finish them

I wouldn't go this far. Enrolling to an online course is essentially an effortless endeavour, unlike on-campus studying. You don't pay anything (or pay less), you don't have to move physically, you (sometimes) can go at your own pace, you can take just this one course instead of the whole curriculum, etc.

I would be curious to see how many people who audit university courses for no cost/credit finish them.

What? While in college, I learned way more of the required content over Youtube videos then I ever did in a lecture.

For me it's less about content than missing out on real conversation about difficult topics.

I know this isn't everyone's experience but I started undergrad at a small state school in Denver, and had great diverse interactions in philosophy and literature courses because of how many different walks of life people came from.

It's hard to have honest and deep conversations on video. I don't think many would contest that.

Maybe it's not just video though. I feel we're lacking the social tools to deal with our situation, something educators could perhaps provide.

It's also less likely to encounter anything online outside of your comfort zone when all the stinking algorithms are trying to find the coziest, most addictive material available to keep you around.

Do tell, which subject?


> Online courses have been around for years and they all still suck.

I think this is ultimately a subjective thing, I don't really think something like CompSci (a subject most here studied) needs to be on a campus based lecture basis, but I can see why someone who needs more 'hand-holding' and wants the campus life experience would say this.

I was in an actual Science major, Biology, where your physical presence is needed for lab work as so much of it is just repeating your work (and ideally know why it failed) as experiments fail so often--the experiments are actually incredibly archaic and way far behind the Industry standards, where so much of it is actually outsourced for a reason. So watching youtube videos on distillations and titrations is just about as useful as you will never actually do that in a lab, as its a waste of man-power/labour costs. Reagents and precursor molecules are never going to be made in house by anyone, you buy them like you do bio-markers, so why bother wasting an undergrad student's time making them do it instead of teaching them how to use more modern apparatuses that are actually used in the Industry? I thin it's because that's what grad school is ultimately for and for that you have to 'pay to play' as it were.

The lectures and exams for my major, however, should have been entirely Online in my opinion; we had mainly tenured Post-docs doing research teaching our classes which was always a f'ing nightmare as you could tell they were only doing it out of obligation. The one saving race being that they did give hints as to what was on the exam when you attended which could save you hours/days of overstudying if all you did was just look at the book/slides, so I ended up creating a study group with 5 other students where we alternated going to lecture and recording it and then uploading online so we could follow along with the slides and book at home as most of us had to work. This should be the standard! Because the truth is there is simply no way to cover 7 chapters for a midterm for 3-5 lectures plus quizzes on various subjects, plus lab practicals for each one every semester and have any chance of passing those courses, and then on top of that they think you're going to retain even 20% of that information?!

It's the optimized pump-dump model of rote-learning that they're really 'teaching' which is why so many recent-grads are almost entirely useless if/when they get to the Industry for the first year or so. They're being mis-led about the expectations and working conditions of the roles they're going to fill, which is also probably why so few actually end up in the Industry they studied for.

Some of my best professors openly discussed in private how the models is incredibly broken, some even going so far as to say they wish they could get rid of the grading system entirely as its not a very good gauge as they admitted all they are really gauging is how good you are at repeating what was said to you back them without having much room for interpretation or nuance in the discussion, there is simply no time for it given all the constraints. Which incidentally is what the Scientific Model is actually operating on: self-regulating system that questions and even tries to defy conventional wisdom at every step to arrive to a viable conclusion and the cycle repeats itself never really having a 'definitive' of answer, simply a better one than the previous one. And the reality is, no one really replicates any of the peer reviewed journals and its well-documented that they do not, even outside of Academia.

I'll agree that Online learning has some disadvantages but the trade-offs are worth it, and the alternative is remaining with this perversely bloated form of indentured servitude for the benefit of very few that is gamed by those who have the means and resources to do so, be it in Enrollment or even within it.

I learned to code, albeit not very well, almost entirely from Online sources be it Coursera/Udemy for the basics, and then Stackoverflow for my questions on why things didn't work but it was enough to be able to create a fintech startup, the first of it's kind in fact, where as CTO I ultimately ended up outsourcing the work needed to better developers and I focuses on product development, UX and sales. I learned about Bitcoin/Blockchain from my deep interest in the subject of economics and Anarchist philosphy that spanned decades, which was mainly taught from Online sources and epub books. I ended up at IBM that way and saw very quickly how grad students from illustrious universities in 'blockchain like disciplines' could barely grasp something that I understood very well from my first year involved in the Bitcoin Community where we had amazing developers and cryptologists openly having conversations with anyone interested on the subject about how this tech worked and what its goals were in a complicated, but entirely comprehensible level if you were motivated enough to want to do some legwork to understand.

I think you're making a blanket statement which is more a reflection of you as an individual, as it really just depends on what subject you're studying.

For example: I went back to school for Supply Chain and Logistics and Business/Warehouse Data Analytics (most of these are Master level courses) in order to update my CV but I have already worked for several Automotive Multi-nationals in the past in this sector, so I know what actually works and what is just fluff to pad the course out to the 10-15 week requirements (depending on quarter vs semester, as I've done both) and there is 100% no reason why any of it should be done in person, at all.

I really mean no benefit of it what so ever, in fact I'd go so far as to say that if it had like designated Online office hours/chat/video conference you could sign up for and have it posted in the internal forum/discussion board for future review it would be a superior model to that of University at a fraction of the cost. I'd even pay extra for those features just so I don't have to make the effort to be somewhere during the day and choose to finish a course at my own pace in my extra time.

In general this same idea is repeated ad nauseum - "why are they not teaching things people will use in the real world." Do tell, does every software engineer do the same thing? Does every carpenter? Does every engineer? Your post encapsulates the "Silicon Valley Dream" perfectly - the dream - because you have to be asleep to believe it.

It is an infectious production-ism. A thing is only valuable if it makes money. An idea only valuable if it makes money, or produces, here, and now. And then you complain of professors who don't care - but this is the result of what you want. The professors are focusing on productivity and what makes money. This isn't endemic to the system. It comes from without.

The survivor-ship bias is just too hard to ignore. "Just get involved. Read forums, go to stack overflow, this is the true way to learn. I'm taking a business course and it's a joke to me therefore it is worthless. Just build it in your garage." Most people are not you. Most people are not people on HN. They want to have lives - not spend every waking moment learning about bitcoin. Many of them will never have any subject they love so deeply. Some will love economically worthless topics. Many just want to get a job to pay for the other parts of their lives.

> I think you're making a blanket statement which is more a reflection of you as an individual, as it really just depends on what subject you're studying.

It doesn't depend at all on subject. There is a motivated person out there that can learn anything online - they will buy the materials, and do it themselves. Most are not this person. My statement is based on my experience as well as the fact the market has not shifted despite years of online options.

The market has already determined - the online options work best for part time learners and CV chasers (like the supply chain course. Business school in general is built for industry - industry doesn't care what you learn in it, they just want it. That is what you should be complaining about. The universities that offer it are just filling a need.)

> watching youtube videos on distillations and titrations is just about as useful as you will never actually do that in a lab, as its a waste of man-power/labour costs

Thats a perspective of university as a job training program. I would argue that the point of university is more of holistic understanding than inflexible training for skills in need right now. Education in general includes many skills that will not be in industry demand for $$$

I did Comp Sci, didn't live on campus, and certainly didn't need a lot of hand holding (I won the dean's medal), but I definitely think the on campus experience was worth it.

I find in person lectures more engaging and pleasant generally speaking. I definitely don't think the information would have stuck with me as well or as long term with online lectures, and I wouldn't have gotten some connections within academia over the internet.

Not to mention I made friends which I wouldn't have had the course been online.

Well, yes. They can't restructure a business that has high maintenance costs on illiquid assets such as land and buildings in such a small, temporary timeframe.

Well no. Controlled bankruptcy is restructuring.

Anyway, how my last sentence went? ;) who couldnt care less?

The issue is accreditation limits the number of disruptors that can come into the market and makes the bar very high for that. College is 100% right before disruption, but difficult to do.

Very few professions need you to be certified / have an degree like law/accounting/medical do.

Accreditation will come from industry which is what really matters. There are plenty of coding bootcamps already who companies pay on par or higher than a university IT degree.

I find it funny+, that well into XXI century, somebody on hackersnews is trying to persuade me that digital native disruptor has very high bar to disrupt brick&mortar old fashion behemoth, WHEN goliath is forced into digital space by external force (covid).

+) or significant, why US edu is so bad in terms of price to earnings ratio comparing to what you can get elsewhere. time to say that king is naked.

> Very few professors I know are happy about this whole situation.

Right. As a professor, I'm not embracing this at all. We all hate the situation and don't really know what the best thing to do is.

Adapt or die, like the rest of us.


So I take it that you're volunteering to come run all my Audio/Visual stuff for free?

I spent 120+ hours dealing with all the Audio-Visual idiocy to deliver a 20 minute talk that took me probably 20 hours to prepare.

Yeah, adapt. I have some four letter words for you.

I thought you had TA's for that sort of stuff. People are addressing millions of subscribers on social media sites and you can't figure out how to stream your class? Join the real world, where the rest of us ARE FORCED to adapt or lose relevancy or worse, our jobs.

The A/V stuff should be figured out by your University IT/Telecom staff.

Not every school has TAs (mine didn't)

A reasonable approach would be division of work.

Hire a guy who can handle the camera and edit the videos. Have professors plan the lecture, do the talking, and verify that the end product is okay. The guy with the camera can edit videos on multiple subjects, because he doesn't really have to understand the topics.

Of course, if the professors have to learn (each of them separately) how to handle the camera and edit the videos, that is a horrible waste of time. But that's just... lack of strategic thinking on the university's part. It doesn't necessarily have to be that way.

The skillset of a proffesor is not video editing and university is not a video studio. It is idiotic for a thousand universities around the world to make a thousand videos that explain how compilers works (or whatever).

Furthermore, 21st century learning should be interactive, so actually all those lecturers should become videogame developers

> The skillset of a proffesor is not video editing and university is not a video studio.

yes but then again, plain refusing to learn even the basic is ridiculous. you don't have to start a youtube channel and do all the editing yourself, you just have to learn to drive a webcam and a microphone in a decent manner. it's not rocket science.

It's not fun when they're on the learning side, isn't it?

They wouldn't even have to do that. Just have one guy who does this, and give him a room he can prepare for shooting -- to set up the camera and the microphone, the light, a blackboard, a flipchart, whatever.

The professor would just have to prepare the lesson, and to talk to the empty room. Actually, you could even arrange a few people for the audience; in the back side of the room, with masks. There would be almost no difference compared to the usual lesson.

And then -- optionally -- the professor could also give some pictures to the camera guy (the pictures could be made on paper, let the camera guy scan them), and say "when I say this and this at 0:25:00, please show this picture instead of my face". And let the guy do this, too. And then let him upload it to YouTube or Vimeo or wherever.

This is really not about having the professors learn something new. It's just about the professors, or administration, or whoever can make the decision, willing to try something new. And find a budget to hire one guy outside of academia. (If you are lucky, you could find one among your students, but it would be easier to not rely on that.) Heck, I would even volunteer to do that, but I don't have solid camera skills.

I don't really see any plausible excuse here. This could be accomplished even with professors who have literally zero computer skills and are unable to learn any. (Frankly, I wouldn't even want to waste their time learning how to use a camera. I'd prefer them to focus on providing a great lecture, rather than mediocre video editing.) There are even universities that did this long before Covid, and often the professor wasn't the one who handled the camera.

I suppose this is just a perspective of someone who does not work in academia. I work for a private company that has branches in multiple cities. We regularly had video meetings even before Covid. I didn't have to learn any camera skills; I just entered the e-meeting room, clicked a button, the camera and the projector turned on, the people in the other city did the same thing, and then we started talking. Everything else happened automatically. Is there a good reason why the same thing couldn't happen in education?

So you've got a bsc, an msc, a phd and you can't fiddle with audio/video stuff? pardon me, but that's laughable (to put it politely).

It seems like an educational instituion relying on income from real estate properties points to the greater issue here: General lack of funding for education.

Making money off housing will disproportionately affect students of differing income backgrounds, so this is not the same as moving that cost to tuition fees.

Schools shouldn't have to run themselves like a traditional business, yet that is exactly the model most are forced to follow in order to survive.

Edit: "shouldn't" not "should"

> Making money off housing will disproportionately affect students of differing income backgrounds

Having trouble parsing this. What do you mean?

IMO the problem is that many colleges are not focused on education to begin with. They compete with each other by building the most luxurious facilities, sports programs, and so forth. Then they pay execs crazy salaries while leaving the actual instructors in the dust:

"Auditors said salaries paid to staff in the UC president’s office are much higher than the pay of comparable positions in other state government jobs. Administrative salaries amounted to a combined $2.5 million more than the maximum annual salaries for comparable state employee positions, auditors found.

For instance, the UC system’s chief investment officer has a base salary of $615,000, while the top investment officer with the state’s teachers’ retirement system is paid $568,000, the audit found."


The UC system has a budget of ~$35 billion, an endowment of ~$21 billion, ~225k staff, and ~300k students.

I'll also remind that the UC system isn't just "education", so it's difficult to draw direct comparisons from top-line numbers in terms of staff and finances with most other universities.

They run Los Alamos (with Texas A&M + Battelle), Lawrence Berkeley, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories, which cumulatively have a budget in the billions.

They also run 5 major medical centers, which represents ~$13bn of their revenue and a large portion of their staff as well.


It's a massive enterprise, and if you were drawing the private-sector comparison I've seen elsewhere, it would be in the Fortune 100 in terms of revenue.

I'm not sure what the "right" number is for that job, but it does seem reasonable to think the top couple roles in that enterprise ought to command some sort of high 6-figure salary if you want to get executives of an appropriate caliber to do that job.


Some of the lines in that article, like:

> University of California’s executive vice president and chief financial officer is paid $412,000, while an executive doing a comparable job with the California State University system makes $341,000.

Seem ridiculous, given that CSU has a budget 1/6th the size to manage. If anything, one would think the difference in salaries ought to be far larger given the vastly different scope and complexity of the two entities.


I'm sure there's plenty of waste and plenty of reform that could be needed, but I'm not exactly convinced on the basis of these claims.

> Seem ridiculous, given that CSU has a budget 1/6th the size to manage. If anything, one would think the difference in salaries ought to be far larger given the vastly different scope and complexity of the two entities.

Why? I can't imagine the UC executive needs to, as an individual, do anywhere near six times the work just because they're managing a budget that's six times larger. I want both executives to do their jobs as well as they can, and that means they should be working about as hard as each other.

I'm just pointing out the incongruence between a massive enterprise... Fortune 100 in terms of revenue and we don't invest enough in education.

Made the following assumptions about rough classes income brackets:

- Those at the low end, eligible for financial aid. May be eligible for complete housing/tuition financial aid, but likely to leave school with some amount of debt

- Those in the middle, above meaningful thresholds for financial aid. Perhaps family pays for some tuition/housing, but student is saddled with some amount of debt (full cost of tuition/housing or some fraction depending on family contribution)

- Students in the highest tier have education and housing covered by family or another source. No student loans after graduation.

My issue here is that graduate in the first two categories have less freedom to pursue their career goals compared to a student unburdened by debt. Paying off student loans becomes a driving factor for decisions made after graduation.

Agree that sports and similar are likely unnecessary money sinks, but I don't know whether in some cases these actually bring in more money than they cost (via donations, reputation, or otherwise), but I doubt it.

Sports it heavily depends. Mega successful sports schools (Alabama for example) make money. Also some tiny schools make money by getting paid high 6 or even 7 figures per game to play as a cupcake against the mega schools as a way to pad out a schedule. The schools in between are a much more nuanced conversation and I'm not sure where the dividing lines are.

This is pretty much the same situation in every Fortune 500 company, is it not?

An intern at a Fortune 500 makes 3-4x what the lowest paid college instructor makes, and doesn't pull the "poor us, we're underfunded" card all the time.

LOL. But this was supposed to be argument in regards to "General lack of funding for education"

Now you're stating what? That F500 companies have general lack of funding? So who has? Mom & Pop shop?

Schools will always have to compete for their share of the pie, unless you want to do some pretty bad things.

Even in a no-limits, fully-government-paid education system, Tidmarsh Community College is going to have to convince students to come there instead of Harvard or State U. They'll have different resources.

You'd have to reduce student choice, or socialize college assets, to have a world where colleges just don't care about running like a business. It's not about level of funding, it's allocation.

The current system misallocates by hiding the true cost and benefits from students. You go to the school with fancy-pants dorms because you think it has been successful! Aren't those dorms and gyms built with successful alumni donations and clever investments?

No! Those amenities are being paid with the loan payments you'll make in your 30s and 40s.

> Even in a no-limits, fully-government-paid education system, Tidmarsh Community College is going to have to convince students to come there instead of Harvard or State U. They'll have different resources.

I think your argument here is missing the fact that places like Harvard have a competitive admissions process and carry a reputation which will continue to attract distinguished faculty and high-achieving students, regardless of funding scenario.

If a student living near Tidmarsh doesn't get in to Harvard and still wants to attend a school, they may be forced into a second choice school anyway. The top university in many countries is often partially or completely linked to the state (point being gov't funded), and admissions are gated based on academic achievement.

I'm not really sure why you think this system would break down if suddenly if budget worries were suddenly eliminated. Not everyone can go to Harvard in either scenario, and for that matter, not everyone wants to go to Harvard either. If I wanted to be a welder, there are likely dozens of schools better equipped than Harvard to teach me those skills.

I'm a little unclear why socializing university assets would be problematic, but open to clarification on that point if you care to provide it. In my view, a vigorous and stable educational system benefits society as a whole, and seems a reasonable thing to socialize as a "public property" of sorts.

> Except "embracing" is definitely not the right word.

Fair point.

Still, students are not getting what they are paying for and colleges will not be able to adequately justify the same cost to students, whatever their fixed operating expenses may be, especially since students do not benefit from those expenses.

Yes, but tbh I'm not sure if the US study costs had been reasonable even when they where not online.

You're confusing professors and admins. All professors that I know from undergrad (one of the best unis in the country for tech), recorded all the lectures, sessions and discussions and made all the class material online, including reading material, because they were of the opinion that education should be available in all ways possible. If you didn't feel comfortable concentrating in a class, you could do it later, because that is what effective education is.

Admins on the other hand are just a bunch of insecure pricks who know that the only reason they have a job is the bloated organizations they themselves created, which can only be supported as long as students keep paying that ridiculous tuitions.

I wish when I went to college I'd had the foresight to simply record the lectures on cassette tapes.

There was somebody who used to run ads in print magazines, when cassette tapes were a thing, touting the world's best lecturers on a variety of topics.

I think this may be them:



Looks like they have adjusted, but used to provide videotapes and cassettes.

I've been listening to TTC for decades. Prior to MIT and others opening up courses online it was the only way someone like myself could get access to anything like that.

In the office, Michael Scott is asked to give a lecture and brings a boombox with the same music the TTC lectures start off with. Its a hilarious in joke if you get the reference.

Go on a gap year when you can backpack around the world. This is literally the worst time to have a gap year. If you're stuck at home you might as well study.

Backpacking doesn't have to mean exotic locales. There may be some bucket list activities that are closer to home, eg: Trans Canada Trail, Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, Camino de Santiago, etc.

I think there are still logistical challenges during the current situation although if you mean literal backpacking, that is mostly a reasonable option. (Which isn't what most people mean when they talk about "backpacking" across Europe.)

"Trans Canada Trail"?

Can we get into Canada?

EDIT: I mean that I thought Canada won't allow entry to people from the US? Is that just a rumor?

No it isn't a rumour. There were a bunch of options in different countries. I think they were just listing some so that anyone could choose their local.

Up to date info on traveling to Canada from the US:


No non-essential travel for Americans to Canada.

You can study without paying tens of thousands of dollars.

There are also tons of productive uses of time that can be done during the pandemic. Now is a great time to volunteer.

Only you can afford to do something like that or are bankrolled by someone else. I couldn't afford being away from my only source of income at school (student loans) for a year when I was going to school, I would literally be homeless without it. Add on that it's very difficult to get a job to support yourself right now and full time students are not eligible for unemployment. That's not even considering the risks you take academically by taking a year off.

The "just take a gap year" crew are living on a different planet than me. No, a different universe. How do you afford to eat and have a roof over your head while you're learning python from Wikipedia full time?

Don't assume I'm coming from a position of privilege. I dropped out of college because I couldn't pay for it, and if I could go back, I would absolutely not go in debt for those years of college which didn't result in a degree.

Let's be clear here: student loans are not income. If you're going into debt to pay for college, that's even more reason that you should wait to go to college.

If your reason for staying in school this year is that you need funds to survive, you'd be much better off trying to find a job. Jobs pay in actual money, not debt. If you're college age and able-bodied, the delivery companies are all understaffed to the point that if you can fill out an application you're probably hired. It's not glamorous but it's better than many situations right now. When my business was floundering last year, I used my truck to haul recycling for local businesses. Sometimes the best option is not very good.

Obviously you know your situation better than I do, and it may be that there are some other reasons why going to school is a better option. But nothing you have said so far indicates that to me.

In any other year, if the economy is doing well, and if your degree program is good, then it makes sense to use student loans to get into the high tech workforce ASAP. But there are tons of other assumptions around that: health, chronotype, personality, housing, etc.

If you leave school for a year, how hard is it to return? I.e. any re-admission issues?

In the past, as long as it's only 1 or 2 years, there weren't really any readmission issues as long as your previous grades weren't terrible. I've been readmitted, and had a few friends readmitted. There are lots of reasons that students take a gap year, some of which are well outside the students' control, so it's a fairly common occurrence that colleges have provisions for.

However, if you go too long, prerequisites start to change, credits start to expire, etc., so even if you're readmitted that can be problematic.

And there's the caveat that Covid may have all sorts of effects in the coming years.

It will be hard to be readmitted when the school Financials completely collapse in the next few years due to a massive drop in attendance.

True. People who talk up the idea of taking a full year off and "volunteering" live in a much different economic reality than a lot of other people.

Volunteer - unemployment is the worst for decades. There are literally half the population not working right now with nothing to do, its the least useful time to volunteer.

(OK maybe I'm wrong)

It's because of this unemployment that food banks have an increased need for volunteers.

My local food bank certainly requests volunteers, and they're recommending that seniors or those with health conditions cancel their shifts...further reducing their volunteer pool.

I don't think it's the demand side that is the issue, it's more the supply side. A lot of people don't live a life where they can afford to spend a year volunteering. They need some kind of income. What happens when there are no stimulus checks and no increased access to unemployment? Or will they extend those programs so that they last another 12 months at least?

We have to be cognizant of the fact that, by all indications, October will be a very stressful time for a lot of people.

Volunteering at our homeless shelter doing health assessments and triage was certainly much better than sitting at home watching TV and worrying more.

Many of my prospects disappeared as COVID hit - and it made me feel some self worth trying to help others. I learned a ton too.

When the volunteer work is truly doing something for the community, I find it more valuable than paid work (even barely scraping by) - just knowing that I did SOMETHING to attempt to help others.

Just my 2 cents.

Just because (some) employers are able to pay as many employees (possibly zero) as before, doesn't mean there are no jobs to be done. With so many social issues currently highlighted, it seems like an excellent time to give some time.

This is the most useful volunteering time because the social needs are everywhere


Good point on retirees, I'm sure there are lots of gaps like that out there.

> If you're stuck at home you might as well study.

Exactly. It's a good opportunity for self directed study.

I would spend time doing something productive, not traveling.

Self-directed study is challenging, especially for 17 year-olds that don't have anyone (eg parents) who are in tune enough with autodidactism to guide them.

One of the biggest advantages of college for me was realizing how much there was to learn and how easy it was to do it (after skating through all of my schooling with straight As), and I only really refined my autodidactic abilities in my mid-20s.

And even if they are tuned into autodidactism, self-study is not really an outcome in and of itself. So I pick some topic and topics to self-study for a year while staying with my parents. Maybe I get some part-time job. Maybe I even get fairly deep into some generally useful topic. Now what when I enter university the following year?

There are probably some core subjects I could usefully have studied. But, in general, I'm probably not going to place out of classes at many schools even if I've deliberately studied for AP tests. So it's not obvious that year of self-study necessarily leads to a shortened or improved degree program.

That's not a reason not to do it of course. But self-study doesn't necessarily lead to greater personal enrichment than volunteering or hiking the Appalachian Trail does.

> Self-directed study is challenging

Fair point, but that's because students are not encouraged to learn what they are interested in.

Or they literally don't know how to learn what they are interested in?

I went into computer science as a major because I was interested in computers. College was literally the only way I was able to learn because I didn't know anything about getting started - I didn't know what a programming language was, for example, so I wouldn't know to learn to program.

I grew up poor and my public education was very substandard. College allowed me to get past that, I couldn't imagine trying to do it myself with literally zero guidance.

I know some of you are just so smart you don't need college - but please consider there's a vast about of us plebs that do.

Google "Careers in computers", followed by how to learn <one of the 18 that pop up in the top list> then click on any of the resources and get to it. I'm very much not a fan of the kind of "learned helplessness" being displayed in this comment and getting started in something like this is trivial with the amount of resources available right now. It's really not that hard to get started learning and college doesn't really prepare you for these jobs anyway so if that was your reason for going I think you wasted a lot of money.

I'm very much not a fan of the kind of "learned helplessness"

Someone coming from a community where there are literally zero engineers or programmers will be very lucky if they even know what words to look for. We can't search for what we don't even know exists. On the flip side people don't know what they do know, in the sense that assumed common knowledge might not actually be common.

I was lucky that I had a parent who was a teacher, at a time when textbooks started including simple BASIC programs to demonstrate concepts. I was also lucky to have access to a safe and clean public library as a kid, that happened to have a couple of shelves with computer books.

No one in my family is an engineer, no family friends nothing. I searched I want to make a game when I was 11, the rest is history. I stand by what I say, even more so after reading this reply.

This is exactly right - the only community I grew up in had zero engineers, zero computer professionals, and even zero white collar employees.

I'd agree that "computers" is almost certainly not the best example. Self-teaching how to program is probably one of the easiest topics to jump into out there. And it has the benefit that, if you're really pretty sure you want to major in computer science (which may or may not actually be the best choice for someone who is just "interested in computers") learning how to at least program and doing some projects, etc. is one area of self-study that will be very valuable when you start university.

As has been discussed here at length before, for better or worse, good university computer science curricula tend to assume you know your way around a computer and can program--or you have to get up to speed very quickly on the side.

Good for you, it's great that you are smart enough to know how to do that, but I was much too dumb and needed college (you don't think I tried to prepare myself for college beforehand?? I certainly tried to learn everything I could before I started). Of course, I started school nearly two decades ago where information was more difficult to find and less available, so it might be easier for most people now, but there's still idiots like me.

Searching for information online and separating the wheat from the chaff is a skill - one I largely learned in college. I don't take that skill for granted, I see my husband and parents struggling greatly searching for information that's trivial to find (you just gotta know how to find it). Yet I don't tell them they have "learned helplessness" and its just so easy.

You have to understand, I literally didn't know a single person who even knew how to use a computer - it took me months of playing around with the computer to even figure out how to access the world wide web at first. I knew it existed, I knew we had internet and a computer so I should be able to access it, but didn't know anything else. I was so excited when I finally figured it out.

>college doesn't really prepare you for these jobs anyway

Yes it absolutely does, mine did.

This is very umhelpfull attitude, and is demonstrably false. Vast majority of people could not get into programming with google alone - there is a reason they at least go to bootcamps. I could not grasp programming before university, and I have tried - it was in 2010.

Lets crank this up a notch: there are 14 year olds that built a fusion reactor with instructions from the internet (just fusors, no net power), or people that learned how to conduct medical procedures with no outside help. Some even conducted surgery on themselves sucessfully. I doubt the average visitor of HN could do that.

Maybe its because some folks are smarter than others, or maybe you are taking for granted some andavtages you've had over average Joe, or maybe its both. But if you take random Joe off the street and tell them - you will get £10k if you learn to write basic python in a month with no help, just google - most wont be able to do that.

Take yet another step - realise most of the world does not speak english, and for them to learn coding is even harder.

Right, but in the absence of parents who are capable of guiding them, they won't be able to either. Most adults arent good at being autodidacts either.

Also the self direction is neither taught nor encouraged in the existing model of education

Traveling can be incredibly productive; they aren’t mutually exclusive.

The problem is that traveling is very challenging right now. It's a lousy situation. Paying for a year of school is a lousy option right now, a typical gap year with travel/activities is tough, and employment options are very limited. I guess if I were an incoming senior, I'd do my best to wrap things up and get a diploma this year--one school I know is basically letting only seniors among undergrads back on campus in the fall with the message to wrap up whatever they need to do in-person to graduate and plan to be online in the spring. For anyone else, if I were in a position to deal with it financially, I'd take a year off and spend it as usefully/enjoyably as I could.

The problem with gap years is you loose an additional year of income at the college graduate level on the backend, that's a pretty big missed financial opportunity. With the economy in the state it's in now, it's unlikely most college students will be able to land decent paying jobs during a gap year, if they can find a job at all. Better to just finish the degree as quickly as possible and be ready to enter the work force as a college graduate when, in a couple of years, our economy should be in a strong rebound.

We have 3 college students in our household. We've had these conversations many times in our house over the last few months. The above is the conclusion I've come to for my own kids, that a gap year is basically a waste of time in the current economy. The last thing I'll add is we are saving some money on online classes, room and board makes up roughly $10,000-$15,000 of the cost of sending a kid to college, having the kids at home doing online classes at least saves us that.

If your point is that students shouldn't take a gap year just because its a year when they aren't getting paid, then I think you are missing the nonmonetary value (or value that is difficult to capture in monetary terms) of travel, volunteering, and the other things that people do during gap years that are much harder to replicate once you're out of school. (You're "waste of time" comment makes me thing that this is probably what you mean--but I'm not sure.)

But if your point is that gap years are expensive, and not everyone has the luxury to take one--especially in the current economic climate--then I totally agree.

#Edit: I thought you were talking about gap years generally. But, looking back at the context, maybe you mean that 2020-2021 is a particularly bad time to take a gap year, and that current students should tough it out and get their credits in, saving the gap year frivolities for a year when there are more opportunities and less economic uncertainty. If so, I could see this being good advice for a lot of students (though, of course, much depends on one's individual circumstances).

Those things are very valuable, but if there's one thing that's going to be even harder than "get a job available for a high school grad with no experience" in the coming year, it's going to be "travel the world and meet lots of new people and have amazing experiences."

I feel for the kids nowadays. I'd probably just get a year of college out of the way, despite the particularly shitty, expensive form it'll take this year, because there's really no better use of your time right now.

Part of the point is at the time of decision it's not clear that the students can do that gap year stuff if they take a gap year now. They wouldn't be doing it so they can travel to Brazil, but so they don't have a difficult semester (or year) in college.

Not sure I see this anywhere in GP's comment. But I certainly agree that you that it doesn't make a lot of sense to take a gap year if you can't identify, with a reasonable degree of confidence, anything valuable (or at least fun) to do during it. And I agree that this makes 2020 (perhaps also 2021) an especially poor time for gap years.

I'll be honest, I'm not a huge fan of gap years in general, but this year 2020-2021 seems particularly bad because it seems likely it will be an unproductive year for many so you might as well make some progress towards your degree.

Not earning is not the only missed financial opportunity: all the money that goes to travelling could be invested at a young age. With investments time is the most valuable resource. I quit at the age of 35 from the hard software engineering jobs just like many of my friends, because we burned out / wanted to come back to our home towns.

The difference between our quality of life (and especially fear of needing to go back to work) is huge.

Travelling is pretty easy though when you have time and money at this age, I don't feel that I missed out on some travel when I was younger.

>The problem with gap years is you loose an additional year of income at the college graduate level on the backend, that's a pretty big missed financial opportunity.

I don't really disagree with your other points (though I might make a different decision). But I'm not sure I buy the argument that you should enter the workforce as young as you can profitably do so (considering net present value relative to educational level) and should never take extended time off between jobs.

The average 18 year old just starting college doesn't have a job or has a low paying hourly job, has no savings and is still very much dependent on their parents for at least some financial support. For many parents delaying the time their children enter the work force can represent a significant financial burden. I am all for saving up and taking time off between jobs, sabbaticals, extended vacations and traveling the world, but doing it on mommy and daddy's dime is a fairly selfish pursuit.

> doing it on mommy and daddy's dime is a fairly selfish pursuit.

This is a value judgment specific to the US (and maybe bunch of other countries in the anglosphere). Places in the Mediterranean like Italy and Greece are notably different in children staying at parents' home till their 30s, or places in the Nordic students both don't pay for college and get small monthly stipends from the government for rent (usually in subsidized student housing) and groceries.

Raising humans is hard work and someone got to be footing the bill. Kids don't magically turn into adults at the age of 18, so their parents who made the decision to make them in the first place has responsibility until their kids reach adulthood, or this responsibility can be collectivized by the whole society because failures of parents will also be suffered by the whole society. Putting the burden of outrageous debt on the kid sounds like the most selfish thing to do by the parents and the society. And a debt only for formal education, which alone is not enough to make kids into adults.

If taking a year off is a worthwhile thing to do in life, then right at the beginning of your working life is the best time to do it. That's when your value to employers is the lowest, as you don't have any experience yet. Each year that passes makes this sort of thing more expensive to the point where the idea of a 45 year old taking a year to go backpacking or whatever is considered to be very impractical.

My last one is a rising sophomore, and I concur. In fact, he's taking a class this summer. I wish he were taking more- getting an extra semester out of this at home would have been shrewd.

My youngest's university is offering free tuition for the summer session in 2021 next year to students that are enrolled this fall. You can bet we'll be taking advantage of that and hopefully that will mean an earlier graduation and some money saved later on.

I'd think strategically about a gap year. If you're a great student with excellent college prospects a gap year might make sense, admissions are going to be very competitive for 21/22. If you're not the best student it might make sense to try and get accepted for 20/21 due to smaller field of applicants.

That applies to inbound freshman, but for students going into their sophomore-to-senior years, who are already accepted, taking a year off seems like a no-brainer.

Everybody keeps saying that it is a no brainer to take a gap year. I am headed into my senior year and I don't think it is as clear cut as everybody here makes it out to be. What are my options when I take a gap year? I can either live in my apartment near my school and do nothing or live at home. Either way, I am doing nothing because I have no money.

I haven't gone to classes consistently since the end of my sophomore year. As this year has unfolded, I've discovered that I can learn material much faster out of a textbook. I miss lectures because it was nice having a professor physically near me for questions and advice. That said, I am managing fine. Testing has been completely changed at my University and the anxiety I had around it is gone. I have 24 hours + open book for my exams now. I actually fill in many of the gaps in my course knowledge during the midterms and finals, leading to a more complete understanding of the class. This is obviously not true for everybody, but I am learning more and faster than I was before, leaving free time to explore adjacent interests and read.

The biggest problem I am facing with my learning at the moment is administrative nonsense. Enrolling for classes was already bad (UC). Now, not only is it bad, but it is pointlessly bad. I am not allowed to enroll in a class because there are 35 students in it. Based on what I've seen, maybe 20 will watch the live zoom lectures. Why is an online class that hardly anybody shows up to being capped? I believe it is because there is some contractual limit on how many students a prof/ta can be "responsible for". My roommate got that explanation after he was told he couldn't enroll in the last class he needed to graduate last quarter. In my mind, that reasoning does not hold at all given the current situation. It is either shocking that the administrators don't realize this or it is disgusting that they do realize it and choose not to change it.

That said, I am paying nearly $70,000 this year. Same as I paid last year. I am being ripped off this year. I was ripped off last year. Last year was terrible and this year is extremely terrible. At this point, I want to put the whole thing behind me. College has been great because all I've had to do is learn and I've made amazing friends. This year we'll be in our apartment carrying on.

The biggest concern that I have is the job market I'll graduate into.

> What are my options when I take a gap year? I can either live in my apartment near my school and do nothing or live at home. Either way, I am doing nothing because I have no money.

You could work. The delivery companies are all desperate to hire people. It's not glamorous or high-paying work, but it's better than paying through the nose for online classes.

> That said, I am paying nearly $70,000 this year. Same as I paid last year. I am being ripped off this year. I was ripped off last year. Last year was terrible and this year is extremely terrible. At this point, I want to put the whole thing behind me. College has been great because all I've had to do is learn and I've made amazing friends. This year we'll be in our apartment carrying on.

With due respect, there's no college in existence I would pay $70,000/year for. In four years that's $280,000. That's a nice single family home in a nice suburb, or a brownstone in an up-and-coming city neighborhood. Even if the job market magically rights itself, what job are you expecting to get that will allow you to pay that off?

One thing you could do during a gap year that would be worthwhile would be to apply for every scholarship you can to bring that cost down.

I am a professor. The limit on the enrollment for my class in the fall, which will be online, is principally dictated by TA resources.

The TAs hold discussion sections (also online), hold office hours and grade exams. I don't think it is unreasonable to limit the number of students per TA.

There are similar restrictions on my time (I can only have so many students before it becomes impossible to answer questions in lecture or office hours). But I think these considerations are less restrictive.

Moreover, even if one doesn't care about how much work the TAs and I might have to do, it is very difficult bureaucratically to increase the number of students per TA. There are department policies limiting this number, university-wide policies, and union contracts.

Oh, and there are looming budget cuts, which will probably reduce the number of TAs available and lower maximum enrollments.

Beware of the job market. If you can't find a job when you graduate next year, you get to go into the horrible "haven't had a job since I graduated X months ago" which can turn your resume into poison for quite a few industries.

I saw a lot of people have this issue after the 2008 collapse.

Under appreciated comment people taking gap years should absolutely do it if they think they will graduate into the bottom of the crisis

I believe you can defer commitment as a freshman.

Depends on the school at this point. One I know usually allows incoming freshmen to defer until April or May or something like that. When they later put out very draconian restrictions for the fall (they're allowing freshmen on campus but basically locking students in their rooms), it took a fairly major revolt from parents and alumni to make them relent.

I think you might be conflating two camps of academics. There have been folks for a while now who were vehemently against online education, and there are also those pushing digital pedagogy forward. The former were stuck in a rut when classes moved online this spring, and the latter were there to pick up the slack and start organizing workshops and trying to make all university teaching better online.

Seems obvious when you consider that Udacity, Coursera, MIT OpenCourseWare were all started at universities

I don't think this is fair. I worked at Georgia tech during the mooc "revolution" and helped put on a physics course with a lab, something most thought was really impossible because labs are so hard with a classroom and now we just got rid of it. There were positives and negatives of what we generated, but at the end of the day it worked well enough. I am not exactly for online education nor do I agree it can replace on campus education. The problem is that there are many parts of being on campus that lead to success after you leave campus and also that keep you attending your degree. So it's almost an apples to oranges comparison.

I definitely agree with you on the gap year.

I had a professor who was adamantly against any recordings of his lectures because he felt that it was a move by the university to cheat him out of pay by reusing content.

Not sure where I land on that, but I would guess it's not an uncommon sentiment.

Only a matter of time before low pay adjuncts get told to grind out content.

I have studied in Germany this included some online curses.

From my experience studying online will be harder for a non-small degree of students. (Through for some it's easier as they anyway don't show up for curses and do anything from home "ad-hock".)

I believ that for courses which are mainly frontal putting this part online will be majorly helpful (e.g. a reading in front of a large publicum with close to no questions from the publicum).

But especially during a CS master many curses are smaller and with a lot of student professor interactions. This translates not so well to online, even with video conferences. And that is assuming that students do have a easy to access internet connection which is good enough to do a ~20 people conference.

So while I hope for a lot of improvements by putting parts of the studium online I also hope it will be just part of it.

Lastly in-person studium creates a social environment (similar to in-person work) having online only studies/work would have _major_ health risks for a non small amount of people (such which e.g. are already somewhat depressive, have problems creating social connections, have a weak social net, lost most of their friends due to problems in their school years etc.). I have meat at least one person who would not unlikely already have committed suicide in a "online only" world...

I think they're making the best of a bad situation ... not singing an entirely different tune.

> I know I would.

unfortunately, for many students that isn't an option. Some students rely on living off of student loans, which they can't get during a gap. Some student's income is tied to the university (for example, working as a TA, or research assistent).

>College students heading into the fall semester should take a gap year. I know I would.

The problem with taking a gap year for current students (in the US) is that many of them have federal student loans whose interest is deferred as long as they are studying full time. A gap year means they will incur interest for the rest of their University time and have that much more to pay off at the end.

> Now they are singing a different tune once they don't have a choice

They are happy to sing when they get paid the same amount.


I'm not sure what supports some of these aggressive generalizations.

> You have to pay homage to various absurd beliefs

Really? Which ones? I don't recall having to "pay homage" to anything during my time in higher ed., must less any absurd beliefs. What do you have in mind here?

> You have to...contribute money to them

I do? I guess I paid tuition, if that's what you mean. But isn't it pretty normal for an institution to require some form of payment in exchange for services? And it wasn't all that much actually, because I was lucky to be able to attend a reasonably high-quality public university within my state. (Of course, one might object to the amount in particular cases.) And I haven't contributed any money since. Certainly nobody has tried to forced me to. in reality, all this amounts to is getting a few annoying emails.

> You have to...worship the value of it no matter what the apparent merit of it is

I don't think so. I don't worship the value of my diploma and never have. (Though I have found it very useful in certain endeavors.) The college police have never showed up at my door and ordered me to show more respect. In fact, my own perception is that skepticism of the value of higher ed. (beyond its credentialing function and possibly its ability ro embed students in certain social networks) is a very fashionable view right now.

What massive group of people is not indistinguishable from a cult? A book exists that argues that all mass movements (religion, cults, political parties) have very similar characteristics and can be analyzed with the same lens. I have no doubt that "supporters of X" can also be put in the same group where in this case X = higher education.

I've never read this book but it was published several decades ago and I agree with the premise. Unfortunately I forgot which book it was so this comment is partly an effort to see if anyone else knows which book this is so I can finally get around to reading it.

The book you might be referring to is "The True Believer" by Eric Hoffer. Published in 1951. It's about 175 pages. If you've ever wondered why political correctness, BLM and anti-racism resemble a religion (non-theistic) it is definitely worth a read.


I would have liked to remove the part about political correctness, BLM and anti-racism as it does nothing to contribute to the discussion and the question can be answered without a reference to any of those things. I will not, because to do so feels misleading.

This is the book, thank you for responding.

In general, I appreciate how old the book is because its removed from all modern political discussion yet the advice applies the same. I also appreciate how it has fans on all sides of the political aisle (details: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_True_Believer).

Hoffer certainly led an unusual life.


> all mass movements (religion, cults, political parties) have very similar characteristics and can be analyzed with the same lens.

I think this is bang-on, and it's evident in the flattening that every concept undergoes when it makes contact with the masses. But I don't know if the descriptor "mass movement" applies very cleanly to institutions like higher education. They certainly have different characteristics, in that institutions nominally have somewhat-centralized authority while mass movements are driven by the collective whims of the masses.

>You have to pay homage to various absurd beliefs, contribute money to them, and worship the value of it no matter what the apparent merit of it is

What on earth is this referring to?

>its heresies which appear to be self-directed development and independent thinking

A place to learn to do research makes an heresy of "self-directed development and independent thinking"?

Too bad you went to a bad college. But that's the problem with the US model, there is no quality control (regional accreditation sets a very low bar, as the lawsuits the Department of Education show), and especially first-generation students have no clue how to make the best of the environment and what to do when things go wrong.

Interesting take that self-directed development is a 'heresy' of academia, even more so, it's considered hokey and invalid. I've noticed that's somewhat the case, there's an attitude that Formal Education is the only education. I didn't even go to a 'bad college' like another commenter suggested would have an attitude like this.

I've had students try to tell me off (with great vitriol too) for not being a 'real developer' since I lack a CS degree or a Software XYZ degree, despite having worked as a developer for a while. Even professors were skeptical about being able to break into the industry. I did manage it, and it was surprisingly easy to do, which made me scratch my head about where those beliefs came from in the first place.

Computer scientists are not developers. They are mathematicians. Some of them write software, but many do not.

While I agree with you, the term "computer science" has not had a consistent definition over the years.

I have a degree in "Computer Science" (1987) but it was not a math program. It would not surprise me to learn today that there are many existing "computer science" programs that are not math degrees.

A very good point, and one which makes the mentioned attitude even more silly.

It reminds me of all this companies that were forcing employees to relocate because good work can only be done when everyone is seating in the open space for 9 hours every day. Suddenly, once this is not possible anymore, no biggy, just work from home! It's fine!

I don't know where you work but no one where I work considers the current situation fine. It's workable but it's definitely no where near 100%.

I like it because it disadvantages the politically competent types while advantaging the technically competent types. Guess which category I fall into.

We are definitely at a disadvantage in terms of having robust technical discussions before implementing new features at my work. Something that previously would be discussed by the whole team is now either just implemented solo or discussed between one or two other people before moving forward.

One of the big issues we've had, which I think we're getting better at, is not realizing how much others on the team are in the dark when you had a discussion but no one else was in on it. This led to a lot of friction and frustration in March / April for us.

This problem is identical to the one you get when you're in the office. If you have a conversation with someone that impacts the group, you need to either a) have that conversation in a public channel (like a team slack channel) and/or b) need to provide a set of notes from the 'meeting' to your team.

If you're used to being able to just tap people on the shoulder and get a group of people looking at something, you can still do that, just get everyone on a call. Working remote, those "collaboration" sessions start to look more like "interruptions", for better or worse. If your team doesn't have more robust communications strategies than being in earshot of each other, it's going to show.

I think what you are expressing a difficult time with is more of an effect from the uncertainty and operating under a state of what was supposed to be a short term emergency measure to "flatten the curve".

Unfortunately I think that it is also a symptom of poor adaptation to the supposed pandemic, just as much as it is uncertainty for how long this will go on that keeps people and organizations from rebuilding and reorganizing to permanently/temporarily adapt to the current situation. Humans do not do well under perpetual states of uncertainty, no marginally advanced life form really does. Every life form wants and needs predictability, certainty, and habits/patterns. Patterns are the core of life, as they are to the technology sector.

Most people were told we need to "flatten the curve" for two or so weeks and therefore we need to take emergency and short term measures. That was now going on 5 months ago, and without any kind of definitive event horizon for when everyone can "go back to the office".

We hear anything from "we will reassess in two weeks" … every two weeks … to "not until a vaccine is discovered" … which could literally be never, and everything in between. Just alone that ambiguity and uncertainty is causing stress and anxiety because people cannot even plan for their children's education schedule. People are still often operating as if it's a short term emergency, while it is becoming ever more apparent that it may be a permanent shift in reality, especially as companies realize or are pressured to cut costs with remote work that cuts out overhead costs that can be translated into profits or at least revenues to offset the massive costs/losses.

Again, I find that the uncertainty and lack of commitment is a far more damaging situation that may also even lead to severe shake-ups as companies that did commit to remote work and reconsidered and reworked their whole structure to accommodate that, start gaining market share.

What a smart business would do is to commit to some long term schedule as some tech companies already have, e.g, no changes to remote work before the new year, so that people have some certainty, and they would also start investing and rethinking their processes to support remote work to accommodate the things you illustrate as challenges.

I absolutely agree. Thanks for your comment.

As someone who studiously avoided office politics on principle (to my detriment) until my latest company (where politics is crucial), I've observed the opposite. Information flow is a lot harder and less visible now, which makes politics even more important for making sure the right people hear the things you want them to.

It's true that certain types of politicking are harder now, since you can't charm people in the kitchenette or over lunch. But setting meetings and making promises and aligning others' incentives in a way that benefits you is a lot easier in an environment that cuts the non-politicker off from, eg, seeing people walk out of a meeting room and checking their calendars to see what they were meeting about.

Interesting. This makes a lot of sense, anecdotally.

I am a tech worker in a highly bureaucratic and "political" type of company (finance). No wonder the "management" has been pushing the return to office so hard - they need the "face time" with their bosses.

There can be disadvantages for technically competent folks too. I'm really missing going over technical ideas on a whiteboard with colleagues.

There are a variety of online whiteboards. Miro is one the company I work at uses.

There's a valid argument in the annoyance of audio latency for this making it not as efficient as physical presence but it's still a very workable solution and gets most of the way there.

And you can't do that remotely because we don't have a decent network connection?

> I don't know where you work but no one where I work considers the current situation fine

why not?

My previous team was distributed across three sites with some people WFH and it worked really well.

Admittedly the people WFH, myself included, had a home office (i.e. a dedicated room for work), the lack of which, I guess, is the main reason for a lot of people not enjoying WFH, that and the children running around :)

So very few people have separate dedicated working spaces. Lots of folk have childcare duties. Many of those who don't live alone live alone and that's extremely difficult in its own way (I'm in that boat and it's been rough on my mental health).

Even without those issues WFH requires a lot of self-discipline to create and stick to a routine. That suits some people but a lot of people need and value the external factors of a commute and office to enforce routine.

I am enjoying working from home, many of my coworkers too. I'd probably say it's 50/50 here

There's something about being on a campus that made a big difference for me in college. Some experiences that I had that are hard to replicate remotely include:

* Group discussions in seminars. When you are in person, there's a better dynamic to holding a discussion. You can read others' body language and see when to speak up. Zoom works fine for very small groups (<7) but anything larger than that and it seems to get out of hand in my experience.

* Impromptu chats after class with professors to ask questions that I don't want to bug everyone else with. Same goes for chats during office hours.

* The opportunity to stumble upon events that you otherwise wouldn't have been exposed to. For example, I'm not muslim, but I attended a series of lectures on Islam aimed at Muslim students, put on by the Muslim student association. I learned a lot there and got to speak to fellow students and learn about their views and experiences firsthand. You're not gonna find an event like that online, and even if you did, you'd have to have filtered through all the other garbage on the internet to find it.

* Playing intramural broomball after pre-gaming with my friends. Aside from good memories, the social connections you make in college are very important and can help you a lot later in life. Many years later and it's great having a network of people in all sorts of industries.

* Living in a freshman dorm and getting exposed to people from many different backgrounds for the first time in my life. If you grew up in one place, then almost by definition, you didn't have much diversity in K-12.

You can't really replicate these remotely and in my mind, these sorts of things were half the value of college for me. And this is aside from the fact that I personally find it very hard to pay attention on a zoom lecture, especially if I'm sitting through 4 or 5 of them a day.

I can't count the number of social interactions, big and small, that built my character and maturity. Not to mention life-long friendships formed, romantic relationships, and more. It's a unique and critical time when you are finally a free adult but don't yet have "real" obligations like a job or family. There is simply nothing in life that compares to an in-person college experience.

Would you really pay half the sticker price of college to receive those social experiences only, without the academics and diploma? The majority of those experiences are self-organized and don’t cost the university anything. Even if that is half the value of the college experience, it’s much cheaper than that. Why not live in a college town and hang around near the campus instead?

> Would you really pay half the sticker price of college to receive those social experiences only, without the academics and diploma?

It's hard to break out the costs. When I go to a nice restaurant, I wouldn't pay 50% for the ambiance alone without the food or for the food without the ambiance. It's a package and the sum is worth more than the pieces.

I might pay full tuition for remote college if i'm in my last semester, for example. But otherwise, I don't think it's worth it.

I'm pretty sure you can replicate all that remotely... you may not have the tools to make theses easy to replicate right now (though I'm pretty sure it still possible), but that just show there's a market for theses tools.

Facebook did just that when it got out, it made easier to move a IRL friendship to one online.

Despite all the discussion about online classes, there is one fundamental aspect of online teaching, that isn't fully 'disrupted'

Keeping students attention on the class.

Technology may improve, economics may change, industries created and destroyed, but ultimately, if the students attention is not held, everything is lost.

In today's world, it has become extremely difficult to even keep focus, with the myriad of distractions abound.

I guess in the future, every city will have tens or even hundreds of virtual training centers, which are classes but taught online, by professors in far away universities. Students will gather here for the classroom experience, keep focus and still get quality education.

Perhaps a new idea of "Infrastructure as a service"

I wish that were true, and I am already seeing signs of that happening in India. Think of how much savings and ease it will bring to a students life, if they can have the convenience of going to college a few streets away combined with the advantage of learning from the greatest minds of humanity.

I think this stems from a general disinterest of the focus issue pertaining to technology at large. I work from home and have the exact same problem staying focused on work.

Phone operating systems still treat features like “zen mode” as second-class citizens while not providing enough granular access to third party apps to implement features that encourage putting down the phone successfully. There are still too many ways to work around these kinds of features and apps like Freedom for iOS do an OK but not great job at allowing you to restrict access to apps and sites on a schedule.

There are a lot of apps that provide the zen mode.

However all of them are only as effective as the person's will to use them.

In my view, Extreme cases of Phone / Internet addiction can only be solved by physically removing the user from the device. Like you do for drugs and alcohol.

I am thoroughly convinced any other method will not be useful. Of course, I base these thoughts solely on my experience and I have been trying to do that since last one year. I have tried many apps, lots of self control and forcing myself to be away from my phone physically, only to be under it's spell in a few days. The most I held out was 2 days.

While being physically away from the phone / device is not always practical, I have found that timers for apps are slightly more effective, as they repeatedly warn and close the app.

I found zen modes to be not really effective, as they shut off everything and ultimately you end up removing them for one reason or the other.

> I found zen modes to be not really effective, as they shut off everything and ultimately you end up removing them for one reason or the other.

I agree, which is why I argue that it should be an OS concern, not an application concern. Screen time in iOS provides some of this functionality, but it’s still not powerful enough to restrict access to certain sites, and there are ways to get around the parental control modes.

The problem is that a phone is necessary in many jobs. I tried switching to a “dumb” phone a few years ago and had to revert because I needed app-based 2FA for work.

I would pay good money for a solid iOS screen time app that allows me to set profiles for work time, free time, personal focus time, etc. that only provides access to apps I truly need in a given moment and cannot be worked around. That would be such a game changer

> I would pay good money for a solid iOS screen time app that allows me to set profiles for work time, free time, personal focus time, etc. that only provides access to apps I truly need in a given moment and cannot be worked around. That would be such a game changer

Does having someone else control the password work? I’ve also been wanting to find a solution for this on ios devices. Screen time is weak when you have the password.

The downtime mode in safari also trains you to use it, as you literally can’t whitelist a website from screentime, so you have to bypass.

I like this idea. These places could also have lab equipment, 3D printers, host device repair clinic, etc...

Online courses lack class discussions that are key to making courses engaging.

This sounds absolutely nothing like how things worked in the online degree I received.

I don't know what is typical elsewhere. I will say, from watching my son's Zoom-based classroom sessions, that Zoom seems to be almost specifically designed to yield a poor classroom experience. For reasons that I believe would also apply to Skype, Google Hangouts, WebEx, GoToMeeting, etc. I am glad that my school used a meeting platform that was intended for educational use.

Agreed. I got my MSLIS from UIUC's online program; I enrolled in 2006 and was a member of their 11th cohort, so they had already been doing online learning for a decade by the time I attended. They really had things figured out. Online students paid the same tuition as on-campus students.

We attended synchronous online lectures while logged into an IRC server. You could listen to the lecture and chat with classmates about it in real-time as it was happening without interrupting the lecture, and it was delightful and extremely engaging. Frankly, I found it superior to the in-person class meetings I had in undergrad.

Also, class discussions are hardly the only way to engage learners, there are all kinds of active learning techniques that can be employed. In my own teaching, I'm personally fond of using live polling tools to ask formative assessment questions. Many online meeting tools have features for things like breakout sessions where you can ask students to do a think/pair/share.

If a student is not engaged in an online learning environment, I think that points more to instructors not being prepared to teach in that setting rather than an inherent limitation of the setting itself.

Back in the day when online learning was channels on Community Antenna TeleVision systems reserved for Community Colleges, I was studying the digital bandwidth required for online learning via telecommunications.

Although I don't have a reference, I found a study by a German university that compared classes delivered by television with classes delivered with a combination of sound, pictures, graphics and text.

The result was that the latter was as effective as video for all categories of classes, even those teaching kinetic skills such as golf and tennis.

Moving pictures, especially those of the head and shoulders of a professor delivering a lecture, are completely unnecessary.

I think that the key to online learning is the care and expertise with which the content is developed, especially the narrative, pictures, graphics, and reference material, as well as the design and effective use of collaboration tools by the TAs and students.

What meeting platform did your school use? Which school?

My university was using Adobe Connect almost a decade ago. It is way better than video call apps like Zoom.

I couldn't disagree more. Connect is written in Flash and has serious stability issues. For better or for worse Zoom is stable and intuitive for adult learning.

I don't care to weigh in on any questions about how it's built. I also didn't experience any stability problems, but this was admittedly a while ago now, and the product may have subsequently taken a turn for the worse.

As far as the user experience goes, though, I would say that Adobe Connect makes it possible to create an online classroom in a way that just isn't possible in Zoom.

Which is in no way contradictory to the idea that Zoom is stable and intuitive for adult learning. "Adult learning" is a wide net that covers a lot of learning situations that do not necessarily involve or benefit from a classroom environment. YouTube and printed books are also stable and intuitive for adult learning.

But, for educators who are scrambling to adapt their pre-existing curricula to distance learning, I would argue that preserving as many elements as possible from the working environment that they're used to is pretty key to giving them the best chance possible at a successful transition.

I'm not a Cisco employee nor am I married to WebEx in every way, but I do a mix of IT support and media production at a university and WebEx has been very useful for us so far.

From what I've experienced, Zoom is like a basic WebEx "Meeting" where you join a conference and it's an online approximation of a conference room. WebEx has a subsection called WebEx "Events" with a few minor tweaks that make it more useful for classes or seminars.

Mainly it's just about how they set up "roles". In a Meeting, you're all mostly the same (aside from the host). In an Event, you schedule the thing, add a list of people who will be "panelists", and then they get a special password that allows them to log in with their WebEx account and join with elevated privileges.

The "host" role is still the "admin" and can change settings and assign roles. The "panelists" can turn on their own mics and cameras as they choose, and they can be given screen-share rights.

Everyone else gets a different link and joins as "attendees". Attendees can't turn on their own mics or cameras. They can post in the chat box and they can raise their hand to be given mic rights. It effectively prevents the issues of "bombing" online meetings with disruptive behavior and allows the presenters to do the teaching.

> Zoom is like a basic WebEx "Meeting"

Zoom has the same features as the Webex Events in their zoom "Webinar", with separate logins for admins ("hosts") and panelists, q&a chat box etc.

Of course it's not free like Zoom meetings, but costs $300 or more - that's where they make their money... https://zoom.us/buy?plan=pro&from=webinar

Cool, thanks for the info. We don't do as much with Zoom since our WebEx license covers Events and hosting recorded videos (among other things) but it's still good to know.

I've only used Zoom in the basic/meetings sense. Seems like a rough parity between the two (which makes sense given their origin, I'd imagine).

Zoom has the same feature called Webinars

Please share the meeting platform used so that everybody else can start looking at it and perhaps lobby their schools or school boards.

My kids' schools used both Zoom and Google Meets, and schools converged back to Zoom. If there's truly something better would love to hear and share!

Adobe Connect

What was the difference that yielded the positive experience?

To an approximation, the entire user interface and everything about how it worked.

Edit: A more wordy response, since I assume the downvote implies that wasn't satisfying --

It has all the key elements - video chat, screen sharing, whiteboarding, etc., but they've all been arranged in such a different way that it's just impossible to single anything out in particular. The best I could do is explain it by analogy: Most software is designed to work best as either an online equivalent to a conference room, or an online equivalent to a lecture hall. But, IRL, a classroom isn't quite like a conference room or a lecture hall. Depending on the type of classroom, the physical differences might be subtle, but they are pervasive.

well, that doesn't tell anything.

You have to keep in mind, if they aren’t a UI designer, then aren’t trained to pinpoint they key factors of an interface that make it different. They just know one feels better than the other.

IMO this is where UX often goes wrong, many people have a feeling for something but they don’t have the terminology to articulate it, nor the skills to reproduce it another context.

What’s missing from all these online courses is a sense of community. The forums are ok but they’re not very vibrant.

For an example of a vibrant community, I’d look toward what video games, such as Rocket League, have created.

Players have a specific ranking based on competition stats. They level up when they when a sufficient number of games within their ranking. Progression through the game doesn’t have to be a solo endeavor because players can look to the community for how to improve.

The community not on my celebrates wins and gives advice on losses, they offer free coaching that can result in paid tutoring [1].

Not only that, but on average the community members are positive and light-hearted.

I think other skill-based activities could learn a lot from how and why these communities function and incorporate those aspects into their platforms to help students succeed.

[1] https://www.reddit.com/r/RocketLeague/comments/hv2vus/coachi...

No doubt that the community around courses could be improved, but I think it's also a matter of enthusiasm. People are probably a lot more enthusiastic about Rocket League than about some online degree. (Whether that's how it should be is a different issue...) Anyway, that naturally leads to higher participation in communities etc. So I don't know if online course makers even have that much influence over community building in the first place.

For sure but then the question I would have is can we take cues from enthusiasm around Rocket League and bring those into the community?

The real time ranking system I think is the root of a lot of this. It allows people to know where they stand and they can look to the community on how to improve their game.

I think gamification is a misunderstanding of why communities are built around games and people encouraged to improve their skills to rank up.

Instead why not organize a catch-all chat for people to talk, like a Discord. Let people talk off-topic and organize to play games and such as a class if they want.

I think a real time ranking system for students at a university that is visible by all is just going to be targeted for greedy or ambitious people looking to convert it into jobs or money. If I am in the top 10 percent of the rankings in Rocket League sure I can make a few grand streaming, but if I am in the top 10 percent of rankings at a school I can get a better job than the rest. What are the bottom 90 percent's motivation for helping people improve at that point?

> What are the bottom 90 percent's motivation for helping people improve at that point?

I think that's a great point but one that the Rocket League community somehow solves.

With very few exceptions, everyone who plays Rocket League is playing it because they find it intrinsically rewarding. When I taught intro stats I'd guess less than 2% of my students were studying stats because they found it intrinsically rewarding. Even when you get into upper level classes, even among graduate students, the percentage who are taking a class for the intrinsic reward rarely approaches 100%.

Trying to make education more like Rocket League, ignoring the wildly divergent motivations of the people involved, is a fool's errand.

But where does intrinsic motivation come from?

What are the objective differences between getting better at Rocket League and getting better at stats?

Agreed if we don't understand or create a basic framework, trying to put lipstick on a pig and making stats look like Rocket League is dumb.

Depends on what you think of the value of school is. Given the distribution of outcomes and skills, the effect of a degree for the vast majority in the long tail of graduates is just tribal affiliation with the people who achieve in the upper percentiles. For most people, simply paying for the credential without attending classes would deliver most of the value. Traditionally, this was known as "purchasing a commission," (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Purchase_of_commissions_in_the...), and today we do the same thing with student debt.

Online classes may be a forcing function for the discussion of how to price education, but the question itself has been the elephant in the room for decades.

I'd argue signalling is the effect, where the tribal initiation is the mechanism and purchasing a commission is the example precedent, but we're certainly in the same realm of ideas.

Interesting, can this be merged in some way with the concept of signs in postmodernism a la Baudrillard? It would be an interesting marriage

What are you talking about when looking at the distribution of outcomes? What are the outcomes?

The value of school for me was (in no particular order) learning how to learn, how to tackle large projects with difficult questions, how to work with other people, how to manage my time doing all of that, building a network of both people in my area and outside of my area, smoothly transitioning from childhood to adulthood, having freedom to explore and discover the things that truly interested me, and having a really good time doing all of that.

A huge part of the value of school came from staying on-campus in student dorms my first two years. Living with a large group of people expanded and enriched my social life tremendously. I loved being so close to the school and libraries and all the facilities. Its hard to know for sure but the social skills I gained are probably as valuable as the computer science education in creating the life I have now.

By distribution of outcomes I mean a Pareto distribution where a few people who graduated from a school will become presidents, win Nobel prizes, develop new techniques for disease treatment and surgery, write things that enlighten, or build something that changes the lives of many people, but the vast majority (the long tail) will not.

I did an online MS at Georgia Tech. I paid full price tuition for the program. Literally 3 years after I graduated, they announced a slash in price by 80 (EIGHTY!) percent. The program was excellent, and if not for my company offering to pay for it I wouldn't have considered it. I can absolutely recommend it now that it's so much cheaper, but it was also designed to be a remote program from the start.

OMSA/OMSCS worth it? I don’t want a résumé item that may be considered watered down in the future.

Plus, with more self-study, can’t you can get into most tech companies because they tend to be more open?

If you are going to do OMSCS for a resume, I would say you are vastly underestimating it. Its a full fledged masters from a top 10 school and many classes require as much as 20 hours/week work sometimes. Its far from something watered down.

Depending on your field a masters degree in anything is seen equivalent to every other masters degree. And on the other side of the spectrum, they're not considered useful by many employers/jobs.

While the mere presence of MS on a resume may not mean much to employers, I almost think it’s more important to weigh its usefulness against your current skill set. For instance, I work in tech but majored in something other than CS, and so I sometimes feel “weak” when I need to write more formal code. I’m going back to get my masters in CS so I can learn some of the foundational aspects that I unfortunately missed out on. I’m not as much concerned with fluffing my resume as I am filling the CS gaps I currently have.

Now if I did major in CS, I’m not sure I would still pursue a masters. But I didn’t, so there’s certainly value there for me.

This has been brought up before on HN: https://teachyourselfcs.com You don't get initiated by the teachers, you get initiated by doing the practice problems so you can develop schema for what strategy works.

That looks fantastic, thank you passing this along.

Mine was in information security (undergrad was CS). It was generally my experience that it didn't weigh much in the minds of hiring managers, at least not as much as real world experience. It does however seem to buy you a higher initial slotting/pay band than you would otherwise have if you were given an offer. I did learn quite a bit of useful things, qualitatively, which I can most definitely apply to my work. In my experience certs and experience tend to weigh more heavily for job accessibility.

What's missing from this discussion is a history of Universities. In the 19th century, as a student, you paid to be tutored by a professor to pass a standardized exam. Professors were paid by for tutoring. Profs were expected to teach classes, but were not paid for it. It was a means of recruiting students to tutor. Classes were also small, more like seminars.

The only thing that can really explain this is an elaborate form of price fixing between universities. If one university announced they were slashing "online-only" tuition costs, others would probably be forced to follow suit. It would be interesting to see a single reputable university drop tuition prices for "online-only", and offer automatic-transfer admittance to students already accepted into a similarly reputable school (e.g. if you go to Ohio State, you could quickly transfer to Penn State). That might trigger a race to the bottom, and reset tuition rates to what they rightfully should be.

The reduced revenue could be made up by cutting the unnecessary ivory-tower jobs, reducing the inflated exec compensation, and reducing the unnecessary $50M+ on-campus construction projects.

There's no reason for any university to do this unless they were for-profit (desperate for profits, respected) or failing (not respected).

I'd imagine the tuition should drop by about 30-50%, seeing as college costs are going to be dropping. I'm pretty sure in a skeptical sense they'll be trying to pay associate professors less for the same reason.

and charging students more.

Bluntly, college costs are not going to be dropping, at least this year. Universities still have the buildings, the infrastructure, and the staff that they bought to deliver in-person classes. That those staff are now having to do more work to put together online curriculums, and the admin are having to arrange extra technology for online classes makes it more expensive, not less.

A college set up as a distance-learning establishment is in a different place - and there are some of those. But the costs of running a university don't suddenly vanish just because the students do. And as everyone expects/hopes in-person teaching to be back next year, I don't see many institutions deciding to go online-only as a business model, either.

(FWIW the associate professors will be fine: they're mostly tenured. It's the adjuncts which are going to be shafted, together with the people who were hoping to get tenure-track positions in what is now a decimated job market).

> I'm pretty sure in a skeptical sense they'll be trying to pay associate professors less for the same reason. and charging students more.

From what I’ve seen, this has already been happening over the past decade already. I agree they’ll continue doing it for “new reasons”

> I'm pretty sure in a skeptical sense they'll be trying to pay associate professors less for the same reason.

'Associate' is a tenured rank. Now, to be honest, universities should cut the pay of their highest-paid members first—and we've been getting the highly performative "admin taking nominal pay cuts" measures as sops to that—but I'd imagine it's far more likely that non-tenured assistant professors will see those pay cuts first (or perhaps, as maishe points out https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23918339 , you meant adjuncts, who get the weakest protections of any faculty).

Tuition should drop by 50% anyway. The same schools were able to deliver the same services at that price 30 years ago. https://www.cnbc.com/2017/11/29/how-much-college-tuition-has...

Tuition costs are ridiculously inflated, and I'd love to see them come down, but "the same thing used to be cheaper" is an argument that doesn't work in any other field. I'd rather see a discussion of the inflation-adjusted rate of increase, or perhaps some other appropriately adjusted metric; tuition numbers would still look terrible, so there's no need to weaken one's argument this way.

That is inflation adjusted. Note "with all figures adjusted to reflect 2017 dollars"

Yes, you're quite right. I don't know how I missed that. Thanks!

Did you mean to say adjunct professors?

yeah, sorry, adjunct not associate.

I started looking at going back to school around a year ago and online is basically the only way that will ever happen realistically.

While most programs do charge a bit less for tuition, the amount of money they're charging for recorded lectures and a credential is almost comical. On top of that many programs, including some of the better looking ones (i.e. from flagship state schools) still differentiate between in and out of state tuition. There were a few programs that were cheaper, but you could tell there was a reason for that.

So yeah, no way in hell I'm paying for what they're asking considering what I'd get.

>still differentiate between in and out of state tuition.

They do this because your taxes have already paid part of your tuition for every in-state University.

I was considering MSc EE at Boulder, but the 20k price is way off the mark, especially being used to European prices.

Oh I saw that and it looked interesting, but an online EE degree sounds fishy regardless. Particularly at the graduate level.

I agree. For some degrees it's less of an issue but for areas of study like chemistry, biology, physics and many others, access to the college's physical resources like laboratories is part of what you're paying for. I don't know how you solve this problem with the current constraints imposed by COVID-19, but you can't expect these students to pay full-price for an inferior education.

You won't find anyone willing to teach several sections a day in a teaching laboratory with 24 students, the risk of infection is (correctly) perceived as too high. The market has adapted, there are kits to do experiments at home.

Research labs are much less densely packed, and in-person interaction is less. In less affected states lab-based research is starting again.

> there are kits to do experiments at home.

For high school level, sure.

But I can't see a sane way to let students handle acids like I did in chemistry labs during college, and physics labs have equipment that is too complex/expensive/dangerous to send to the students.

You can buy a lot of those chemicals in Walmart and Lows in the US (ex: Walmart usually has fairly pure concentrated sulfuric acid. Lows has most common organic solvents.) The lab equipment is also pretty easy to buy on amazon (I’ve bought some trying to teach myself, although I’d recommend against buying anything from China, It always seems to disappear somewhere around LA.)

There’s an entire community of autodidacts that do this sort of thing at home as a hobby. They have lots of advice on PPE, materials handling, storage, where to find papers and books etc. Some of them even record experiments instead of just writing them down so everyone can watch.

This is a lawsuit waiting to happen and not everyone has the space or want to do this. Completely and utterly unrealistic.

Oh absolutely, but it’s not impossible or even that difficult to set up.

My university is solving this by having everything online except for physical lab courses. And these labs will run at reduced density.

This does mean that students from out of city will have to find safe accommodation, but thankfully they are only a small part (<10%) of the student population at my uni .

Offline classes aren’t worth the cost of full tuition...

Classes are not worth the cost of full tuition.

That's true, but, if you look at how university budgets have changed over the past few decades, it's clear that they aren't supposed to be.

They've been aggressively holding educational costs down (see: adjunct professor), while the costs for non-educational services such as career counseling and "student support" (not entirely sure what that entails; my alma mater didn't have it as far as I'm aware) have mushroomed.


The value I got out of university was mostly not tuition, but I think overall, (very pre-pandemic) the whole package was worth it. I've learnt vastly more by reading, engaging with people, and doing both before and after university though, for much less cost.

I've also never been on a paid training or course that was worth the cost and didn't involve something above and beyond the tuition (networking, project based, access to facilities/tools/data, etc.). The only times this obviously isn't true are when you're gaining some required or coveted industry certification, and then that's only because of the value attached to it, not the value of the learning itself vs other ways to gain the same skills/knowledge.

The lesson for me has been that for any course or school there's got to be an expected benefit way beyond the perceived value of the tuition, and that most of the time this doesn't exist.

I think paid training in companies is likely as popular as it is mostly because it feels a bit like a vacation and most companies don't allow, or don't make it socially acceptable, for people to take sufficient time off for their own long term wellbeing.

Ye well the major upside with a degree for me was forcing me to learn stuff I would never have bothered with. I mean, at the time when I started in uni I had no clue where to even begin. Nowadays I would prefer reading a book rather than taking classes, but I think that is because I went to uni and learned to learn.

I feel it is the same with books on programming. They are worth reading first when you already know how to program.

I think people here sometimes are delusional about the prices of education since everything software-related has almost become a commodity. You can buy a Django/React/whatever course for 9.99 on Udemy. However, there’s an incredible amount of effort which goes into preparing courses in other disciplines.

* people are delusional because colleges are getting away with low quality work, because of the higher barrier of entry for competition compared to something like Udemy.

* People are getting delusional because of both low quality and high price.

Edit: disclaimer: I am a college student at thus I may be biased about what I see here in India. But I assume it is almost universal from other discussions here and on reddit.

Online teaching works particularly well for the tutorial model, where you have a small number (<5) of students plus the instructor engaged in discussion. It fails completely for large classes. That's not dissimilar to the situation before the plague.

Wow I'd argue the opposite. Large classes / lectures I didn't even interact with the professor in person, might as well just get that info online. Smaller classes I found in person discussions much more valuable.

In the large classes you still need to have tutorials, this time led by the TAs. On-line TA herding is difficult, I don't envy anyone who is doing this right now. There's also the hallway track, students organizing themselves into study groups and interest groups. Doing that on-line is quite impossible, how do you have random encounters after class?

> It fails completely for large classes.

Large in-person classes you don't even have discussions. Some universities have lecture halls of 400-600 students, and you have to go ask a TA for help later in the week

> That's not dissimilar to the situation before the plague.

So I think you agree and are saying that it's the same?

It's absolutely the same. Before, you'd outsource homework and grading in the large introductory classes to awful proprietary tech, the fact that now you have people who can't put a proper recording of their class together doesn't make it worse.

Schools still have a very large proportion of their fixed costs to cover. Schools and their lecturers need to invest in perfecting onlive delivery.

Therefore it's not particularly realistic to expect schools to chop their top-line so soon.

This is clearly a transitory and uncertain period. With time, possibly less time than schools hope, they will be forced to adjust prices downward.

You adjust for that by increasing number of enrolled students. Not by pretending you are delivering the same product.

Many universities’ core product is exclusivity and hard-to-get-into status signaling. Increasing enrollment disrupts that value.

It's more than just signaling -- the primary value of limited admission is providing greater networking opportunities and directing social and academic culture. Although, this is mostly lost by going online to begin with.

For profit institutions do not get sympathy for their fixed costs.

Most large for-profit schools are primarily online, and have long been. Huge in-person campuses are primarily public universities.

You might be confusing private nonprofit universities with for-profit schools.

One still cannot charge more than the customer is willing to pay. Of course, if the customer is willing to pay that much then it wasn’t too high to begin with.

Most are already charging more than the customer is willing to pay, thanks to scholarships/grants/subsidies/etc.

Don't a lot of the bigger schools have billions of dollars in endowments that can easily cover fixed costs with their returns?

Yes, but they're already using that money.

As much as I dislike making students paying high tuition fees, as a Canadian, the alternative is worse I feel.

What would end up happening should tuition fees be reduced overnight:

- Universities / Community Colleges would experience a fiscal deficit (or substantial cut to their income). Here in Canada, that means taxpayers' will be on hook.

- Should Educational institutions cut salaries of their staff - they would risk losing their top faculty and support staff.

Just like people rush to support local businesses and local economy, they should also support their local education institutions. After all, they employ a large number of people and have a huge hand in inspiring next generation of workers and provide lots of social programs for local community.

On another note, I often see people discussing merits of University degree / Community College diploma and often point out that Computer Science degree is not worth it. I beg to differ - the Modern World owes quiet a lot to army of University / Community college graduates who have made quantum leap in civilization's advancement possible.

Just over 40 years ago, overwhelming majority of workers didn't have a post-secondary education. But since then, around the World post-secondary education has experienced a boom and we that all corners of the World has experienced substantial gains in their economic output which in turn has led to better health conditions and a better living standard.

I sometimes worry that a lot of the online class feedback that while not wrong, is based on a bunch of self selecting folks who are good at / motivated to / prefer taking online classes.

If somehow we magically switched to online classes and everyone was good at making them ... I worry we'd loose a lot of people / the education quality could drop and we wouldn't know.

Granted that also implies that folks who aren't good at in person classes may have been lost for decades already.

> Granted that also implies that folks who aren't good at in person classes may have been lost for decades already.

For what it's worth, I probably went to about 10% of my classes in college and I got a great education (CS+math) from a combination of the course materials, exams, and working with other students.

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