Thursday, June 19, 2014

 

Fair is Fair


When discussions get heated, sometimes people dig in their heels, even as they suspect that their own position has become untenable. (Maybe _because_ their position is untenable.)  I’ve made a point on campus of trying to move the culture away from that, to create an environment in which people can admit when they’ve goofed without losing face.  Ultimately, it’s better just to admit the mistake and get closer to truth.  But it’s easier said than done.

Fair is fair.  If I want others to admit when they’re wrong, I should do the same.

I got it wrong on the Starbucks tuition deal.  I started writing before doing the digging that needed to be done.

Over the past few days, enough details have come out that I really can’t embrace it anymore.  And if I had put in enough time upfront, I probably would have noticed at least some of them.  My thanks to Sara Goldrick-Rab, Anya Kamenetz, Tressie McMillan Cottom, Rachel Fishman, and many others who actually did their homework first.  

The benefit that Starbucks is offering requires hourly workers without two years’ worth of college credits to front over ten thousand dollars on their own before getting any help.  For most, that’s unrealistic.  It’s also strange, given that most Starbucks workers live within reasonable distance of a fully accredited community college that specializes in the first two years and charges much less.  For most hourly workers, doing two years’ worth of credits at a community college and then transferring for the bachelor’s makes far more financial sense.  Enough community colleges have enough online courses at this point that the objection from convenience mostly doesn’t hold anymore; students whose schedules require online delivery can find it inexpensively.

For the third and fourth years, the deal gets better, but it’s still oddly restrictive.  It only covers a single institution.

I don’t fault Starbucks for making an online option available; given the shifting hours characteristic of the industry, online classes may be the best option for many students.  And depending on where you live, transportation can be a significant cost in terms of both time and money.  But there’s a difference between making an online option available -- which I support -- and making it the only option available.

In the original post, I praised Wegmans for the scholarships it offers students.  I’m sticking by that, precisely because their scholarships don’t restrict students to one place.  They’re portable.  They allow students to pick the programs and places that make the most sense for them.  If a given student wants an online program, that’s fine; if she prefers to go to campus, and can make that work, she can do so.  The Starbucks deal offers one delivery method, from one institution, take it or leave it.  That’s...peculiar.  Surely ASU is not the only university in America that’s up to snuff.

In my perfect world, employer sponsorships wouldn’t be necessary at all.  We’d have generous public funding that would make high-quality public options truly available to everybody.  That’s not as utopian as it sounds; it actually describes CUNY until the early 1970’s.  It can be done.  But politically, we’re so far from there that I’m happy to see employers step up to help.  In this case, I let my enthusiasm get ahead of me.  Grading on a curve for too long can do that.

In the meantime, there’s work to be done.  Back to the trenches.

Comments:
Good for you.

In your defense, you did write "apparently"! More importantly, the lede in the NY Times falsely characterized the education as "free" and omitted the most important detail about the proposal. I read the entire article and picked up on one qualifier, but nowhere is there any mention of the huge delay (probably 9 months, perhaps more) before they get reimbursed.

There is no correction on the original Times story, but perhaps we must assume that the article was written entirely from a Starbucks press release that deliberatly omitted the 20 credit hour "detail" and supplied the interviews quoted in the story. If so, put most of the blame on Starbucks.
 
I'm only finding a few of the analyses you mention (for example, I'm not finding Anya Kamenetz's critique, just the mention she did on it for NPR). Would you mind please providing links?
 
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