The University as a Failed Model for Learning. Free Valuation and Finance Courses-Damodaran

 Education is one of the few things a person is willing to pay for and not get.William Lowe Bryan (1860–1955) 10th president of Indiana University (1902 to 1937).

The University Business Model is Broken

On Jan. 25th, 2012 Professor Damordaran wrote, “My small challenge to the “university” business model.”

I am not a great fan of the university business model as a delivery mechanism for learning. The model can be traced back to the middle ages and is built around physical location and arbitrary requirements for graduation (that have less to do with learning and more to do with maximizing university revenues and faculty comfort). I know! I know! I am a beneficiary of the system and I gain from the low teaching loads and a tenure system that is indefensible. With four children, I am also a consumer of the same system and I am flabbergasted at how little accountability is built into it. How many classes have you taken (or your children taken) where you should have received your money back because of the quality of the learning experience? How often have you been able to get your money back?

For hundreds of years we (as consumers) have had no choice. Universities have operated with little competition and substantial collusion. There is no other way that you can explain how little variation there is in tuition fees across US universities and the rise in these fees over time. Outside the US, the fees may be subsidized by governments, but the quality of the learning experience is often worse, with the rationale being that if you paid little or nothing for your education, you should eat whatever crumbs fall of the table in you direction. But I think that the game is changing, as technology increasingly undercuts the barriers to entry to this business. I am not just talking about online universities (which, for the most part, have gone for the low hanging fruit) or the experiments in online learning from MIT, Stanford and other universities. These are evolutionary changes that build on the university system and don’t challenge it. I am talking about a whole group of young companies that have made their presence felt by offering new tools for delivering class content and learning. I am convinced that the education market is going to be upended in the next decade and that the new model is going to do to universities what Amazon has done to brick and mortar retailers.

To back up my point, I am running an experiment this semester with the classes that I am teaching at the Stern School of Business: Corporate Finance, a first-year MBA class, and Valuation, an elective. I have taught these classes for more than 25 years now and have tried to make the material and the lectures available to the rest of the world, but I have never formally tracked those taking these classes online. In fact, if you were not an MBA student in the class, taking the class online would have required you to forage through my website for materials and keep track of what’s going on. And I would have no idea that you even were taking the class… So, I want to change that..

Last semester, I used a company called Coursekit to package and organize my class and was impressed with their clean look and responsiveness to my requests. This semester, which starts in a few days, I have created a coursekit page for each class that is focused on just online students. I will use this page to deliver content (lecture notes, handouts and assignments that those who are in my physical class get), webcasts of lectures (though not in real-time, but the links should show up about an hour after the actual class ends ) and even the exams (you can take them and grade them yourself). The site also has a social media component, where you can start or join discussion topics, which I hope will provide the element of interaction that is missing when you do an online course. When you do get to the home page for Coursekit, you will notice my mugshot in the entry way. I promise you that I have zero financial interest in the company but I really want to see it succeed, because I think the education business needs to be shaken up.

The first session for both classes is on Monday, January 30. If you want to take these classes online, here is what you need to do:

  1. a.     Corporate finance class 
  2. b.    What is it? This is my “big picture” class about how financial principles govern how a business should be run. It looks at everything that a business does, through the lens of finance, and classifies them into investment, financing and dividend decisions.

Who can use it? I am biased but I think that everyone can use a corporate finance class: entrepreneurs starting new businesses, managers at established businesses and investors valuing these businesses.

How do you join? Go to the site ( Enter RWHZYG as your code and you can then register for the class. Once you are registered, you will automatically be put into this page, every time you enter the site.

b. Valuation

What is it? This is a valuation class and it is about valuing any type of business: private or public, large or small and across markets. My focus is on providing the tools that will allow you to create your solution to valuation challenges, since new ones keep popping up.

Who can use it? While investors interested in valuing companies may be the obvious target, I teach the class more generally to be useful (I hope) to managers running the businesses and those who are just curious about value.

How do you join? Go to the site ( Enter EH7WZN as your code and you can then register for the class. Once you are registered, you will automatically be put into this page, every time you enter the site.
Just to be clear, my first obligation is to the students in my MBA classes and I will not stint or compromise on that obligation, but I view delivering a great learning experience to those taking the class online as a close second. Note also that you will not get any credit from NYU for taking this class. While I will give you the grading templates to grade your own exams and evaluate your own assignments, I will not be able to give you direct feedback on your work. But then again, the price (at zero) is set right. So, these classes definitely come with a money back guarantee. In fact, the more the merrier… So, pass the message in this post on to any friends who may be interested. See you in cyber space on Monday.

Though I am not a fan of traditional finance courses, because of the heavy emphasis on math and models instead of deep thinking about businesses, you be the judge. Perhaps you might enjoy being part of the experiment.

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