Rockefeller Center Direct Line - Spring 2012

Khan Academy.  MITx.  MBA@UNC.  Higher education is going online, and if it can be online, there is no reason why it cannot be global.  When Ben Wildavsky visitedcampus last month as part of the Leading Voices in Higher Education lecture series, he said, “My real argument is that globalization is a real opportunity. It’s not really something to worry about. That’s fundamentally because it’s not a zero-sum game.” 

He was right.  Just think about other times when the technology of delivering education changed.  Mass production of books over the past centuries allowed education to spread cheaply and efficiently.  What we discovered over that time is that the knowledge contained in books is not a substitute for a college education but a complement to it – it creates opportunities for colleges to further develop and distribute that knowledge to broaden and deepen the educational experience.  There is no reason why the innovation of prefacing education with online or global cannot have the same effect.

The three ventures linked above are different ways to present, organize, distribute, and convene educational content that is similar to what is delivered in thousands of lecture halls and seminar rooms on college campuses.   The question we should ask ourselves is now that such material and experiences can be delivered adequately, if not superbly, online and globally, what does this free us up to do in the on-campus environment?

Ben Wildavsky suggested a way to answer this question when he encouraged us to “not just embrace the rhetoric of globalization with a lot of platitudes,” but to first answer the question, “What are our core strengths?”  It is an easy question at the Rockefeller Center: our core strength is our ability to integrate a student’s in- and out-of-classroom experience, to further Dartmouth’s liberal arts mission by engaging students in public policy and developing their capacity for leadership. 

For example, we offer a First-Year Fellowsprogram that links our introductory public policy course for the Public Policy Minor to summer internships under the mentorship of Dartmouth alumni in Washington, DC.  The experience is strengthened by an intensive Civic Skills Training program to help students be more effective in their internships.  The Center is also home to the Policy Research Shop, in which the real-life policy challenges of state and local government entities in New Hampshire and Vermont form the basis of class projects in two of our research methods courses.  Students work in teams on policy briefs that are often presented as testimony to state and local policy makers.  The Center has developed two leadership programs, the Management and Leadership Development Program and the Rockefeller Leadership Fellows program, that help students connect their liberal arts education to leadership challenges both at Dartmouth and in the world beyond.

Dartmouth is no ivory tower in which we seek shelter from the world.  It is and must always be a thriving educational community that is fully engaged with the world.  As the director of the Center that developed each of these unique programs, it is not daunting but exhilarating to think about the ways that they could be enhanced by utilizing online technology and a more global consciousness in support of Dartmouth’s mission.  We have already begun to experiment in those directions, and I look forward to reporting on our progress in the years to come.

Andrew A. Samwick is the Director of the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences, the Sandra L. and Arthur L. Irving '72a, P'10 Professor of Economics at Dartmouth College, and a research associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research. In 2003 and 2004, he served as chief economist on the staff of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers.
Since joining the Dartmouth faculty in 1994, his scholarly work has covered a range of topics, including pensions, saving, taxation, portfolio choice, and executive compensation. Professor Samwick has been published in American Economic Review, Journal of Political Economy, Journal of Finance, Journal of Public Economics, and a number of specialized journals and conference volumes. He graduated summa cum laude with a degree in economics from Harvard College and received his Ph.D. in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He blogs about economics, politics, and current events.