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School at $30 an Hour
February 21, 2010 - 8:38pm

This past week our kids spent a day at the Killington Superstars ski and snowboard program. $180 for six hours. Lunch included.

 

Do the math and you will see that a year of ski school would cost roughly the same as a year of non-discounted tuition at a private college or university. The match is not exact, but for pretty close to the same price you could send your kid away to college or send her to ski school basically full-time. Let the kids get their education's from YouTube/EDU and iTunesU. Maybe compromise and have them live at the resort, take online classes from a public institution, and pay for a season of skiing and lessons. Today's NYTimes ran a story about the emerging class of laid-off young professionals taking jobs at ski resorts while they wait out the recession, "The Return of the Ski Bum" - this plan is simply a more direct route to the same conclusion.

 

As a learning technologist I tend to see the world through the prism of higher education. What does the collapse of the newspaper industry say about higher ed? What does the collapse of the record industry say about higher ed? You get the point. So what does ski school say about higher ed? And here, I'll stipulate right up front that I'm thinking about higher education in the residential, 4 year undergraduate college type configuration. A place with dorms and libraries and basketball teams, someplace that houses 18 to 22 year olds.

 

Ski school is like higher ed. because:

 

a) Ski school is a bundled experience. For one price you get a lift ticket, instruction (5-to-1 student/teacher ratio), and even lunch.

 

b) Ski school is a high fidelity experience. Here I'm thinking of the fidelity/convenience give-and-take that Kevin Maney talks about in his great book Trade-Off: Why Some Things Catch On, and Others Don't.

 

c) Ski school does not produce a "marketable" skill. One fact I learned from the Louis Menand book The Marketplace of Ideas is that about 2% of undergraduates major in history (as did I), while 22% are business majors.

 

We send our kids to ski school because we are investing in their human capital. We don't expect that their education's will funnel them directly into employment. Rather, we think they will need to create whatever jobs they end up in - and all sorts of educational experiences are necessary to prepare them for this task. Our rationale for being willing to pay for a day of ski school is, I think, the same reasons why we will pay for our kids to major in history, or philosophy, or whatever they choose.

So what is the point I'm struggling to make? What does ski school at $30 an hour connect to the world of residential undergraduate education? Perhaps not at all. Any ideas? I'm happy to report, however, that after a day of ski school and a few days on the slopes that we ended the week on the black diamond slopes. A successful return on our educational investment.

 

 

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