Education

Courseworld launches ‘Hulu for Humanities’ to give liberal arts a place in online ed

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A liberal arts education can be an expensive path to unemployment.

Courseworld launched its “Hulu for the Humanities” today so people who are passionate about these topics can study them without the cost.

Courseworld is a free hub of higher education videos that focus on topics in the classic liberal arts. The goal is to give the arts and humanities a greater presence in the world of online education, and keep liberal arts alive in an economy that pays more for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills.

“As the school year begins, the site addresses two big problems with online education,” founder Justin Belmont said in an e-mail. First is the problem of discovery. While sites like YouTube are easy to search, they can be difficult to browse. They have too much content, categories are too broad and quality is inconsistent. Second, educational tech platforms have been largely biased toward science and tech topics.”

Student loan debt has surpassed $1 trillion in the U.S., and tuition in the U.S. is expected to double in the next 10 years. A recent report from Goldman Sachs, based on Department of Labor Statistics, found that unemployment rates of college graduates has surpassed those of workers without a high school education. An expensive college degree no longer guarantees a lucrative career and a quick climb out of debt.

California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom described this situation as a “Code Red.” 

However people with degrees in STEM fields are in high-demand, and make significantly more than their humanity-schooled counterparts. PayScale recently conducted a study that found that eight of the top 10 majors with the highest earning potential are in engineering fields.

The combination of high unemployment, dragging math and science school test scores, and mounting student debt has set off a nationwide campaign to promote STEM education. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) like Udemy, Udacity, Coursera, Khan Academy, and the like have been a major driver of this movement — they offer education at a lower cost.

As Belmont mentioned above, many of these portals heavily emphasize science and engineering. Practical subjects like business, entrepreneurship, and marketing are also popular.

Courseworld aims to to be the online place where liberal arts content is just as accessible and affordable. The site features 16,000 curated online videos, which are indexed into 17 categories and 700 subcategories within the arts and humanities.  For examples, the art history category is further divided into specific movements and artists. Videos can also be searched by keyword and students can save content for later.

People who strive to make a lot of money generally don’t select liberal arts degrees. A study by the Annapolis Group (and my own personal experience as a English and art history major) found that students choose these majors because they are passionate about the topic and find them fulfilling.

But many students don’t have the luxury of pursuing a degree that won’t secure them a job and/or help pay off their student loans. Courseworld can help these students indulge their liberal arts interests without the same cost and also support continued education for people who are not in school.

Belmont received a masters in fine arts from Columbia University in 2008 and worked on global communications and public affairs at Google, where he was the editor-in-chief of Google’s internal news channel. He then became the director of communications at Endeavor, a nonprofit that focuses one entrepreneurship, and founded Prose Media, a writing service for brands.

He was inspired to start Courseworld back in 2005, but the early project struggled to get off the ground. Now in 2013, he said technology is cheaper, bandwidth is faster, content is abundant, and the public is interested in online education — the time is right to build a “comprehensive repository” for liberal arts.

Courseworld is a nonprofit. The content is crowdsourced and curated by a team of volunteers. It is based in New York.

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