You would have to be mad…

by reestheskin on 20/11/2020

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“I have been this close to buying a nursing school.” This is not a sentence you expect to hear from a startup founder. Nursing seems a world away from the high-tech whizziness of Silicon Valley. And, to use a venture-capital cliché, it does not scale easily.

This was from an article in the Economist awhile back. As ever, there is a mixture of craziness and novelty. The gist of the article is about Lambda School, a company that matches ‘fast’ training with labour force shortages (hence the nursing angle). When I first read it, I had thought they had already opened a nursing school, but that is not so. Nonetheless, there are aspects that interest me.

We learn that

  1. Full-time students attend for nine months, five days a week from 8am to 5pm. Latecomers risk falling behind, but for most classes, 85% of students who began a course finish. Study is online but ‘live’ (rather than pre-recorded videos). These completion rates are a lot higher than for many community colleges in the US.
  2. Lambda only gets paid after its students have landed a job which pays them more than $50,000 a year. Around 70% of those enrolled do so within six months of graduation. Lambda then receives about a sixth of their income for the next two years, until they have paid about $30,000 (or they could pay £20,000 up front).
  3. One third of the costs are spent on finding jobs for graduates, another third on recruitment and only one third on the actual teaching. Scary.

The Economist chimes in with the standard “Too often students are treated as cash cows to be milked for research funding.” Too true, but to solve this issue we need to massively increase research costings, have meaningful conversations with charities and government (including the NHS) about the way students are forced to involuntarily subsidise research, and cut out a lot of research in universities that is the D of R&D.

But this is not a sensible model for a university. On the other hand it is increasingly evident to me that universities are not suitable places to learn many vocational skills. The obvious immediate problem for Lambda is finding and funding a suitable clinical environment. That is exactly the problem that medical (or dental) schools face. A better model is a sequential one, one which ironically mimics the implicit English model of old: university study, followed by practical hospital clerkships. Just tweak the funding model to allow it.