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ATD Blog

Education's Collage of Subsidies


Sat Sep 03 2005


I was thinking about Clark's (the other Clark) post on learner rights, and then the broader learner marketplace. One of the trickiest parts about development of formal learning programs is that so often, the learner only has a passing relationship to the cost of the program.

Enterprise Programs


Enterprise training programs are paid by the corporate, military, or government sponsor.

Their goal is usually some form of increased productivity or compliance.

Any vendor has to care more about meeting the need of the training director, and the training sponsor, than the end learner. Even the cost of the classroom environment is often subsidized by the enterprise, penalizing e-learning, outside classes, or even training outsourcing.


K-12 schools are paid by taxpayers, not the students of course, nor even the family directly (even a family that goes on lavish vacations, for example, gets their education subsidized (of course if they have big houses, they also big property taxes; and then there is the private school whammy, where they are paying twice...).).


As we are also learning, some K-12 activity is subsidized by softdrink/juice/water vendors, that come with strings attached.

There are grant based subsidies that push activities in one way or another.

And there are more subtle subsidies, making land cheaper than building supplies or technology, relative to other building projects.

Of course, K-12 is required of students, which can be considered an anti-subsidy (increasing its cost to the student, while still interfering with the learner marketplace). Lack of choice for any required course also represents an anti-subsidy.



In many college situation, parents significantly augment the students' ability pay at least some of the tuition. Then there are scholarships for academic, sports, and music. And scholarships, like other endowments, are subsidies by alums, meaning schools have to do things specifically to keep alums happy (while students do certain things to meet the criteria of the scholarship), not necessarily in the interest of the students. Furthermore, the reason many students put up with schools is to get better jobs, which means that while corporations might subsidize universities directly, they anti-subsidize them indirectly. Any certification, in fact, is anti-subsidized by the organization that values it

These are just a few examples from the K-12, Higher Ed, and enterprise world. But every subsidy and anti-subsidy distorts the natural value proposition away from the learner marketplace. Getting over all of these will be our challenge for the decade.

Note: This blog post has been subsidized by my most recent book, Learning By Doing. New book review here.

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