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Another Minnesota voice for postsecondary completion

Date Published: 07/27/2011

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Back to School for Grown-Ups is a relatively new enterprise in Minnesota that shares our zeal for dramatically increasing post-secondary attainment, with special emphasis on grown-ups of all ages who need to re-think, re-educate and re-train in a fast-changing economic world.

The key principal in the firm is Laura Gilbert, who produces books, blogs, research papers, presentations and counseling, all providing sound advice to young and older adults who are trying to navigate the ever trickier and more expensive path to four-year "sheepskins" or other higher-ed credentials.  Her book, "How to Save $50,000 on College" is a pocket-sized guide that cuts through a lot of the confusing fog and expensive obstacles to higher-ed completion.

Gilbert is a life-long learner whose biography fits her philosophy.  She picked up her credentials in stages, starting with a triple major in music from Metropolitan State in the Twin Cities, a master's in industrial relations in mid-career, and a PhD in educational psychology much later in life.

Among her more important contributions recently are a thoughtful white paper, "For-Profit Education Under Scrutiny: Issues and Challenges," issued earlier this summer.  Gilbert succinctly summarizes some of the more appalling abuses of the "bad actors" in the fast-growing field, providing a lesson in how privatizing the classic public and nonprofit functions of education, health and welfare comes fraught with risks.  Her charts showing comparative cost and value for public, private nonprofit, and for-profit rather strongly make the case for the former two rather than the latter.  But Gilbert also acknowledges the strengths of responsible for-profit models, especially through online learning, and concludes that expensive and prone to abuse as they can be, for-profits are a legitimate route and have become a "mainstay" of our sytem.

Gilbert's work features a sharp cut-to-the-chase style and she has a good sense of humor, as her blogs on the Larry Crowne movie attest.  Like many higher-ed enthusiasts who loved the premise of a laid-off "UMart" retail worker going back to school for a degree, Laura and I were disappointed in the "nice" but rather boring and implausible movie.  How can you fall so flat, with such an uplifting concept, and Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts?  And I agree with Gilbert that it would have been a lot more fun to send Buzz and Woody (those souls of aging obsolescence, from the Toy Story trilogy) back to school.

--Dane Smith 

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