Customer service matters in most competitive industries that I know (the cable companies’ government-sanctioned monopolies being the exception that proves the rule).  So it still surprises me that many traditional universities don’t get this.

The other week I was looking at some of the continuing education options at NYU (yes, history courses…but I was also considering stats and computer programming…launching this blog has done wonders for my interests!).  There’s terrific breadth to NYU’s offerings, all listed online. In fact, relative to other local universities like Columbia and the New School, NYU’s online continuing ed site is a breeze to navigate.

Problem is, there’s no resource I know of out there to understand how good any one course is at any university (if you know of any, please email me at matt [at] historicalness [dot] com).  There’s no detailed course syllabus….or student reviews of the professor…or student reviews of the course overall.  So how do you know what you’re getting for your money?

I called NYU, trying to get a sense at least for a detailed syllabus.  After three phone calls and two emails to the instructor, I still hadn’t gotten anything.  I was one befuddled puppy.

How about some love!

So instead I went looking for alternative resources and found some learning materials at and Khan Academy (both of which I’ve described in an earlier post).

Here’s the tale of the tape:

  • Price: $25 (for 1 month subscription to; Khan Academy is free) vs. at least $500-$1,000 for a university program (and much more if you’re taking it for credit)
  • Time to start: Immediate vs. Waiting for course to start (could be months as in my case)
  • Class schedule: When my schedule permits vs. Mandated evenings or weekends.

I certainly miss the class setting that a university program provides.  But for me the cost/benefit trade-off of the online sites more than compensated — and at the very least made the barrier to trying them negligible.

With an increasing number of university and non-university options out there, some institutions have figured out what good customer service looks like.  Many, however, are caught in the past.