Monday, August 27, 2007

Thomas Rollins--Bringing Great College Course to Your Home

Wilfred McClay has a tribute to former Capitol Hill attorney Thomas Rollins. Most people don't know who Rollins is and frankly until a few months ago, I didn't either. But over the past two years, in which my commute averages 1 hour and 40 minutes one way, I have come to love an appreciate The Teaching Company, a company that has brought over 200 college level courses to the public via taped lectures appearing on DVD, CD and cassettes.
After some rocky early years, the company has grown steadily to become the colossus of its field, the country's leading publisher of proprietary university-level courses for home use. With more than 200 courses already available and new ones being added almost daily--now including a line of courses directed at high-school and home-schooled students--and with all of them taught by reputable and often quite talented lecturers, the Teaching Company has become a serious force in American education. Such was evidently the opinion of Brentwood Associates, a well-heeled private equity investment firm in Los Angeles, which acquired the company last October for an undisclosed, but presumably handsome, sum.

Clearly Mr. Rollins deserves enormous credit for having the vision and fortitude to make such a success. But something else was needed. A business innovation succeeds by serving needs that existing institutions fail to address. In this case, the needs were simple but profound: Ordinary Americans' deeply felt love of learning and earnest desire for self-improvement. H.L. Mencken liked to jibe that "no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people." But the Teaching Company's success offers evidence for the opposite proposition: that one can build a successful business by appealing to the intelligence of the American people.
Far too many people among America's leaders take the intelligence of the American public with a grain of salt (if they even consider the everyday American as intelligent) and they would be wrong. Rollins didn't take that intelligence and the desire for self-improvement for granted, he built a business on it.

I have obtained my Teaching Company courses and lectures via my public library, but you can buy your own from the company. Over the past couple of years, I have supplemented my professional education by beefing up my background in history, adding some economics courses and political history. I have also enjoyed courses like physics for non-physicists, the Nature of Earth (an intro to geology). I love the company and I love their product.


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maplehouse said...

Fellow Teaching Company addicts can join my Yahoo groups and phpbb forums:

Some of my new Yahoo groups:

Teaching Company forum:

Robert Hazen's "Origins of Life" forum

Doug van Orsow