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Outsourcing Education: Does It Matter If Someone in India Corrected Your College Paper?

That paper you think was corrected by a professor actually might have been marked up by someone halfway across the globe.

Plenty of American businesses have outsourced jobs across the globe, and now colleges are jumping on the bandwagon. Colleges are hiring online "tutors" to check student work for grammar and other English mistakes and provide the kind of feedback students used to get from professors or teaching assistants before budget cuts resulted in staff layoffs and unmanageably large class sizes.

Here's how it works: Schools like West Hills Community College in central California hire services like Virginia-based RichFeedback. When a student turns in a paper, the professor sends it to RichFeedback, which then passes it along to its own tutors, mostly based in India. According to the Fresno Bee, the tutors return the papers "covered with color-coded corrections, suggestions for improvements and references to class text examples." Then professors only have to spend time evaluating a paper's subject-matter content.

So is it a big deal if the person correcting your paper is in India instead of on campus?

Some college instructors say it's insulting to expect them to spend time correcting a paper's grammar mistakes. They say they don't have time to slog through 10 pages of countless subject-verb agreement problems.

Other educators say these kinds of online services are unethical and undermine the traditional responsibilities teachers and students have to each other. "It treats college students, especially community college students, as second-grade human beings," says Marilyn Valentino, an English professor at Lorain County Community College in Ohio. Plus, while virtual tutors can correct grammar mistakes, they don't build relationships with students and help mentor them through the college experience.

I would agree that it's preferable for students to get lots of personal attention from on-campus professors. But the reality is that community colleges need to save money and full professors don't provide their greatest value by spending time on grammar errors. College professors—even ones at top-50 schools—will tell you they spend a lot of time teaching students the basics of writing instead of the meat of economics or philosophy or whatever their area of expertise is. Schools like West Hills are barely surviving the economic downturn. Until they have the money to hire more faculty, outsourcing remedial writing feedback makes sense.

But it's also worth noting that if our public school system did a good job of preparing kids for college, the burden of correcting basic grammar mistakes wouldn't fall to professors. This is another instance where we could save money by investing fully in primary and secondary education.

photo (cc) via Flickr user Paula Reedyk

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