By Zvi Galil
More than 20 million Americans are heading to campuses nationwide to commence the new academic year. They will be participating in a model of higher education that is under increasing strain.
Financially, there is the much-reported and growing mismatch between tuition, rising at a rate higher than inflation for the past 30 years, and students’ challenged means of paying for it, as evidenced by the titanic volume of outstanding student debt. But another factor, less remarked on, is no less important: the decades-old model of a college or professional degree acquired in one’s 20s, that equips one for a lifelong job, is an ever-poorer fit for the modern economy.
People switch jobs and careers more often — even in a good economy. Also, as technology advances and the frontiers of understanding are pushed back, it is more frequently necessary to revisit and renew one’s store of knowledge, both practical and conceptual. Consider too how a longer lifespan and recession-delayed retirement contribute to longer working lives, and the need for a model that provides for lifelong learning is evident.
The existing institutions of higher education do little to address that need — evening classes, the occasional executive degree, a smattering of alumni auditing courses and a handful of correspondence degree programs at the same, increasingly unaffordable tuition as a residential degree. And this is a problem.
The advent of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), web-based, open access educational courses, has been touted as the solution to both problems, with free online classes taught by star professors available on-demand. However, MOOCs, as a group, have been characterized by low completion rates (typically less than 5 percent), doubts about the quality of learning outcomes and an uncertain reception by employers. And yet, MOOCs’ promoters got one fundamental thing right: online learning, developed properly, can result in learning attainments fully the equal of in-person classes.
[ Full article available at The Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/zvi-galil/proving-grounds-for-a-new_b_5899762.html ]