Article first published as
Is Higher Education Doomed? (Part III): The Missed Opportunity – A Viable Alternative To The Status Quo
(Click on link for Part II)
In Part I of this series we reviewed the factors that are setting the stage for a major paradigm shift in Higher Education. In Part II we discussed a hypothetical scenario involving the two people who matter in higher education: the Professor and the Student.
Unfortunately, when considering how to resolve the current financial crisis confronting higher ed, state-run university administrators have tended to focus increasing class sizes, cutting class offerings, and replacing permanent faculty with less costly contract lecturers as is the case in Iowa (Article: Iowa State increases class sizes.) No one can defend this strategy as beneficial to the Professor or the Student.
So what is the solution?
Some have proposed replacing public, state-run universities with private, for-profit schools (See: Are America’s University In Danger of Being Privatized?;) however, substituting a public bureaucracy with profit-motivated, uncaring people does not solve the financial pressures crushing higher education. Past attempts to privatize public sector industries demonstrates that the concept rarely offers the results promised (Ellen J. Dannin paper on privatization.) Existing private, for-profit universities are already under fire for mining federal loan programs for their financial gain (See: For-Profits High Risk Loan Strategy.)
Another alternative are online and/or independent study programs. These programs have been around for decades; however, both have a questionable track record with some programs being too expensive, lacking quality learning objectives, and/or being illegitimate scams to trade money for a diploma. The parent university accreditation group (The Council For Higher Education Accreditation or CHEA) encourages universities to aggressively discredit any higher education program that might be a ‘Diploma Mill’ (CHEA paper,) so most alternative higher education programs risk unwanted negative publicity from traditional schools.
Yet, the current crisis in higher education offers an opportunity for a Socrates-type model of learning that re-establishes the Professor/Student focus without the costly baggage of a brick and mortar university. The use of Social Media blogs, webinars, and other online connection tools have the potential to re-invent higher education; however, there is little evidence that these tools will replace the traditional university system of teaching.
No one can doubt that higher education will survive this crisis, because it has too. Our economic success is driven, not by people who have a college degree, but by people who have a higher education. In the end, the success of any post-secondary teaching program will be measured by how well it educates, not how much it costs.
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