Posts Tagged ‘AcademicEarth’

The Future “Industry” of Education

May 24, 2012

My alma mater Rice University celebrates it’s 100th anniversary of it’s founding on October 10, 2012. My own view of Rice is that it is an exceptional university – perhaps one of the most notable 50 or so in the world. My experiences there were as exceptional as the school. I worry a little bit that the next 100 years will be a struggle for Rice and for many, many great universities in the US and throughout the world.

There are a number of forces and trends colliding – here is what I observe:

  1. A University education is becoming unaffordable. Tuition at US universities continues to climb at an alarming rate that is far steeper than the increase in the cost of living. Most parents on the verge of sending their children to a university will face a staggering tab that will be between $100,000 and $250,000. The average college graduate today assumes a $25,000 student loan debt, and that debt burden will certainly grow significantly, too.
  2. On-line universities are starting to proliferate. Every month or two, I hear a new on-line university advertise on TV. Employers like these on-line universities – they are inexpensive for the companies that reimburse their employees of continuing education expenses, and they don’t interfere with work commitments.
  3. Certifications and cert-like credentials are ever more in demand for technical jobs. One job I investigated had 17 certifications required representing an investment of about $20,000 in credentialing fees – far cheaper than a 4-year degree from most public schools. Many technically demanding job postings I see advertised fail to require a college degree in the list of credentials and certifications – this is a growing trend in the labor market.
  4. Incoming student quality is declining. Public K-12 education performance in the US lags way behind the rest of the world, and the trend for US public education is a continued decline. Many universities have student bodies that are about one-third foreign students. These foreign students are increasingly of a slightly lesser caliber than a few years ago if quiet confidences from my academia friends are to be believed. As universities in their other countries, particularly India and China have become more capable and noteworthy in the world, they attract a growing number of the truly talented students in their own country.
  5. Public funding for schools is declining. K-12 and public university funding is declining as states and cities slash budgets. Universities face a conundrum of rising costs, reduced funding and uncertain endowment values. The only sure outcome for many universities is shrinking course offerings and ebbing quality as staff is dismissed and salaries are capped to counter the financial pressures.

My fear is that for all but the most distinguished universities in the US, the US “brick-and-mortar” university will struggle to survive with declining undergraduate student quality and degree credibility and perceived worth. This outcome is tragic in light of the high value of face-to-face student body interaction and face-to-face student-professor interaction that can’t be realized without a physical place for learning.

Many universities are streaming classroom courses on-line live and also on demand for students who are unable to attend or for review after class time. UC Berkeley and the University of Pennsylvania are notable examples of this response to student demand with significant on-line Internet resources for their students. Academic Earth hosts a collection of on-line degrees and course offerings from a number of prominent universities and lecturers. See Academic Earth

MIT offers Circuits and Electronics on-line for free along with a host of archived classroom streams available for the asking. MIT’s “On-line Learning Initiative” includes a treasure trove of  formal courseware with course outlines, notes, assignments, tests, detailed solutions and text supplements. The Circuits and Electronics course is the first MIT course offered on-line as a tailored on-line course for credit with grading and TA teaching assistant services. See MIT Open Courseware  See Circuits and Electronics

Stanford offered the Introduction to Artificial Intelligence course last Fall taught by Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig, distinguished leaders in this field, for free with more than 100,000 students participating. The Stanford AI course is a part of the Stanford Engineering Everywhere program. See Stanford Engineering Everywhere

MIT and Stanford prove that on-line strategies can positively augment a prominent school’s reputation. An on-line courseware debate rages in academia with concerns about copyright holder, royalties collection and distribution, effective course structure different from classroom course structure, necessary interaction strategies between students and instructors, dilution of “student experience”, monitored testing infrastructures, and many other issues. The on-line University is obviously in it’s infancy with real pioneers beginning to be seen and heard.

Rice has yet to enter the on-line “fray” with courseware. They need to do it “smartly”. Rice will in time, I am sure. But, I am afraid that many fine public universities will fail and physical facilities will go increasingly unused over the coming decade as higher education becomes another industry in turmoil in the US. And I am afraid that the value of an undergraduate college degree will diminish as certifications take on more prominence. And finally, I am afraid that the value of face-to-face interaction will be all but lost on-line.