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The Changing Face of Higher Education
It was once a foregone conclusion…you graduated high school and you’d enter a good college where you’d prepare for your adult life. These days however, a major disruption is occurring in world of higher education. More and more people are asking if the traditional college experience is worth the money it takes to obtain it.
A recent TIME Magazine cover talked about “Reinventing College.” The Washington Post Magazine’s most recent edition asks “Are Law School’s Really Worth It?” It’s increasingly becoming part of the national discussion about how we learn.
So what’s going on here? In a new poll sponsored by TIME and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, “80% of the 1,000 U.S. adults surveyed said that at many colleges, the education students receive is not worth what they pay for it. And 41% of the 540 college presidents and senior administrators surveyed agreed with them.”
That kind of talk sounds shocking, but no one is suggesting that gaining higher or specialized knowledge is bad. The nuance is they are suggesting maybe the way we have been going about it needs to change with the times.
There are two major drivers behind this change in course – money and technology.
Traditional Higher Education is Expensive
A four-year college degree is not for the financially faint of heart. In addition to the expense of the classes, there are the books and supplies – and in the case of those who live on campus there is the housing and meals to factor in.
According to the website Collegedata.com the price of a moderately priced school can run around $42,000 a year. Data from the U.S. Department of Education’s annual look at college affordability found the average tuition at a four-year public university rose 15% between 2008 and 2010. The rise in tuition is blamed on the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) where states have been hit hard and many have had to make cuts to education funding and subsidies.
All those extra costs get passed down to the consumer.
For many parents they begin saving and investing for their child’s tuition before they are even born. In a previous time that might have been enough, but for many, the Global Financial Crisis hit those investments hard. The result is a climate where people can be living paycheck to paycheck with no money to put away for future education needs, or if they do save there are many daily sacrifices and choices that have to be made.
Financial aid used to be the life raft that many would cling to in order to close the gap between what was charged and what could be paid for. These days this too becomes a risky proposition when you realize at some point it has to be paid back. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Americans owe some $914 billion in student loans; other estimates say the total tops $1 trillion. With these outstanding bills it can be hard for a new graduate to get a start in life – adding to the economy and paying it forward by being able to save for their own kids’ education.
For many, the costs of tuition and the spectre of paying back loans make higher education an impossibility.
The Growth of a Viable Alternative
At the same time that higher education costs have been rising, technology has been advancing at lightning speed. High-speed broadband and the increasing availability of web connected devices over the past few years have changed how we communicate in the workplace and socially. Countless applications and websites are evolving that help us connect for fun and practical purposes and one rapidly growing area is education.
What may have started as rudimentary “how-to” videos on YouTube, and email as a way of delivering term papers to professors has evolved into specialized tools just for educational purposes. Once the need showed itself, online classrooms have been developed that allow professors to deliver live lectures, shared screens with instructional materials and discussion rooms for Q&A. Tools like Google+ and Skype help students connect for group projects.
A virtual explosion of online classes has sprung up once consumers have realized these tools provide various freedoms. First, online education allows students the ability to move along at their own pace; studying on the train during their daily commute or after the kids have been put to bed. The second freedom is often cost. Online courses can eliminate the extra costs paid for books, room and board – essentially the overhead involved with traditional onsite education.
Now there are a variety of options in the online education world. There are universities that exist solely online, and universities that offer a mix of online and in person classes. There are even specialty schools that offer classes to help students hone skills and network in specific concentrations such as management, social media, journalism and more.
The numbers of students choosing this path is staggering. According to TIME magazine, Coursera, a for profit venture offering online access to 35 schools ranging from Duke to Princeton offers 198 courses and has 1.4 million students and counting.
That statistic alone is evidence of the revolution of students choosing online education as either their full path of education or to augment their traditional or continuing education.
How Far Can We Go With Alternative Education?
Given the numbers of people choosing online education as their higher education choice, it’s likely the trend will only expand. It’s possible that online courses could fulfill a need in law schools, where according to the Washington Post Magazine even administrators are saying they have a hard time justifying the cost versus the chances of getting a job. Lowering the cost by putting some of the basic courses online and improving their focus could change the game for those seeking a law degree.
It’s not just law that could benefit. Already there are courses in engineering, statistics and artificial intelligence being offered alongside liberal arts classes.
They say knowledge is power. We couldn’t agree more. At Discovery Retreats we believe that life itself is a continuing process and in addition to the laser like focus you can get with online courses, the same could be said for learning experiences, educational retreats or vacations, guided travel, specialized apps and other hands-on experiences.
The sky’s the limit with education these days, becoming more accessible, often more affordable and more efficient with online and alternative choices. We can’t wait to see the next change in higher and continuing education.
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