Monday, May 7, 2012

Sunday Reflection: What Comes After the Higher Education Bubble?

May 05 2012 -- 8:00 PM /  Glenn Reynolds


We are now seeing some signs that the market is catching up. Enrollment numbers are softening, students are becoming more reluctant to borrow money to pay for an education and the phrase "higher education bubble" is appearing more and more often in discussions of education policy and student indebtedness.

But what comes next? If the current higher education sector is bloated and overpriced, what will students do? Will they simply forgo education entirely? Or will something else spring up?

Well, something else seems to be springing up. Conventional colleges may be overpriced and underperforming, but those 19th century methods of teaching and learning are being challenged by 21st century alternatives.

Case in point: the Harvard/MIT EdX model. Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have announced they're putting 60 million dollars into an open-source online education program. [snip].

This isn't the only such venture. Minerva University -- a new school that aims to be the online Ivy, ... .

And Stanford professor-slash-Google bigwig Sebastian Thrun is starting up yet another top-tier online university called Udacity. After teaching a phenomenally successful online computer science course for Stanford, Thrun decided to take things to the next level and build out an entire online school.

These schools join the already accredited Western Governors University and a variety of longer-standing for-profit schools like Kaplan, Strayer, and Phoenix on the cutting edge of efforts to find a new model for higher education. Some or all may fail, but some or all may also succeed.

Traditional classroom education has its virtues, but it's a pretty old model. The first true university, the University of Bologna in Italy, dates back to the 11th century, and many European universities are nearly as old. [snip].

Since then, instruction hasn't advanced much. Some professors may use PowerPoint ..., but the basic model of one person standing in front of a bunch of other people talking hasn't really changed.


Another opportunity exists in alternative methods of certifying knowledge. A college diploma serves as a basic signifier of its holder's basic competence, but with costs running well into the six figures, it's an awfully expensive credential.

MIT/Harvard will start certifying online students, and that may be just the beginning. The Cato Institute's Andrew Coulson suggests that people should accumulate knowledge in life, then build a portfolio that will directly demonstrate their knowledge to future employers. He calls it savoir faire: (Literally: "know how to do.")

Not just knowing, but knowing how to do? That's not a bad thing. It's a new era in education, and new opportunities are opening up.

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