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I wrote a comment on the report and the ongoing debate about cost/value in higher education on our other site, Liberal Ed Crisis. The post is here.
The real issue at stake is not necessarily the cost of higher education. If we want to maintain the residential model of higher education, costs will rise as maintaining the physical plant and keeping the student-faculty ratio as low as possible remain expensive.
What is especially troubling is that apologists for the cost of the American model of higher education equate liberal education with a model of teaching that is expensive. They rebel against the notion that liberal education can be conveyed effectively through MOOCs, blended learning or other online educational models. So, as costs increase, critics suggest that the well-to-do will get a “brick-based” education while the 99% will get more of a “click-based” education.
If we continue to resist technological advancement, we then doom the 99% to what seems to be an inferior educational model that will not convey the benefits of liberal learning because it does not entail classrooms, residential campuses, etc. The traditional, increasingly expensive model of education remains an ideal. But, it is clear that if educators do believe that liberal education does convey a package of learning skills and democratic, civic values that are vital to the health of a society, then they have a responsibility to find a way to convey those values through more advanced technological means. If they do not, they undermine the symbiotic connection between liberal education and liberal democracy that organizations such as the AACU celebrate.
If we look beyond the confines of American higher education, we see that technology is driving the democratization of access to education. This TED Talk by Daphne Koller is an especially powerful statement to this effect. It would indeed be paradoxical if, in the name of preserving the means of conveying liberal democratic values, liberal educators made those values less democratically accessible.
The challenge for our educators today is to find a way to put liberal learning to work embrace technology so that we can ensure that access to education, knowledge liberal learning and democratic values is democratized.
The Babson Survey Research Group just released a report Entitled “Grade Change: Tracking Online Education in the United States.” The report is available http://sloanconsortium.org/publications/survey/grade-change-2013 and the Chronicle reports on it here.
There is still concern about MOOC quality, accepting MOOC credits from other institutions, etc. But, I think the key conclusion to draw from all of the ongoing research on MOOCs is that it is still too early to tell how and whether they are or will be sustainable.
I fear, however, that the debate about MOOCs has distorted the more important discussion about online education in general. A lot of good consortium-based work is being and can be undertaken through blended or hybrid courses. Around the world, where many have never had access to traditional, residential, four-year educational opportunities, online options present affordable means of access to university education.
In this respect, it is important to distinguish MOOCs from the online opportunities that truly embody a democratizing force in educational access and attainment. If online mechanisms can expand access to the best teachers and the best universities, how can we not celebrate that and work to improve the mechanisms by which that access is provided?