A new report in Forbes argues that 2014 will be a big year for higher education. The article by Todd Hixon argues that its current business model is largely outdated, and that innovation will be critical for students and future employers alike. In fact, online education is starting to create virtual boom towns across the nation as a means of addressing tuition hikes, student loans, graduation rates, and other troubling trends.
Admissions to colleges and universities are increasingly competitive, prices are up as much as 500 percent, and completion rates remain as low as 25 percent. Even if a student is admitted and earns a degree, Hixon says that just “one in eight recent graduates are unemployed, and half of those employed hold jobs that do not require a college degree.” What’s more, debts are at an all-time high.
Hence, he argues, “the traditional higher education business model looks highly questionable in today’s light.”
But that may be changing. Among the most promising trends in higher education is the introduction and fine-tuning of technology, specifically new models of online learning. It lowers costs, boasts proven results, and participation around the world is theoretically unlimited.
Some experimental online pratices are already garnering significant attention. The Open Learning Initiative has developed artificial intelligence learning platforms to teach some or all class material, quizzing students as they progress through lessons. The initial results of this project are extremely promising.
And there’s been much commentary on Massive Online Open Courses, or MOOCs, which are gaining enough steam and might revolutionize online learning in the coming years. The concept is simple: offer online courses to all who wish to enroll. Some even offer certificates of merit. The New York Times notes that MOOCS have yet to rock the boat enough to “fulfill their disruptive potential,” but as they meld appropriate pricing with adequate value for students, parents, employers and graduate schools, they just might.
The private sector is also taking notice. One of the largest MOOC providers, Coursera, received at least $43 million in new investment money in 2013. And that’s just the beginning. Well over $100 million has been invested in some of the top MOOC programs.
But it seems likely that the status quo is untenable, these commentators say. Tuition pricing is increasingly aggressive, outpacing the value returned, and curriculums and pedagogy remain much the same as 100 years ago. This doesn’t have to be the case, and researchers and innovators know it.
“When the first commercially successful steamship traveled the Hudson River in 1807, it didn’t appear to be much of a competitive threat,” wrote The New York Times. “By the early 1900s, with steam able to power a ship across the ocean on its own, and do so faster than wind, customers migrated to steamships.” Universities and colleges may be on the cusp of a similar “disruptive innovation” with online learning. Over time, it may become more convenient, affordable and successful enough to make massive inroads into the cores of higher education.