Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Need for New Higher Education Models

Higher education is on the path of reform; whether it wants to or not. State budgets, student loans, high demand, and increasing necessity are making it all but impossible to keep trending down the same line. Small liberal art colleges are closing their doors and state universities are wading into virtual education to lower their costs.  Experimenting with higher education models helps develop a more sustainable education system.

We are sometimes opposed to change because it seems to challenge our perception of how things "should" or "ought" to be. We are emotionally tied to our times in traditional colleges and have beliefs about higher education deeply engrained in our culture. Dusty libraries, student organizations, and dormitories bring forward some fond memories.

Each generation has its own challenges and creates its own memories. Current generations must contend with the need to work full-time and find affordable educational opportunities to meet today's challenges. Without meeting both criteria it will be difficult to help them gain the knowledge and education needed to keep the economic engines running.

We found some relief through online education. Despite its criticism, traditional land-grant universities are accepting and incorporating some of these models into their offerings because it works. By necessity they have come to find that innovative ideas may start out creating disruptive change but opportunities to overcome problems. The free market teaches them something about innovation.

According to a Lumina Foundation report only approximately 40% of people in the 25 to 65 age range hold a college degree. This isn't enough educated people to meet the challenges of a society in transition. Highly skilled employees will be needed to fulfill  technologically sophisticated jobs. High value products are no longer produced with a chisel and hammer.

We may love our traditions but a changing economy needs new models to ensure a higher percentage of our society has access to higher education while still having the money to pay for that education. Allowing for a certain level of new and controversial models helps keep the university system moving and adapting. As the models grow, change and develop they hold bigger promises. We can see this change in online education where initial criticism has yielded to common practice.

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