Free Education Changes the Game for Students, Colleges

Rising tuition costs.  Waiting lists at many community colleges.  Dwindling savings.  Shrinking availability of financial aid at many colleges.  Fewer jobs available after graduation. Sound familiar?  In these tough economic times, access to higher education has become increasingly challenging.  Coupled with a tough job market, these grim realities have prevented many students from completing their college degree.

In the face of these realities, a wide array of institutions and governments are working to create free online courseware for students of all ages and stages.  With efforts ranging from interactive, discussion based courses to ready-made study materials, organizations ranging from M.I.T.  to the United Nations are joining the movement.  As computer and web-literacy continue to spread across countries, generations and income levels, these online courses become ever more feasible and valuable.

As access to knowledge becomes increasingly open and low-cost, higher education institutions must examine ways in which they can adapt to this new reality.  If free online courseware becomes widely accredited, what benefits can traditional universities offer to their students?  As endowments shrink and more required courses are taught through a large, impersonal lecture hall format, the benefits become even harder to define.  At this juncture, it is critical for colleges and universities to focus on the essentials: brand, reputation, classroom experience, extracurricular activities, social opportunities and that elusive must-have – the delivery of a transformational experience.

In the Future, the Cost of Education Will Be Zero

July 24th, 2009 | by Josh Catone

computer-learningThe average cost of yearly tuition at a private, four-year college in the US this year was $25,143, and for public schools, students could expect to pay $6,585 on average for the 2008-09 school year, according to the College Board. That was up 5.9% and 6.4% respectively over the previous year, which is well ahead of the national average rate of inflation. What that means is that for many people, college is out of reach financially. But what if social media tools would allow the cost of an education to drop nearly all the way down to zero?

Of course, quality education will always have costs involved — professors and other experts need to be compensated for their time and efforts, for example, and certain disciplines require expensive, specialized equipment to train students (i.e., you can’t learn to be a surgeon without access to an operating theater). However, social media can drastically reduce much of the overhead involved with higher education — such as administrative costs and even the campus itself — and open source or reusable and adaptive learning materials can drive costs down even further.

The University of the People

One vision for the school of the future comes from the United Nations. Founded this year by the UN’s Global Alliance for Information and Communication Technology and Development (GAID), the University of the People is a not-for-profit institution that aims to offer higher education opportunities to people who generally couldn’t afford it by leveraging social media technologies and ideas.The school is a one hundred percent online institution, and utilizes open source courseware and peer-to-peer learning to deliver information to students without charging tuition. There are some costs, however. Students must pay an application fee (though the idea is to accept everyone who applies that has a high school diploma and speaks English), and when they’re ready, students must pay to take tests, which they are required to pass in order to continue their education. All fees are set on a sliding scale based on the student’s country of origin, and never exceed $100.Read more…

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