By 2020, 75 percent of jobs will require a college degree, up from 62% in 2009.1 Without any form of higher education, today’s workforce faces a dismal future in a world that increasingly demands high-skilled workers who are equipped with degrees and real-world work experience. But, even though the demand for educated workers is high, it doesn’t mean it makes it any easier for aspiring degree-holders to enter college, pay for college, or get a worthwhile education.
Almost half of Americans think negatively about the quality of U.S. education and the majority believe a college education is a poor investment, according to a survey by FTI Consulting.2 Of those surveyed, nine out of 10 list cost as a major barrier to receiving the education they believe to be subpar.
A popular solution to reducing the cost of college is to offer more classes online, which greatly reduces the overhead costs. In fact, online classes have become so affordable that universities like Princeton, Brown, and Duke are giving them away for free. These online courses, or MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), are available to anyone with an internet connection. MOOCs are admired for their accessibility to the masses; however, no price tag comes at a cost.
Due to the no-cost model, MOOCs don’t earn students credit (for the most part), don’t give students grades, and, for many students, don’t require accountability to take the course. MIT’s first online course had 154,000 students register. Of those, fewer than half got to the first problem and less than 4% passed the final exam.3 MOOCs have their place. They can reach knowledge seekers from anywhere in the world, at any time, and with any socioeconomic standing. But today the no-cost, no-grade model might open a student’s eyes to a certain field, but it won’t earn them a job.
We don’t need to completely replace traditional learning with online learning, we need to enhance it and we need to balance it. Open source learning materials like Khan Academy can enhance a student’s ability to study for a college algebra test. Requiring a student to get an internship or shadow a professional in addition to taking an online computer programming class can balance their learning experience in the physical and virtual world.
Affordability and accessibility is only part of the battle to improve higher education. Without accountability that brings students to the computer screen or to their classroom; that requires the educator to teach in the physical and the virtual; that demands the institution help place grads in a job, the quality of higher education will not improve.
1“The Future of Jobs and Careers,” Edward E. Gordon. http://www.publiceducation.org/2012_Emails/20120110_pdf/Economic%20and%20employment%20Impact.pdf
2“Higher Education in U.S. Must Change To Remain Globally Competitive: Survey,” by Jon Marcus. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/27/higher-education-in-us-mu_n_2198651.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000003
3“Less Than 4% of Students in an MIT online course passed the final. Why investors in education are throwing their money away,” by Todd Tauber. http://qz.com/23591/less-than-4-of-students-in-an-mit-online-course-passed-the-final-why-investors-in-education-are-throwing-their-money-away/