While more and more jobs require college degrees, these degrees are becoming increasingly inaccessible and unaffordable for a majority. In other sectors, technology-driven innovation seems to put everything right at our fingertips at prices we can afford. Why is this not the case for higher education?
According to the US based College Board, over the course of a 40-year career of full-time work, the median earnings of bachelor degree holder are 65 percent higher than those of high school graduates. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, a college education is worth US$830,000 more than a high-school diploma.
But college tuition fees continue to climb out of reach for most people and force many to take burdensome student loans that can create an even bleaker economic outlook.
Accessibility is another issue. When most people think of college students, they imagine recent high school graduates in their late teens and early twenties. But today many degree seekers are working-class, middle-aged working adults.
The modern college system – including most of today’s online programmes – was not designed to meet the needs of these students. Non-traditional students often need the flexibility to attend classes around work and family commitments. Time-based models (whether on campus or online) make this challenging.
In addition, the high cost of college makes it even more difficult to sacrifice time at work for time at school. Students either forgo college, thereby limiting their employment prospects; or they take on tens of thousands of dollars in debt in order to afford it. Neither solution is sustainable.
One way to fix the education model to address the barriers that so many potential students face is to move away from ‘seat time’ models, where every student moves through classes on a pre-set schedule. And to try a more adaptive (or personalised) model that helps students learn at their own pace.
Rather than attempting to merely bring the traditional classroom online – a medium for which it was not designed – leverage the power of the web to create a new kind of smart classroom that serves the needs of a diverse and rapidly changing student population.
The best online universities are developing platforms that track in real time how students are progressing and what concepts they are struggling with and then serve up appropriate course material and interventions. In addition, these platforms identify and replace unclear course content and assessments so that courses are always improving.
The faculty at these universities have at their disposal data-driven dashboards that give them a more precise understanding of which students need support and what kinds of interventions work for particular students. These platforms, increasingly within our reach at lower costs, do not replace faculty; they provide faculty with tools to support students in new and more effective ways.