A Storm is Brewing Around the Grand Brick and Mortar Structure of the Traditional University (….and it is getting stronger all the time)

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future of higher education

For centuries, institutions of higher learning have stood frozen in time as the world around them changed. The traditional model of attending lectures, and taking exams has pretty much been the same since time immemorial. But all that is changing. There is no denying it. Online learning is impacting the future of higher education.

The cracks are appearing in the bricks, and the windows are being blown wide open by the ferocity of today’s “storms.” Universities are grappling with their future as viable institutions.

The (proverbial) storms I’m referring to come in two forms.

A Funding Crisis
Institutions’ costs are going up each year as expenditures on technology and salaries increase. Additionally, the government is beginning to lessen their subsidies towards universities. There is a crisis brewing and some experts predict many universities will have to close their doors in the coming decade.

Online Learning Takes Off
The second front is the proliferation of online learning, specifically in the form of MOOCS (massive online open courses). MOOCS are personalized online courses that allow thousands of students to participate and are offered at a fraction of the cost of traditional university degrees.

Traditional universities, however, have an important advantage over online degrees. Attending university comes with the all-important social benefits. And one should not underestimate the importance of the social aspect. Students learn how to interact with each other and debate, how to present themselves. They make social and professional contacts. How can an online program compete with that?

The Best of Both Worlds
The obvious answer is to combine the two worlds. And here are some examples of universities doing just that:

Georgia Institute of Technology and Udacity have joined forces with the telecom firm AT&T to create an online master’s degree in computing for $7,000. It runs in parallel with a similar campus-based qualification that costs around $25,000

Minerva University has entry criteria that rivals Ivy League colleges, but far lower fees (around $10,000 a year, instead of up to $60,000). The curriculum includes a foundation year in San Francisco, and the rest of their coursework will be online while students live outside America in emerging economies. The combination of a top education with real life experience should be quite attractive to future employers.

Over 50% of the students at MIT take a MOOC as part of their course.

The John F. Kennedy University in California, which educates mainly older students, accepts EdX MOOC credits towards its degrees.

Georgia Institute of Technology and Udacity have joined forces with AT&T, to create an online master’s degree in computing for $7,000, as opposed to their similar campus-based degree that costs three times as much.

The Ivy League and elite institutions, with established reputations and low student-to-teacher ratios, are the least likely to lose students to online degree programs. There will always be a market for the Ivy League.

But all the other colleges and universities out there….be aware that the times they-are-a-changin. Get on your raincoats or prepare to be blown away!