Some astounding revolutions are happening in higher education. I marvel as I watch this all unfold.
Degree Program Smorgasbord. Many major universities today offer degree programs via the traditional bricks-and-mortar route, an entirely online degree program, or a hybrid of the two. You can select the option that works best for your learning preferences and your circumstances. The obvious strength of this approach is a wider market as opposed to an academic institution that limits its repertoire to just one or two models.
Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Harvard, Stanford, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and several other schools are now making many of their core courses freely available online. Anyone is free to enroll, view recorded lectures online, submit comments and questions, and even complete specific written assignments. The value of MOOCs is you are able to expose yourself to solid academic content from some of the best professors in the world. If you feel a need to educate yourself on a particular subject, a MOOC can do the job. The downside of a MOOC is you do not earn any formal academic credit. Everyone understands a MOOC is similar to the traditional “auditing” of a course. No one will be holding you accountable for doing the work, but you can do it should you wish.
I think these are two of the most interesting and helpful recent developments in higher education. Exactly where we go with them is anybody’s guess, but I do not believe they are passing fads. To illustrate, Southern New Hampshire University’s online degree programs are enjoying a 22% profit margin. Ironically, some of that profit feeds into the bricks-and-mortar campus facilities and programs, thereby strengthening both the online college and the traditional college.
Universities are smart to innovate in our changing environment. We are at the confluence of too many trends, movements, and industry variables to ignore innovation opportunities. For example, Clayton Christensen, professor at the Harvard Business School, sees major volatility approaching (John Hechinger “A Little College That’s a Giant Online” Bloomberg Businessweek, 5/13/13–5/19/13, pp. 22–23):
“In Christensen’s view, higher education, with its skyrocketing costs, is ripe for a revolution; he predicts that in 15 years, half of all universities will be out of business.” (p. 23)
The revolution in higher education has been and will continue to be interesting and exciting. For those institutions that embrace it and innovate through it, their best days are ahead of them.