Will runaway college costs be reined in by year 2020?

by Grace

Vance H. Fried has written College 2020, a paper that outlines how runaway college costs can be reined in by combining online and residential learning.

College in America will look very different in just a few years, thanks to remarkable innovations taking place in technology and business models in higher education. The advance of Online 2.0 will trigger structural changes in what we mean by a “college education.” Students in the future will be more likely to pursue their studies in an “unbundled” system in which different institutions provide different parts of a student’s higher education experience. Students will be more likely to learn through a blend of online coursework and a residential experience and will likely assemble a guided and rounded transcript of courses and experiences that are independently credentialed, allowing future employers to have a better measure of their skills.

Online 2.0 will evolve from the existing online environment.

The real technological change … is the use of data mining to create an adaptive learning platform. As a student uses the rich media content, various programs run behind it. These programs include “automated monitoring (the injection of small questions to assure learners are progressing with the content), assessment (quizzes that assure a minimum level of retention and understanding), and remediation (the additional content assigned to learners to make up for any shortcomings in that understanding and retention).”[7]

A hallmark of Online 2.0 is the enhanced ability for self-pacing, which “substantially benefits students of all types by providing total scheduling flexibility”.  The role of academic advising will become more important as students will need help in structuring their college experience.  Fried contends that this will actually serve to improve upon the current system, a notion that initially might seem counterintuitive, but actually makes sense considering the strong criticism of  the limited learning going on in college today.

Curriculum goes from being a somewhat random combination of discrete disciplinary courses to a coordinated set of competencies.

Students will spend only one or two years on campus.

While some colleges will preserve the four-year residential “college experience”, most will shorten the time a student spends on campus  This is key to saving costs while maintaining some elements of the traditional experience that students value:

  • A rite of passage performed with a group of peers,
  • A time for personal exploration,
  • A laboratory to develop leadership and personal relationship skills,
  • A supervised coming of age, and
  • Fun.

One model for this is the “flipped curriculum”.

… While most courses in the college of the future will be self-paced, some will be fully synchronous. Students will do self-paced online work focused on acquiring several different competencies and then take a synchronous class (or mini-class) aimed at integrating and applying multiple concepts through discussion or projects.

In addition to their direct impact on learning, a limited number of campus-based classes foster learning communities among students….

Unbundling will grow – universities will give credit for courses from many other  institutions.

While not all colleges will replace their courses with “competencies,” there will be more emphasis on taking courses from a variety of universities, says Fried. With courses available at low cost from many institutions, “the college experience can be unbundled from instruction.“ …

A university will become more like a travel agent than like a packaged tour.

“Unbundled college is analogous to putting together your own vacation to Europe or asking a travel agent to do it for you rather than buying an all-inclusive, prepackaged tour,” writes Fried. There is no reason why students can’t combine evidence of their competence into portfolios that will interest employers and no reason why entrepreneurs won’t become the packagers of those portfolios, possibly without any degrees at all.

Many of these changes seem realistic, but the actual cost savings are hard to predict accurately.
They could turn out to be marginal — maybe under 10%.  Online classes are not always that much cheaper than campus classes, and paying for more academic advising would add costs.  The scaled-down residential experience does seem like a reasonable compromise for middle-class families.

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3 Comments to “Will runaway college costs be reined in by year 2020?”

  1. Unbundling has been a reality in our local college system for a while, with students simultaneously enrolled in the flagship university as well as community colleges as they look on multiple locations for the classes they need.

  2. As more online classes become available, and as colleges began to accept credits from MOOCs and other schools, students will have many more choices fulfilling needed credits. I can envision a time when it;will be the norm that a degree from X University will include credits from several institutions.

  3. It has been around for as long as I can remember. I took a history course at my local university one summer while I was home and working. Many of my friends at my large private university did the same. I had another friend who started at my university, dropped out, then took a couple of years worth at a less elite school, and finally transferred back to the original university because he wanted that name on his degree.

    At my current school, I am constantly dealing with students who have transferred lots of credits. It can be a problem if the course fills in for one of the important prerequisites, but didn’t cover the same things.

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