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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Are today's colleges to go the way of the daily newspaper?

        A great deal of attention has been given to the problem of the huge student loan debt that is being accumulated by college students today.  The cost of college education was brought home to me recently when I learned that a year at my alma mater costs about $35,000 a year which is almost a 900% increase since I attended 40 years ago.  Even at a 6% inflation adjustment  each year the increase would only double every 12 years or about a 330% increase in the last 40 years.

      Could it be that the ability of college students to borrow large amounts of money to fund their education caused colleges to have no incentive to keep costs in line?  If a business, like a college, has little need to control costs because they have an unlimited number of consumers (i.e. students) who are willing to borrow large amounts of money and lenders who are willing to lend the money you begin to see where some of the problem may be.  Most young people have little idea of what paying back $50,000 or $100,000 is really like.

     This leads me to the question in the title of this blog. The cost of college could be dramatically lower through the greater use of online educational programs.  Is an introductory college course which is often taught in a large lecture hall with no opportunity to interact with an instructor a better way to learn than on online course?  Wouldn't a webcast be more cost effective?  Why need to have the facility cost of a large lecture hall? Just as the cost of printing and distributing newspapers is bring to an end to the printed newspaper, the shift to more online learning could dramatically impact our present campus based educational system.  Newspapers resisted the online movement just as campus based colleges are resisting the shift to the online system.  That is why the much of the movement to online learning is coming from the business minded for profit online colleges.  The Harvards and Yales of the world can hold out the longest, just like the NY Times and Washington Posts in the newspaper world, but for less prestigious private institutions their demise may very well be within our lifetimes.

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