How can we creatively make higher education more affordable and accessible? I am wrapping up preparations for a course on innovation later this month and my thoughts turn to ways to apply innovative ideas to higher education. There are some new ideas that have developed over the last several years such as online delivery, but they have not always been implemented in a deliberate and holistic manner. I am hoping that you will weigh in and help me figure out how we can create new solutions to this long-standing problem.
What Is Our Mission?
Harvard professor Clayton Christensen suggests that there are really three purposes of higher education and that we as universities and colleges often dilute our focus and try to cover all three areas with a confusing combination of products. The three suggested areas are:
- knowledge creation, or research;
- knowledge proliferation, or teaching; and
- preparation for life and careers.
Christensen claims that universities use three different business models to deliver these value propositions, creating confusing products in the process. He suggests that we be clear and purposeful about our mission, our value proposition, and how we deliver our product. This clarity can help reduce program administrative costs and therefore help reduce tuition.
Innovations in Education
Universities and colleges have been working through different delivery methods in recent years to make higher education more accessible. Several of these have been centered around online delivery. Correspondence courses have been available since the mid-nineteenth century and as technology and networking improved, these morphed into online courses. To make education more accessible, massive open online courses (MOOCs) were developed that enrolled thousands or even tens of thousands of students in various subjects. These are free or low cost but do not generally grant credit. Some universities such as Stanford are experimenting with hybrid MOOCs whereby a student can take the online course and apply and pay for credit. The University of Pittsburgh is experimenting with what they call a HOOC or a hybrid open online course. In this model, the course is offered online and onsite simultaneously and at some point during the course, the online students can join the onsite students synchronously, often offering input through tweets or other discussion applications. Online education—in all its forms—has made learning more accessible to those that are not near a college or cannot take courses at the time prescribed.
One of the most important factors in aligning higher education with employment is understanding what an employer wants in an educated worker. Are they looking for someone with a broad four-plus year education and exposure to many ideas and thoughts, or are they looking for someone that has proven mastery in a particular area? Would a series of technical certificates prove the worth of a potential employee, or do they need to produce an advanced degree from a recognized college or university? I believe the problem is two pronged and we need to address both areas. As mentioned earlier, universities need to develop expertise delivering in a prescribed area rather than trying to cover all business models. Additionally, employers need to be precise in their requirements for employment and not add layers of education that are unneeded. If we can tackle these two areas, then we can come closer to matching delivery to expectation and drive down the overall cost of education while increasing accessibility.
Do you have specific thoughts on innovations that will help lessen tuition and make education more accessible? I know that greater minds than mine are working on this very problem and I welcome your input and ideas. Perhaps together, we can come up with a solution.
Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.