Online Universities Dark Horse To Win Higher Ed Race?

Many universities in this country, both public and private, are in a pickle.  Public schools are losing large chunks of state funding, while private colleges are raising tuition to make up for rising costs, and sometimes declining attendance.  In New Hampshire, the legislature slashed its contribution by about 48 percent.  Meanwhile, the private Franklin Pierce University is laying off staff in an effort to keep its head above the choppy fiscal waters.

Nationwide the cheaper alternative–community colleges–have seen an explosion in enrollment, even though outside funding there has been iffy as well.

Then there’s the dark horse racing through the changing higher ed landscape: Online universities.

Patricia Drury / Flickr

Could Harvard's hallowed halls empty out a bit with more students going for Ivies online?

Right now, for-profit online universities are dominating the discussion of internet-based higher ed.  And they’ve been taking a lot of hits, both in Congress and the media, for not delivering on their pricey promises as students spiral farther into debt.  But be that as it may, Mary Charmichael of The Boston Globe reports that a Harvard business professor is arguing for more internet-based higher ed,

“…[Clayton] Christensen sees promise in more radical models.

 He touts Western Governors University – “pioneering,’’ “path-breaking,’’ open to many at a low tuition of $5,780 – for its choice of majors. Not that there’s much choice: The school offers four.

According to Western Governors’ website, there are no full-time instructors. There is no curriculum, no grades, no campus. Western Governors’ website is, in fact, the university: It’s an entirely online school.”

The modern university as we know it has followed more-or-less the same basic model since the middle ages.  It’s an institution steeped in tradition, and as Charmichael reports, Christensen’s ideas (enshrined in  traditional, hardback book form) are already meeting some resistence,

“What makes “The Innovative University”…stand out is its application of Christensen’s singular business principles (briefly, eliminate the inessential and embrace new technology) to “rethink the entire traditional higher-education model.

Some of the ideas Christensen supports are so dramatic that Jeffrey Selingo, editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education, recently wrote that administrators might consider them ‘toxic.’

Christensen spares no one, not even Harvard.”

Meanwhile another, less well-known NH school is already on the online bandwagon.  Southern New Hampshire University offers both the staple graduate program geared toward the full-time employed, and undergraduate coursework.


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