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The Fiscal Cliff for Higher Education - Next - The Chronicle of Higher Education

This column offers solutions with which I disagree, but it is thought-provoking.
The Fiscal Cliff for Higher Education - Next - The Chronicle of Higher Education: Moody’s notes that the number of students accepting admissions offers from colleges that the agency rates has been dropping at a fast clip since 2008. That comes even as those institutions are spending more to enroll those students. The trend, Moody’s said, is particularly serious at the lower-rated private colleges, “which are increasingly competing with lower-cost public colleges and feeling the most pressure to slow tuition increases and offer more tuition discounting.”
What bothers me is that online education is viewed as the savior of struggling campuses, not for pedagogical reasons but because online courses can generate revenue.
Southern New Hampshire could easily have been one of the many struggling small private colleges in the Northeast, but... it has transformed itself into a test-bed for ideas on the future of higher education, and in the process, has bolstered its bottom line. A highly successful online operation for working adults subsidizes a traditional residential undergraduate college for 18-year-olds
Or, as the article suggest, online will be used to out-source general education. Once you outsource any part of the experience, how can you justify the “brand” of any college or university?
There has been a lot of talk about how fragmented, simplified services on the Internet could replace the less tangible aspects that define the college experience. The best example of this are the commodity intro-level courses taught at nearly every college that could be supplemented or have the lectures largely replaced by online courses offered by some of the best institutions and instructors online. There are plenty of other examples of companies in Silicon Valley looking to take a piece of what traditional colleges are doing now. 
If a business outsourced its core function, eventually people (“customers”) would realize there is no value-add to the proposition. If you farm out general education, parents will start to ask if other courses are special or not. If not, why take them at your institution? Imagine the admissions office trying to explain, “Well, we don't teach basic math or composition courses, but we have great math and English departments. They just don’t teach our undergraduate core.”

I believe that we are going to see a period of consolidation and “standardization” that will reduce the lower-tier of higher education even further than it has already sunk.


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