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Higher Education isn't Prepared for the Global Classroom

What is going on is the convergence of the information, education and digital ages in a way that will have a profound and growing impact on colleges and universities. Higher education must seize the moment or risk marginalization.

Increasingly, educators are meeting with cable operators,
television, publishing, telephone, computer and software executives
and an assortment of entrepreneurs and their funders.

What is going on is the convergence of the information, education and digital ages in a way that will have a profound and growing impact on colleges and universities. Higher education must
seize the moment or risk marginalization.

These visitors to academe generally talk about the same topic: ''distance learning'' and prospects for partnerships between colleges and their organizations. They need the content, reputation and credentialing that higher education offers. In exchange, they bring deep pockets, advanced technology and an entrepreneurial spirit.

Distance learning, study away from traditional campuses, is hardly a new idea. Higher education began its first experiments with correspondence courses in the mid-19th century. Most recently, distance learning used television and computers. What is new is the vast expansion of providers and technologies with capacities to reach previously unimaginable numbers of potential students and offer them customized education independent of the clock, anywhere in the world.

The chances for higher education to better serve a diverse clientele, and the needs of an increasingly knowledge-based economy, have never been greater. But we need to be fully cognizant of four inescapable, dramatic forces driving distance learning and equally mindful of the risks they hold for colleges and universities:

First, an information society puts a premium on intellectual capital. There is increasing pressure to remain at the forefront of know-ledge use and production. This requires education throughout a career and a corresponding rise in the use of continuing education or professional development. Without new technologies, we cannot satisfy this urgent need.

Second, distance learning is being driven by changing demographics.
The fastest growing group attending American colleges in the 1980s and '90s has been working, part-time female students older than 25. Traditional students aged 18 to 22, attending college full time and living on campus, now make up less than one in five students. The new majority are seeking higher education principally to increase their salaries and advance their careers. They want convenience, service and quality. They are prime candidates for education delivered to their homes or offices.

Which brings us to cost. From 1980 to 1997, the average price of college tuition, room and board rose by more than 300 percent. Today, less than 5 percent of U.S. families can afford the full cost of a private-college education. Furthermore, there is a growing belief that public higher education is taking too big a bite out of state budgets. For these reasons, technology is being embraced as a vehicle for reducing the cost of education.

Finally, the pervasiveness of advanced technology adds momentum to distance learning. It is now possible to provide education directly to the homes of two out of five U.S. families, thanks to personal computers and modems. Millions of other families around the world have access to the Internet.

The business community has been faster to respond to these forces than
colleges and universities. The imperative for higher education is to determine the ground rules by which a partnership with the private sector might best be accomplished. This requires a statement of essential purposes and core values of higher education.

If colleges and universities refuse to re-examine how they carry out their historic missions of research, teaching and service in a world of changing technology, the possibility of losing control over higher learning is as real as today's Internet and tomorrow's wired world. For the sake of meeting the aspirations of a new and expanding body of learners, we cannot let this happen.

By President Arthur Levine

This article originally appeared in the LA Times September 19, 1999

Published Tuesday, Sep. 18, 2001

Higher Education isn't Prepared for the Global Classroom

Increasingly, educators are meeting with cable operators,
television, publishing, telephone, computer and software executives
and an assortment of entrepreneurs and their funders.

What is going on is the convergence of the information, education and digital ages in a way that will have a profound and growing impact on colleges and universities. Higher education must
seize the moment or risk marginalization.

These visitors to academe generally talk about the same topic: ''distance learning'' and prospects for partnerships between colleges and their organizations. They need the content, reputation and credentialing that higher education offers. In exchange, they bring deep pockets, advanced technology and an entrepreneurial spirit.

Distance learning, study away from traditional campuses, is hardly a new idea. Higher education began its first experiments with correspondence courses in the mid-19th century. Most recently, distance learning used television and computers. What is new is the vast expansion of providers and technologies with capacities to reach previously unimaginable numbers of potential students and offer them customized education independent of the clock, anywhere in the world.

The chances for higher education to better serve a diverse clientele, and the needs of an increasingly knowledge-based economy, have never been greater. But we need to be fully cognizant of four inescapable, dramatic forces driving distance learning and equally mindful of the risks they hold for colleges and universities:

First, an information society puts a premium on intellectual capital. There is increasing pressure to remain at the forefront of know-ledge use and production. This requires education throughout a career and a corresponding rise in the use of continuing education or professional development. Without new technologies, we cannot satisfy this urgent need.

Second, distance learning is being driven by changing demographics.
The fastest growing group attending American colleges in the 1980s and '90s has been working, part-time female students older than 25. Traditional students aged 18 to 22, attending college full time and living on campus, now make up less than one in five students. The new majority are seeking higher education principally to increase their salaries and advance their careers. They want convenience, service and quality. They are prime candidates for education delivered to their homes or offices.

Which brings us to cost. From 1980 to 1997, the average price of college tuition, room and board rose by more than 300 percent. Today, less than 5 percent of U.S. families can afford the full cost of a private-college education. Furthermore, there is a growing belief that public higher education is taking too big a bite out of state budgets. For these reasons, technology is being embraced as a vehicle for reducing the cost of education.

Finally, the pervasiveness of advanced technology adds momentum to distance learning. It is now possible to provide education directly to the homes of two out of five U.S. families, thanks to personal computers and modems. Millions of other families around the world have access to the Internet.

The business community has been faster to respond to these forces than
colleges and universities. The imperative for higher education is to determine the ground rules by which a partnership with the private sector might best be accomplished. This requires a statement of essential purposes and core values of higher education.

If colleges and universities refuse to re-examine how they carry out their historic missions of research, teaching and service in a world of changing technology, the possibility of losing control over higher learning is as real as today's Internet and tomorrow's wired world. For the sake of meeting the aspirations of a new and expanding body of learners, we cannot let this happen.

By President Arthur Levine

This article originally appeared in the LA Times September 19, 1999

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