MOOCs are here. How should state universities respond?
A short essay argues that most institutions should immediately institute moratoriums on hiring new faculty and building new facilities, and that universities need to focus on clarifying their value proposition in a world of 'commodity [higher] education.'
Here is a short essay on MOOCs that Drs. Steve Vardeman and Max Morris, Statistics faculty at Iowa State University, gave me permission to share. Their essential premises? That MOOCs are going to rock state (and other) universities' worlds, that most institutions should immediately institute moratoriums on hiring new faculty and building new facilities, and that universities need to focus on clarifying their value proposition in a world of 'commodity [higher] education.'
The full essay is below. What do you think?
The Inevitable Coming Impact of Online Education on State Universities and Rational Response to What is Coming, Stephen B. Vardeman and Max D. Morris
The recent appearance and publicity of organizations created to provide “massively open online courses” (MOOCs) is a truly revolutionary development in higher education. The free-for-anyone web-based courses offered by professors at select universities, and produced by Coursera, EdEX, and Udacity, were initially offered without traditional college credit. But this is already changing; participating universities are already offering credit for courses delivered through these outlets, at prices (split between the university and the MOOC provider) well below standard tuition levels. It seems clear that in relatively short order, there will be MOOC versions of many of the large-enrollment freshman- and sophomore-level courses taught at most major universities, and that students will be able to acquire transferable credits for these courses at the accredited schools for substantially less money than the tuition now charged for similar on-campus courses. In 21st century America, where many new college students reach graduation only by acquiring a mountain of personal debt, this can be regarded as welcome news. But for the nation’s educational institutions, the changes (which we believe will unfold very quickly) will present massive challenges.
In the following, we outline what we see as the “realities” and “consequences” of this revolution, and “options” that should be considered now for university administrators and faculty. Our particular perspective is in the context of the generic “Well Respected State University” (WRSU), which represents an enormous proportion of the traditional American college system.
The coming impact of MOOCs is begin made possible by a number of factors. First among these is clearly the technical capability, via the evolving internet, to physically produce courses that can be viewed at little or no expense by a huge proportion of the world’s population. But there are other factors involved as well, including the public perception of the nature and value of higher education, and economic forces. In particular,
The realities described above carry with them consequences which will constitute a massive change in the environment in which WRSU must operate. Our belief is that these will evolve more quickly than most people expect, but whether the time-frame is 1 year, 2 years, or 5 years, these consequences are very predictable:
As outlined above, the rapidly changing environment of higher education will impose severe constraints on most public universities. However, there are choices that can be made. While many of them will be unpleasant (at least in the minds of those invested in the traditional system of higher education), they should be addressed by WRSU administrators and faculty now, because delay will only reduce the number of alternatives available. First of all, current strategic plans, based primarily on pre-MOOC logic, should be immediately reviewed, and much in them modified. In particular:
But simple reduction without a strategy for what comes next is not sufficient. WRSU will need to develop a clear value proposition, and put full energy into delivering it:
Almost inevitably, the advent of large-enrollment, on-line college courses will put many colleges and universities out of business, and dramatically reduce the size of many others. In this new environment, there may also be opportunities for some educational institutions to offer new and valuable components to college education (even if much-reduced in scale relative to plans they have made in the past). But this will not happen without serious and realistic thought and planning – of a qualitatively different nature than has ever been needed before -- by administrators and faculty.
Image credit: South Western (sic) University, Dallas, Texas