Mar 29 2012

Students and Parents Facing Rising Postsecondary Costs Will Drive Change

Expert panel at Information Technology and Innovation Foundation event focuses on how technology can transform higher ed.

Higher education consumers will propel change as they seek to earn degrees that mesh with their lifestyles and personal economics.

“Colleges and universities also have to adjust to the reality that a student’s career in college will have fits and starts,” said Cameron Evans, chief technology officer for U.S. Education at Microsoft.

“What we need in education is portability, so if a student doesn’t finish at the university [he] started at, [his] academic record” follows him to the next campus.

Evans spoke Wednesday morning during a panel discussion on using information technology to transform higher education at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) in Washington, D.C.

Several technology professionals and public policy experts from academia wrestled with the ongoing question of rising higher education costs — an issue that’s been in the spotlight recently following President Obama’s proposal to tie federal aid to a college’s ability to reduce costs.

Presenter Stephen Ruth, professor of public policy at George Mason University, said colleges have to get serious about reducing their operating budgets. “Total college operating budgets are heading toward a half-trillion dollars and are slated to rise about $20 billion or more this year alone,” Ruth said. “Federal and state governments pour in $220 billion per year. That’s not small change.”

Ruth also outlined the grim realities of higher education costs: Tuition has been increasing at twice the inflation rate for decades; the average student loan burden upon graduation is now about $24,000; and total student loan debt is nearly $1 trillion, which is more than credit card debt and up by 500 percent over the past decade.

One of the technology solutions that Ruth and the other panelists discussed included the massive open online courses (MOOCs) pioneered by Stanford University and MIT, in which Stanford and MIT courses are offered at no charge to noncredit students.

Ruth described one example, a course in artificial intelligence (AI) at Stanford, that demonstrated the scope and viability of the MOOC model. By the time of this course’s midterm exam, 175 Stanford students and 54 students from the University of Freiburg in Germany were participating. Another 23,000 non-Stanford students took the course, and many of them achieved exam scores similar to those of the Stanford students.

“To make the case even more interesting, the University of Freiburg and five other universities granted three or six credits to students passing the Stanford AI course,” Ruth explained. “Only registered Stanford students received Stanford academic credit for the fall semester classes. But the Freiburg innovation could permanently change the game.”

The panel also discussed other models that could reduce tuition, such as the National Center for Academic Transformation (NCAT), which uses technology to redesign high-volume college courses, and Western Governors University, an online university that focuses on developing student competencies as opposed to time spent in class.

“The reality is that there is no ‘next big thing,’” said Microsoft’s Evans. “The next big shift will be all of these things taken together.”

To listen to the panel discussion, go to the ITIF website.


Become an Insider

Unlock white papers, personalized recommendations and other premium content for an in-depth look at evolving IT