Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Why Higher Education Costs Should Be Coming Down

Has anyone thought to ask why higher education costs are rising so much faster than education? We know the reasons in health care--liability, new drugs, new equipment and advanced procedures--but exactly what is causing education costs to go up?

Colleges are perfectly capable of becoming more efficient and productive, in the same way that countless other industries have: through technology. And increasingly, they are. One of the untold stories in higher education is that the cost of teaching is starting to decline, but virtually none of those savings are being passed along to students and parents in the form of lower prices. Instead, colleges are pocketing the difference, even as they continue to jack up tuition bills.

Go read the article, and pay close attention to Virginia Tech's "Math Emporium". It reminds me of the I CAN Learn math program which I've savaged before, but in this case it's implemented correctly.

It’s tempting to see the automation of college teaching as educational malpractice, a ploy to water down instruction and put professors out of work just to save a few bucks. But there’s persuasive evidence that the opposite is true—properly used, technology can make higher education better, not worse. NCAT has been spreading the gospel of course transformation since the late 1990s, when it secured an $8.8 million grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts to pilot the process with thirty colleges. The results were unequivocal: twenty-five colleges saw learning results improve while the other five saw no change. All thirty reduced costs, some by over 70 percent. As the number of NCAT institutions has expanded, they’ve found similar—or even greater—success. (boldface mine--Darren)

What's proper? I could write an entire essay on it--and show how what I saw of implementation of the I CAN Learn program was totally improper and this method seems OK. For the sake of brevity, though, I'll say that proper would include
1. still having significant professor-student and student-student interaction, as education is a social process,
2. designing a quality course that utilizes the best features of the available technology, not just using computers for their own sake, and
3. use technology in courses where students can reasonably be expected to be self-directed.

The article explains:

The key is letting computers do what they do best—grading multiple-choice tests, providing 24/7 access to text, audio, and video, connecting people to one another at a distance—while retaining the human element when only real people will suffice. The Virginia Tech Math Emporium is staffed twelve hours a day with a combination of upper-division math majors, graduate students, and faculty, each of whom is prepared to help students with any of the Emporium-based courses.

Sadly, though, while this approach has driven down the cost of delivering instruction, VT's tuition has continued to rise. To use a term popular today, this situation is "unsustainable".


Ellen K said...

Until we have true transparency in university budgets, students and parents will have no idea of the true impact of fees on their final bill. Many students pay fees that have innocuous labels, which in turn fund programs and activities that they will never use or need. Likewise, there are programs, such as "women's studies" which do not have the membership to exist, but which are perpetuated by the universities in order to give lipservice to those small but vocal fringe groups. I think that departments should be sustainable after a certain point. What is the necessity of maintaining and paying for a program and staff which hardly ever see a student?

rightwingprof said...

I think I told you in an email message why tuition will only rise.