There are many prescriptions for improving higher education, but the one that is least mentioned is lowering the cost. When costs are lowered, more people can attend. Nobody mentions lowering costs because they believe it is impossible to do so without also lowering the quality. But, we know that technology has lowered the costs in most every other sector of our economy, and in many cases, improved the quality.
The simplest solution for bringing the costs of higher education down is to provide 2 free years of community college for all. A student could choose to receive a free 2-year Associates Degree or transfer 2 years of coursework to a 4-year university. Some states are already providing free community college, including Tennessee. However, unfortunately, many people still believe that community college coursework is less desirable than coursework at a 4-year university. I believe this does not need to be the case.
Community Colleges could be brought up to par with 4-year universities with the use of technology. Already, courses from some of the best Ivy League schools like Harvard, MIT and Stanford are available on-line. If a group of students viewed the on-line lectures together in a community college setting, and were overseen by facilitator, their education would be just as good as a 4-year university, and at a much lower cost.
The drop-out rate for on-line courses is high, and taking these courses requires good study skills and self-directed hard work. But, these are precisely the qualities that most students who want to attend a 4-year university possess. Thus the risk for dropping out is much lower. Higher-achieving students could receive a great education at a much lower cost through their local community colleges — at least for the first 2 years.
Even traditional vocational courses that community colleges provide could be beefed up by introducing real-world technology skills. These technology skills can be surprisingly complex and are in great demand by employers. By getting local businesses involved, students can learn complex technologies at their local community colleges, and in association with apprenticeships can get a foot-in-the-door to high-paying jobs.
A large problem for all students is their lack of real-world experience. It would be beneficial if all students could obtain real-world technology skills while they are still in college. Community colleges can provide those skills. Even when students transfer their first two-years of coursework to a 4-year university, they will have obtained some good technology skills. No need for these students to take unpaid internships after graduation to obtain real-world skills. I believe by providing free community college and by using technology, we can bring down the costs of higher education while also increasing the quality.
Chris Bernat is the author of Individualized Learning with Technology – Meeting the Needs of High School Students – a book about how learning can be individualized for older students, starting in high school and continuing throughout life.