Dramatic statements claim colleges as we know them are doomed because technology has empowered massive online organizational companies (MOOCs) that promise to improve student learning and undercut higher education’s higher fees. Are my college bound grandchildren going to experience those changes over the next decade?
My conclusion is MOOCs haven’t yet delivered radical transformations for students going to college directly from high school, but online education that is competency based is gaining acceptance.
Online education has been on campuses for years. Washington State University’s Online Department began in 1992 and is ranked 21st by USNews.com among US campus based courses. WSU’s program takes advantage of the campus to include students in career fairs, social events and even student governance.
MOOCs are private firms without campuses that offer courses for free without a penalty on the hope it’ll make profits from students who finish the course and pay to complete certification. MOOCs often initiated courses by relying on existing faculty with traditional teaching, which isn’t delivering innovation or creating interest.
MOOCs struggle for profitability because of tremendous dropout rates that plague online courses. The September issue of Atlantic Monthly cites the study by the University of Pennsylvania’s online campus program covering 1.8 million students in 36 MOOCs. Out of every one hundred students only a handful will pay for an examination.
Students are pleased — eighty percent of them say they are satisfied because once they met their objectives they quit. Students on campuses or currently employed are helped, but not MOOCs.
MOOCs such as Udacity.com are adapting by partnering with AT&T and others to deliver contracted training for high skills in jobs where broad education is less relevant than certified competencies. Employers gain the skills they want and students gain the jobs they want. Udacity gets income from employer contracts and payments from student certifications.
Michael Horn has written extensively on the technology in online education. After taking a course from Coursera.com he wrote in Forbes magazine in 2013 that while he found the course challenging and worthwhile, it also helped him understand “how early we are still in the emergence of the newer platforms.”
In July 2014 he has moved from believing MOOCs offer disruptive power in Higher Education “to believing the real disruptive power is in the competency based model in collaboration with industry.”
He’s a strong supporter of the institutional model offered by Western Governor’s University (www.wgu.edu) that has no campuses, although it is licensed by Washington State’s Department of Education to offer accredited competency based master’s and bachelor’s degrees in business, health, teaching and information technology.
WGU’s website claims an eminent status in higher education because it “has the distinction of being the only university to receive regional accreditation from four regional accrediting commissions at the same time.”
It was accredited in 2003 and has a current enrollment of 35,594 students in fifty states and overseas military operations..
Several keys propel its success. All courses are online and each student is assigned a permanent mentor who is a fulltime advisor employed by WGU. Students pay a flat fee for 2014-15 of $6,070. Students may sign up to pass as many competencies as they believe are reasonable and can take the exam as soon as they feel competent.
In 2011, the Washington Monthly reported students were typically 36-years old attending part-time with both work and college experience. At that time more than 20,000 students had graduated in an average of two-and-a-half years.
This program is not designed for my grandchildren exiting from high school and entering college.
Successful online programs are gaining the confidence of the US public. Gallup Polls in April 2014 showed growing American confidence in the high-quality of online colleges and universities, although it’s still well below ratings for traditional higher education.. But Brandon Busteed, executive director of Gallup Education said, “there could easily be a tipping point where people start to accept online degrees as quality degrees and I think that’s going to grow enrollments dramatically.”