Reform learning to adapt to change
Published: Saturday, October 8, 2011
Updated: Sunday, October 9, 2011 16:10
Reforming our educational system is taking far too long, and many of our college leaders are stepping up to acknowledge this fact and propose solutions.
At a conference in Dallas titled "The Future of State Universities," leaders came together and agreed that public colleges are facing an increasing amount of hurdles. These include decreased funds coming from states at a time when that money is needed to finance increased enrollment, according to a report from the Chronicle of Higher Education. These leaders acknowledged that the culture of higher education is slow to change because of tough accreditation standards, as well as stubbornness on the part of faculty members.
This two-day conference is being sponsored by Academic Partnerships, a company that works with universities to expand the use of online instruction. Several speakers spoke at this event and provided differing perspectives as to what is needed to reform our educational system. One speaker, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, said that more accountability is required due to the scarcity of revenue.
Revenue is indeed starting to become scarce. According to a report from the Orlando Sentinel, public schools took in a budget cut of $1.3 billion last year, which amounted to a nearly 8 percent cut in per-pupil funding. Classroom costs are also expected to rise by about $240 million next year, according to the Sentinel. Bush said almost all successful organizations learn how to become more effective and efficient over time.
Other leaders, however, spoke of the need to expand distance learning. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair advocated for the expansion of distance education as one answer to the current struggles of higher education. Salman Khan, founder of a collection of online tutorials called Khan Academy, spoke to the same point.
Many distance education courses take the form of online classes. This carries many benefits of its own. For example, according to the Online Education Database, tuition at online schools is typically much lower than that of a traditional school. Students will likely not have to worry about textbook costs because most programs do not require them, according to the OED. It also lists several other benefits to online classes. These include no sitting in a classroom, the ability to choose study times and flexibility in completing assignments.
Michael M. Crow, president of Arizona State University, found that institutions of higher education suffer from a different problem. He said universities are operating on a 19th-century model that fails to live up to the demands of a 21st-century America.
"If you think we're performing well, then basically you're enjoying your image in the mirror," Crow said.
He notes that many higher education institutions think they must choose between being large and being elite. Crow contends institutions need to do both, essentially innovating their educational model while increasing access to more students. He points to the example of Arizona State University, which will be able to offer courses in less than a semester, beginning next semester. Some courses will be based upon how fast a student can master a subject, Crow said.
These are all valid alternatives that merit serious consideration. Our institutions of higher learning are in need of serious reform in order to adapt to changes in technology and increasing enrollment, not to mention dwindling funds. It is essential for our college leaders to find sustainable ways to reform our institutions of higher learning, so that those that come after us have an even better educational experience than we enjoyed. It will be an essential task that must be pursued to preserve our educational institutions going forward.