The Dominos Are Starting to Fall...

Posted: April 30, 2015

In his book The End of College, Kevin Carey argues that we are on the brink of a revolution in higher education. He believes that college-as-usual (aka four-years-and-football) is not sustainable and disruption of the research university model is on its way. He argues that:
  1. College tuition is already past the point that students and families can reasonably afford. A bachelor's degree at a small liberal arts college or an out-of-state public university will soon cost a quarter-million dollars, if it doesn't already. This is a look at the 2015-2016 tuition for University of Nevada-Las Vegas. Keep in mind that so few students graduate in 4 years that schools don't even report the 4-year graduation rate anymore. UNLV's six-year graduation rate is 39%, so multiply this figure by at least six.
The last column is for students living on campus.

2. The technology to attend college classes inexpensively already exists and is steadily improving. Fully online degrees were available at 62.4% of colleges, as of 2012. That number has only grown. However, faculty are growing increasingly resistant to teaching MOOCs and online classes.
     I, too, see disruption coming. Colleges and universities at all levels are relying more and more on adjunct faculty--part-timers who, in many cases, are treated as little more than temporary or migrant workers. What is stopping associations of adjunct faculty from banding together to create their own colleges? Only infrastructure, the idea of "what a college is," and accreditation. 
     Accreditation is the sticking point, because groups of colleges, staffed by those MOOC-resistant faculties, run the accreditation 
What a college is?
agencies. And students would be foolish to spend their time and money an unaccredited school because their degree would be worthless in the job market.

So it all comes down to HR
Currently, hiring managers are using college credentials as short-hand for "this person is intelligent and persistent enough to spend six years in pursuit of a degree, so they can handle a real job." We need to find a way for students to create their own "bachelor's degree," their own "job-ready" credential, outside the quarter-million dollar university system.

What about the dominoes?
Domino 1: Last month (4/6/15), the University of Florida accepted 3,000 students to the Class of 2019 (2021) on the condition that they stay home for their freshman year and take their classes entirely online.
Domino 2: Just last week (4/22/15), Arizona State University announced plans to create a MOOC-only freshman year, called the Global Freshman Academy. The Global Freshman Academy classes would be free to take, and students have the option to pay $42 to verify their identity and then some amount of tuition per credit hour to ASU in exchange for credit. According to Inside Higher Ed, "After completing the courses, students can receive a transcript from ASU showing that they have earned enough credits at the university to transfer to a different program or institution as sophomores." Crucially, those credits appear on the ASU transcript the same way that any other class credit appears. There is no separate designation for face-to-face classes, regular online classes and MOOCs. The credential is equal to campus-based college classes. 
Domino 2.5: ASU's contract with edX, released today (4/29/15), contains another shocker. "The university will consider -- “subject to appropriate review and approval” -- awarding credit for MOOCs offered by other institutions." If ASU begins offering college credit for hundreds or thousands of MOOCs, they could become the dominant player in credentialing.
Domino 3: (5/5/15) The University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana has just announced the creation of an all-MOOC MBA degree that will cost about $20,000. Called the iMBA, students can take individual classes, deciding afterwards whether they want to pay for credit or apply to the School of Business until after they have taken several courses. 
Domino 4: (6/16/15) A new company called Kadenze (kah-DEN-zay) is offering credit-bearing MOOCs for arts classes/students. The classes are real-time (i.e. they have a specific start and end time) and cover things like art history, design, drawing comics, music theory and the intersection of creativity and the internet (Introduction to Programming for Musicians and Digital Artists). Classes have been designed by schools like CalArts, Stanford and the Art Institute of Chicago. While it's unclear how credits will be made available for transfer for students outside the credit-issuing school, if you are a Cal Arts student, for example, or become a CalArts student, CalArts will recognize that credit on your transcript. The classes can be essentially audited for free (lecture and discussion with no assignments or quizzes), taken without credit for $7/month or taken for credit (when offered) for $300 per credit.
Yes, MOOCs aren't for everyone, but there is precedent here for transferable college credit--and maybe eventually, entire degrees--that you can earn without mortgaging your future, in your own neighborhood, perhaps with a group of other students led by a tutor, or an adjunct professor working for her own pop-up college.
More Dominos: Try this 7/30/15 essay from Margaret Andrews at Inside Higher Education: "Peering Over the Cliff: Is higher education having a Wile E. Coyote moment"?
Domino 7 (8/2/15): NBC News suggests that because textbook costs have increased by more than 900% since the 1970s, generic alternatives to college textbooks might be just around the bend.
Domino 8 (9/2/15): Inside Higher Education reports the the University of Central Florida (UCF) has begun taking the Southwest Airlines approach to lecture classes--first come, first served and anyone who can't find a spot in the lecture hall can watch the lecture elsewhere via live stream or recording. UCF students are paying full price for this, but it would be easy enough to offer live stream lectures and Meetup-based discussion sections run by a tutor but much less than traditional tuition.
Domino 9 (3/16/16): From Slate: a Kickstarter program was just funded, "featuring Josh Stanley and Ben Blair, two former adjunct professors and veterans in educational design and ed-tech. These fellows seemed really aware of both the sources of tuition bloat and the shortcomings of the current academic status quo. And, they claimed, if given the resources (and the accreditation), they could offer a B.A. for $1,000. For the whole thing." If they can get their project, dubbed Teachur, accredited, this will be a gamechanger.
Domino 10 (3/18/16) Speaking of accreditation, Inside Higher Ed explains that "As boot camps, online courses and other nontraditional academic offerings expand, several organizations angle to play an accreditor-like role in the growing space." The article mentions several new accreditors such as Skills Fund, and accreditor/tuition lender for coding bootcamps, and describes how the federal government is supporting the ability to accredit online, bootcamp and other skills-based degree programs.

Talk Back! Would you let your child forego traditional college for a MOOC-based credential?

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