Here is a guest column by Mohammad Bhuiyan, the 2011-12 ACE Fellow at the University System of Georgia and Endowed Professor of Entrepreneurship at Fayetteville State University
By Mohammad Bhuiyan
The American higher-education system is running on an unsustainable business model of raising tuition and fees to cover declining government and private funding. In addition, most of the academic community is in denial about the potential of technology and other emerging factors.
Ten years ago, online classes and degrees were considered low-quality, and most workplaces didn’t even recognize the diplomas. Today, online courses and programs are both important and ubiquitous. According to the Pew Research Center, about half of all college courses are now available online. The new generation of students is in many ways more interested in online classes than traditional classrooms.
The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that venture capitalists have poured about $500 million over the last few years into education-technology start-ups, trying to cash in on a market they see as ripe for a digital makeover.
There is a very real possibility that one-third of all the traditional colleges and universities will go out of business by 2025 due to merger, consolidation, acquisition and bankruptcy.
During the last 10 months as I traveled around Georgia and the country and met with state university system heads, campus presidents and other education leaders, it was fascinating to see that so many of them agreed that the future of higher education is shifting rapidly, but few are in a position to take serious steps to do anything significantly different and promptly to stay ahead of the curve.
I heard repeatedly that students don’t learn anything online, online graduates will never get a job, and that face-to-face is the best way to learn.
While Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Michigan, and many other big players are getting on board the online education train, only a handful of universities in Georgia have programs in place to keep up with the changing environment. It is comforting that the new state system leadership is getting serious about this matter and has started taking appropriate steps to improve the situation.
The technology is already available to create a virtual classroom with students and professors from anywhere in the world.
The need for physical classrooms will be so lessened that many campuses will have to dismantle old buildings to save on energy and lease their empty buildings to private businesses to cover other costs.
Until now, the United States has had the best higher-education system in the world. However, the U.S. has been ranked as one of the lowest in k-12 education of top 20 developed countries. Georgia is known for its poor performances when it comes to its high school graduation rate and SAT scores.
As we continue to produce poorly prepared k-12 students, eventually these shortcomings will impact our higher-education ranking as well.
In addition, as the political pressure mounts on U.S. higher education institutions to increase their completion rates from 39 percent to 60 percent by 2020, federal, state, and local funding are being drastically cut. That means most institutions will have to water down their quality to meet targets.
Even then, a 60 percent completion rate via traditional means of higher education is impossible.
While Brazil, Russia, India, China and the rest of the world are making huge investments in their education sectors, a significant percentage of the population and politicians here are questioning the value of higher education and its high cost.
The opportunity to retain the slogan “American Higher Education is the Best” is slipping away.
Georgia and American educators, leaders, policy makers, and politicians must wake up and take drastic, outside-the-box, new measures immediately, to save not just our education system, but our states’ and country’s future as well.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog