The coming parents’ revolt.

5 11 2010

It appears that the New York Times has noticed that online education is not the exclusive province of the shysters who run for-profit colleges:

Like most other undergraduates, Anish Patel likes to sleep in. Even though his Principles of Microeconomics class at 9:35 a.m. is just a five-minute stroll from his dorm, he would rather flip open his laptop in his room to watch the lecture, streamed live over the campus network.
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On a recent morning, as Mr. Patel’s two roommates slept with covers pulled tightly over their heads, he sat at his desk taking notes on Prof. Mark Rush’s explanation of the term “perfect competition.” A camera zoomed in for a close-up of the blackboard, where Dr. Rush scribbled in chalk, “lots of firms and lots of buyers.”

The curtains were drawn in the dorm room. The floor was awash in the flotsam of three freshmen — clothes, backpacks, homework, packages of Chips Ahoy and Cap’n Crunch’s Crunch Berries.

The University of Florida broadcasts and archives Dr. Rush’s lectures less for the convenience of sleepy students like Mr. Patel than for a simple principle of economics: 1,500 undergraduates are enrolled and no lecture hall could possibly hold them.

Dozens of popular courses in psychology, statistics, biology and other fields are also offered primarily online. Students on this scenic campus of stately oaks rarely meet classmates in these courses.

Tell me again that they’re doing this this because it’s a better learning environment than the physical classroom. I dare you.

As much as I liked that opening to the article, I think the real tell in the piece is buried in the middle:

“When I look back, I think it took away from my freshman year,” said Kaitlyn Hartsock, a senior psychology major at Florida who was assigned to two online classes during her first semester in Gainesville. “My mom was really upset about it. She felt like she’s paying for me to go to college and not sit at home and watch through a computer.”

[Emphasis added]

My daughter heads to college in less than two years now, and you know two of my first questions are going to be the frequency of online courses and the percentage of overall courses taught by tenure-track faculty because if I’m forking out the sums of money I expect to be forking out in order to send her to college I want to be sure that she can gets the best education money can by rather than the education that can be most efficiently delivered. Administrations create these kinds of courses for their benefit, not for the benefit of their students. If there’s any benefit to online education, it’s the flexibility it provides non-traditional students. If traditional students are forced to take these kinds of courses because too much of their tuition dollars are going to administrative salaries and the football team, this will inevitably dilute your brand.

Eventually, more and more parents are going to realize that they’re being taken for suckers, just like like Kaitlyn Hartsock’s Mom. When enough of them do, they will simply stop paying tuition and higher education in this country will be in deep, deep trouble. After all, if you lower the quality of the product you’re supposed to cut the price, not increase it every year by double-digit percentages.

I keep saying that college is still the best investment that you’ll ever make. If this really is the future of higher education in America, I may have to rethink that assessment.


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