MOOCs are here. How should state universities respond?

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Here is a short essay on MOOCs that Drs. Steve Vardeman and Max Morris, Statistics faculty at Iowa State University, gave me permission to share. Their essential premises? That MOOCs are going to rock state (and other) universities’ worlds, that most institutions should immediately institute moratoriums on hiring new faculty and building new facilities, and that universities need to focus on clarifying their value proposition in a world of ‘commodity [higher] education.’

The full essay is below. What do you think?

The Inevitable Coming Impact of Online Education on State Universities and Rational Response to What is Coming

Stephen B. Vardeman and Max D. Morris

The recent appearance and publicity of organizations created to provide “massively open online courses” (MOOCs) is a truly revolutionary development in higher education. The free-for-anyone web-based courses offered by professors at select universities, and produced by Coursera, EdEX, and Udacity, were initially offered without traditional college credit. But this is already changing; participating universities are already offering credit for courses delivered through these outlets, at prices (split between the university and the MOOC provider) well below standard tuition levels. It seems clear that in relatively short order, there will be MOOC versions of many of the large-enrollment freshman- and sophomore-level courses taught at most major universities, and that students will be able to acquire transferable credits for these courses at the accredited schools for substantially less money than the tuition now charged for similar on-campus courses. In 21st century America, where many new college students reach graduation only by acquiring a mountain of personal debt, this can be regarded as welcome news. But for the nation’s educational institutions, the changes (which we believe will unfold very quickly) will present massive challenges.

In the following, we outline what we see as the “realities” and “consequences” of this revolution, and “options” that should be considered now for university administrators and faculty. Our particular perspective is in the context of the generic “Well Respected State University” (WRSU), which represents an enormous proportion of the traditional American college system.

Realities

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