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What’s stopping online colleges? Money and insanity

By Paul Wallis     Nov 3, 2012 in World
Sydney - Truman said “the buck stops here”. The world’s leading college system is finding that the buck, with some help from insane logic, stops everyone. A combination of cost, a hick course accreditation system and old thinking is doing real damage.
Bloomberg has a very informative piece by college lecturer Richard Vedder which explains in a rather macabre way the almost Kafkaesque nature of online course issues.
Vedder’s article is bloodcurdling. He paints a picture of a literal obstacle course to affordable education which is almost as bizarre as it is obscene. The high cost college system is progressively mutilating the education options of successive generations of Americans. The murderous costs of college degrees, particularly in the high value range of degrees, is simply sucking the blood of the society. It’s as bad as the health system for ridiculously priced services.
This quote from Vedder’s article is indicative. Having explained the weird patchwork nature of formal state accreditation of courses and the mountainous bureaucracy involved required for online courses to have any value at all, he states this jaw-dropping collection of issues:
How can a program be acceptable in one region but be held deficient in others? Is this more an indictment of Bridgepoint (an online college) or of the crazy-quilt nature of American accreditation? Critics of Ashford point to a high dropout rate -- about 80 percent --but many traditional brick-and-mortar universities have four-year graduation rates that are less than 15 percent. What standards are the accrediting agencies using?
Check out the exact meaning of this paragraph:
Some programs are acceptable in some places but there’s no standardized system. Meaning there are multiple standards across all 50 states.
Dropout rates of 80-85% at those prices? All that money is paid upfront, just to drop out and create a national industry in debt collection from failed students?
Obviously the failure rate in colleges is a long way in excess of actual delivery of what they’re supposed to be delivering- educated people. This situation equates to massive expense for achieving exactly nothing, or close to it, in terms of the function of the higher education system.
Part of the problem, of course, is the endless loading of costs on to the public. Prices have hit Hollywood budget levels and stayed there. This is a seller’s market for services, and the result is a sort of cartel structure of costs. Everybody cranks up their prices every year. More rational pricing alone would probably drastically reduce the dropout rate.
Many students have reported that their college course costs were simply impossible to manage. 1 in 6 US students is now in serious, credit rating destroying, debt. That means that all that family sacrifice and personal angst have been total losses for that many kids.
The accreditation thing isn’t the only issue. Credibility for a new system, however incredible the old one may be, is also an issue. Check this out for an example of the circuitous logic of an education system that doesn’t work:
At present, the archaic accreditation rules make that impossible even though such a package of courses would cost less than half the current price of a degree, and most courses would be prepared by accredited, even elite, institutions, or use academics who have done much of their teaching at those schools.
Yes, this new approach to credentialing competence is complicated and needs oversight. For example: How do students prove they are doing the online work? Some instruction calls for face-to-face contact. And many benefits of higher education relate to non-classroom learning and socialization. Still, the question should be: Do the barriers imposed ensure quality and protect students, or stifle competition, innovation, access and affordability?
Given that so many people have been accused of buying degrees for the last 30 years, and the obvious lack of competence of so many “credentialed” college grads who can’t even spell or put a sentence together, the risk of online education looks like it’s worth taking. The general howls from business and the professions about existing education standards have been ignored, and now standards are being bitched about? Some system you don’t have, there.
Some courses require physical attendance at various points. You can’t become a surgeon without doing some cutting. You can take or leave socialization. College educated misanthropes aren’t exactly unknown, but the barriers are simply reducing the number of education options available to a nation and a workforce that needs higher education by the gigaton.
Online education is the only way out of the progressive failure of a whole sector which has priced itself to oblivion. Everything from grade school to tertiary education has hit the fan and this is the result. Paying for the upkeep of sick education facilities is achieving social disasters at ever-increasing prices. Old style education is just that- Old, obsolete, inefficient, cumbersome, and a huge drain on resources, public and private. This simply cannot be justified.
Nor can things like “How do students prove they are doing the online work? really cut it. Here’s how they prove it- “Hey guys, you’ve got a live test. You must be here to do it. We want full ID, and if you don’t do the test, you flunk. If you try to get someone else to do it for you, you automatically flunk, you’re expelled and you lose your money.” Subtle, eh? Just stick that in the terms of service and there’s no comeback.
I have a friend who lectures in supply chains. I was researching our Australian university costs, and I asked where the money went. Admin, was the answer. The office boys are making the same contribution to education that they make to business- Jacking up costs and creating high-paying jobs for themselves.
America can have as much failure as it’s prepared to pay for, but the bottom line is that the future United States can’t be run by uneducated people. Nor can it afford to be so casual about how it manages its accreditations. One standard, and a high one, will undo some of the damage.
Pity about those who got shafted, though, isn’t it? Just think what those 80-85% of dropouts might have been. That dropout rate is the best possible reason for creating manageable, affordable online education imaginable. People do their courses in time frames they can manage at costs they can afford. The alternative obviously just doesn’t work.
For the record- I’m an ex-bureaucrat myself. I’ve done research on the various immigration and work visas in Europe among other esoteric subjects. (They’re all different and all difficult.) I know how the bureaucratic process operates in countries around the world. I was working on an employment site in Belgium trying to help site users understand US education accreditation, and even I had a hard time finding out the basics of the system. Just finding out who to ask was difficult in some states. It was hideous.
The answer to the accreditation issues- Set one national standard and make it a good one. That alone will save billions in admin costs and drastically simplify enrolment. All that needs doing is to review it regularly to make sure it’s up to date and the system can manage itself.
More about online education, US college fees, College debt, education accreditation, dropout rate in US colleges
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