Melissa Dark, associate dean for research and strategic planning, shared a report titled Disrupting College: How Disruptive Innovation Can Deliver Quality and Affordability to Postsecondary Education. It is a long read but the Executive Summary gives a good overview of the report. The premise of the report is that technology can be an enabler for higher education and it is beginning to have a dramatic effect on students and higher education.
Technology in this case is distance learning. In 2009, 30 percent of students took an online course. In 2014 it is estimated that 50 percent of students will take an online course. The challenge is how can the nation’s leading universities, such as Purdue and the College of Technology, expand from traditional delivery of instruction to include distance-delivered courses and degree programs.
The College of Technology is in some ways ahead of the curve, having offered blended traditional/distance delivered MS degree programs through its Weekend Master’s Programs. A few years ago the college created ProSTAR (Center for Professional Studies and Applied Research) to administer and facilitate the growth of our professional programs. Efforts to move into purely distance-delivered courses and degree programs have been very slow with Aviation Technology and Computer and Information Technology taking the lead. Statewide Technology has also begun to offer courses between locations through distance education. However, we have a long way to go before we can say that we fully embrace distance education.
Why would we want to increase our offerings for distance-learning-delivered courses and degree options? This is a good question that we need to answer. I believe that funding for higher education in this nation has systemically changed where the states and the federal governments will no longer support higher education at the level we have been accustomed to. We can spend our time complaining, rationalizing and discussing why this is wrong thinking, or we can look for alternative means to generate revenue.
The article suggests that higher education needs a business model innovation to support distance learning, and we have that through offering fee-based vs. tuition-based programs. Fee-based programs allow us to keep residual income within the college and departments. This is the business model employed by ProSTAR. The article also suggests that higher education needs to provide structured programs that are laser focused on preparing students for a career. This is currently the model used in ProSTAR through its defined plan of study and use of cohort groups. This reduces costs to the student and improves student outcomes, especially for historically underserved students.
The article also states that higher education needs to change from credit hours and seat time to competency and mastery. Students can accelerate past concepts and skills they understand and have mastered to focus on topics they do not understand or have not mastered.
The College of Technology is positioned very well to expand into distance learning to serve more students, lower the cost, and provide higher education, especially to underserved populations, while at the same time increasing revenue to supplement falling state and federal support. We have the administrative entity (ProSTAR) in place, we have the business model in place, and we are gaining experience in offering distance-delivered courses. The question we need to answer is, do we have the will to expand our offerings through distance learning?