Digital Dilemma: Issues of Access, Cost, and Quality in Media-Enhanced and Distance Education

By Gerald C. Van Dusen | Go to book overview

ISSUES OF COST AND AFFORDABILITY

Problems of access have been exacerbated in recent years by economic trends outside the control, if not the influence, of colleges and universities. Two trends in particular threaten to deprive millions of students of the social and economic benefits of a postsecondary education. The first trend is the steady erosion of state and federal discretionary aid. On the federal level, mandatory spending on such entitlement programs as Social Security and Medicaid has consumed a growing proportion of the federal budget since 1965. According to the Congressional Budget Office, entitlement programs will account for nearly three-quarters of federal budget expenditures by 2005 (Breaking the Social Contract, 1997). On the state level, lawmakers are allocating proportionally larger shares of annual expenditures to health and human services and, increasingly, to law enforcement and public safety, leaving higher education to draw from residual funds that must be shared with the K–12 system, transportation, statewide revenue sharing, and general government operating expenses. And colleges and universities can expect this pattern of reduced public support to continue until academics abandon their reluctance to influence lawmakers and make their case for increased funding (Lederman, 1998).

A second trend is actually a corollary to the national trend in income, reported in the last section as predictive of technological access. The growing disparity between the top and bottom percentiles of wage and family income in the United States, it was noted, has contributed to a society of technological haves and have-nots (Department of Commerce, 1995, 1998, 1999; Gladieux and Swail, 1999). The corollary of this trend is that more and more families have to assign a greater and greater share of personal income to higher education to compensate for the decline in real wages. Add to this domestic dilemma a tuition growth rate fueled in no small part by necessary technological enhancements in administration and instruction, and the goal of mass—much less universal—access to higher education becomes greatly imperiled.

The growing disparity between the top and bottom per-centiles of wage and family in-come in the United States has contributed to a society of techno-logical haves and have-nots.

As many families alter their own priorities to pay for college, senior campus administrators grapple with exploding demand for high-performance computing and rising expectations that complete support services will be available. Market Data Retrieval, an educational information firm,

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