Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

The End of Liberal Arts?

Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

The End of Liberal Arts?

Article excerpt

MY HUSBAND recently retired after 40 years in education. He's done everything from teaching (high school and college) to publishing (textbooks and software) to consulting. He's seen every swing of the pendulum--very little impresses him as a true game changer.

But when Harvard and M1T announced their joint online open-education initiative, he made a statement that, in the past, would be the kind of hyperbole he'd scoff at: "This might be the death knell of the traditional college."

Not that the Ivy League is about to collapse any time soon, but my husband was tapping into forces at work right now that are fundamentally challenging the assumptions about and the future of traditional higher education.

The first force, of course, is the technology. If someone in rural Iowa can take an engineering course for free at Harvard, what are the implications for Iowa State?

Skeptics may point out that the course is non-credited, so it has no real standing in the world. But consider: Technology may soon permit "seat-time" credits to be replaced by rigorous demonstration of knowledge and skill, however and wherever these are learned. And that demonstrable skill acquisition may turn out to be more valuable in the real world than a degree based on credits.

Which leads me to the second imploding force in higher ed: the cost of those credits. A private four-year college degree easily runs to $200,000. Public institutions are not much cheaper. My in-state tuition at the University of Michigan in 1974 was (this is not a typo) $800 per year; including all expenses, a four-year degree cost then about $10,000. Today, that same degree runs more than $100,000. This kind of hyperinflation is forcing young people to find other--non-credited--pathways to adulthood and careers. …

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