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Unsustainable growth in college costs

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Title of an editorial in Lowell, Massachusetts The sun contains an alarming but certainly clear message: that the state system of post-secondary education is on “The collision of volatile higher costs».

Inflation, the emergence of new fields of study and ever-increasing standards of care, not to mention the increase in the cost of wages, benefits, financial aid, maintenance and technology, mean that most colleges and universities are on an unbearable financial trajectory. – if their expenses are not reimbursed by new sources of income or a constant increase in state aid.

Economist Herbert Simon was right: “If something can’t go on forever, it will stop.” Trends that cannot continue will not.

When I think about the future of higher education in general, our options are as follows. We can have:

  • Higher quality.
  • Lower cost.
  • Increase equity.
  • More convenience and flexibility.
  • More attention to career.

Choose one.

Of course, institutions with extensive resources can choose “all of the above.” But an increasing number of regional and city colleges and universities will have to make difficult choices.

Our society is prosperous, and theoretically, we can dodge many complex decisions. I don’t think this is the world where most colleges and universities live.

Instead, the institutions that serve the bulk of the country’s undergraduate students live in a very complex, competitive, highly political environment and have to struggle through the hustle and bustle of conflicting priorities and requirements of many stakeholders.

None of us should be jealous of the challenges facing management, or the tough compromises that campuses should go for.

Chancellors, presidents, vice-chancellors and deans must simultaneously expand access, achieve much greater justice, increase accessibility, increase completion rates and improve post-school performance and salary outcomes in the context of limited resources and persistent resistance to change.

Are there levers we can and should pull? Here are a few.

1. Systemic levers
A new collection of essays, Redesigned higher education systems, edited by Jonathan S. Gallardi and Jason E. Lane (to whom I contributed), argues that public university systems have a good position to promote sustainable change. Multi-campus systems can create tax efficiency, use data and analytics, scale best practices, reduce procurement and contracting costs, encourage student success initiatives, lobby and advocate for policy action, and introduce new educational models.

As you know, the records of Systems for stimulating innovation and improvement are ambiguous. I can point to cases where systems have not lived up to expectations (e.g. Colbright and my own Institute for Transformational Learning), but also to examples of systems that produce significant and significant changes.

New York City University has demonstrated that it is possible. His Pathways initiative has made inter-agency credit transfers much more seamless. His ASAP program has become a national model for dramatically increasing the rate of completion of public colleges. His new initiative CUNY Online opens up the prospect of solving many long-standing problems: expanding access to closed courses, revenue sharing when students take courses outside their home college, coordinating online course offerings, creating a common marketing platform and combating high costs of OPM services.

2. Accelerate the degree of the path

If our goal is just to cut costs, we can do it in different ways. Send more high school graduates to public colleges. Institute of asynchronous courses that use cheaper classics. Replace full-time faculty with more paid auxiliary faculty.

But the easiest way to cut costs is to save time. There are several ways to do this:

  • Expand early college programs and advanced placement programs.
  • Awarded a credit for prior training.
  • Ensure course availability by increasing synchronous and asynchronous online options.
  • Make sure the transfer credits apply to the generation and degree requirements.
  • Reduce the number and complexity of degree requirements.
  • Expand access to personalized majors.

None of them are a panacea, but together they can hasten completion.

3. Institute earn-learn and integrated learning options
Workers ’colleges (e.g., Berea and Paul Quinn) and collaborative programs (e.g., offered by Drexel and Northeastern) integrate work into the college’s learning experience. Such programs take various forms.

  • Some emphasize work on campus.
  • Others combine academic coursework with paid tuition or internships, skills training, mentoring and networking opportunities, and full-fledged training and career guidance and support.

The challenge, of course, is how to provide ample opportunities for study and work, which helps explain why only a few colleges and universities have set up such programs. A replacement is to offer virtual internships and online experiential learning opportunities for groups of students. Firms like Riipen serve as intermediaries between colleges and for-profit and non-profit organizations that have business challenges that need to be addressed.

4. Share interinstitutional courses
The CourseShare Big Ten Academic Alliance initiative, which has made some 700 specialized language and local history courses available to students in a consortium of 14 research universities, can serve as a model that other institutions can emulate. It is also possible that Yale’s Harvard CS5 0 and CPSC 100, which allowed Yale students to broadcast live or view archival videos of Harvard professor David Malan’s classes, and Harvard students access to Yale University computer science professor Brian Scasellatti and later Benedict. .

Now that online learning has become a more accepted practice, the biggest barrier to exchange rates has fallen. Of course, it is important that exchange rates be used to increase access to specialized courses, not just to reduce programs, trim faculty, and reduce costs.

5. Adopt different innovative approaches to teaching and learning
When I was studying at the University of Houston, a group of us taught a comprehensive first-year experience that included U.S. history, American literature, American art, rhetoric and composition, and educational technology. Participating faculty members, along with faculty of literature and history, included the Director of Education of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston and a specialist in teaching, learning design, and visualization.

This integrated approach, which allowed students to fulfill the different requirements of generations either on two weekdays or on Saturdays for the whole day, made it much easier for students who traveled to combine work, family and study responsibilities. In addition to writing standard papers, each student also created digital projects such as a video, and made entries in a virtual encyclopedia and collaborative website.

But, like many highly motivated faculty initiatives, this approach was never institutionalized, scaled, or well-funded, and eventually disappeared. Lesson learned: It is not enough to rely on individual innovators who will inevitably relocate, retire or change interests.

The alternative is to make new educational models an integral part of the institution’s curriculum. Models to follow already exist.

  • Learning communities, meta-specialties and other team and cluster courses

Learning communities, meta-majors and cluster courses have certain common elements. They are interdisciplinary and thematic or career-based, and are organized around a cohort of students. Typically, they approach the subject from a synergistic and integrated perspective. At best, these units do more than give instructions. They also offer counseling, mentoring, additional instruction, collaborative learning opportunities, and a sense of friendship in a supportive community.

How about building communities that share participation in reflection and critical discourse around pressing issues such as pandemics or systemic forms of inequality? A useful model is cMOOC, which, unlike the better known xMOOC, focuses on research, research, and knowledge generation rather than knowledge transfer. The research community leverages the distributed campus experience and transforms all participants into researchers and researchers.

Professor Barnard Mark K. Cornes’s “Reacting to the Past” addictive role-playing games that engage in active learning, drawing on classic texts from the history of ideas, politics and science, offers one example of how to scale student learning. Because classes are conducted by students and the teacher acts as an advisor and facilitator, such classes can be much larger than a standard small lecture course.

Synchronous introductory online psychology classes at 2 UT, Toronto and Texas, show that it is possible to simultaneously provide high-quality educational experiences to 2,000 or more students. Combining daily quizzes, chat groups, debates, blocks conducted by alumni and guest lecturers, the UT Austin version narrowed achievement gaps, improved academic performance, and increased student satisfaction compared to the standard large-format lecture format.

  • Requirements for learning by doing

Not all training should take place in traditional classroom or lecture formats. Spaces for creation, studio courses, field and community learning, and of course research and internships under the supervision of credit mentors offer approaches that many students find very attractive and appealing and not necessarily limited in size.

The future of higher education will ultimately depend on public policy choices, primarily on how much state and federal governments will provide students with financial assistance and institutions through direct support and, indirectly, through grants and contracts. In the meantime, however, individual campuses can take steps that simultaneously improve students ’learning experiences, reduce time to a degree, and contribute to a stronger sense of community.

This will require institutions of non-standard thinking, ideas about forms of education that do not correspond exclusively to the lecture, seminar, laboratory paradigm.

Believe me: we can do it if we try.

Stephen Mintz is Professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin.

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