Friday, April 08, 2011

Solving the College Affordability Problem

Top quality free education is already easily available. It's just the credentialling that needs sorting out. Maybe diploma mills might come into their own! If you know your stuff, it's unlikely that people will look closely at your credentials -- JR

How much should a college education cost? According to the College Board, the average cost of earning a degree at a private, 4-year university is now more than $100,000. If tuition prices continue to rise as quickly as they did during the past decade, a college degree will cost more than $200,000 by the time today’s third-graders are applying. That price tag is enough to cause most parents to break into a sweat.

Is a college degree really worth this cost? Some bright minds think Americans are paying way too much. In fact, Bill Gates--one of the country's most famous college dropouts--thinks it should be closer to zero. He told an audience last summer: “Five years from now, on the web, for free you’ll be able to find the best lectures in the world. It will be better than any single university.”

One could argue that the bright future Gates described is already here. The Massachusetts Institute for Technology has already put all of its instructional materials, including lectures, online and made it available for free. Other schools, including many elite universities, are following suit. For example, using iTunes University, you can already download free lectures from Stanford, Yale, and dozens of other colleges.

The trend of a free and open higher education system will revolutionize higher education, and fundamentally change the way that the world learns. As Gates argues, someday soon, anyone—anywhere in the world—with internet access will be able to learn from the best professors and teachers.

Of course, access to instruction isn't the only, or even primary, reason why most American students go to college. A big part of what today’s students are purchasing for that $100,000 is the degree itself—the credential that signals to employers and society in general that one is able to learn and can survive four years of classes and exams.

But alternative credentialing systems, like AP tests and CLEP exams, are already in place. And the realization of Bill Gates's vision of free online higher education will surely be followed by new credentialing systems that allow people who learn online to prove their accomplishments and signal their value to employers.

Forward thinking elected officials now have the opportunity to expedite the arrival of the free college era, and—in the process—solve a major problem for American families while providing big relief for taxpayers and federal and state budgets.

For too long, efforts to solve the college access and affordability problem have focused on increasing subsidies—grants, loans, and scholarships—for students to attend college. Increased student aid subsidies have contributed to today’s high tuition prices. The College Board reports that total federal support for all forms of college student aid programs was $146 billion in 2010—an increase of 136 percent over just a decade ago.

Instead of this continuing this failed approach—an approach we simply can no longer afford—elected officials should focus on dramatically lowering the costs associated with earning a college education. For example, Governor Rick Perry recently called on the Texas higher education system to develop a new program through which students can earn a college degree for only $10,000. Presumably, this initiative will take advantage of the exciting efficiencies that are happening thanks to online learning.

Leaders in Washington and in state capitals around the country should follow Governor Perry’s lead. Governors and state legislatures should require state-funded universities to follow schools like MIT—putting lectures and course content online for free. Like Texas, state higher education systems should create new credentialing systems to allow people who learn online to demonstrate their mastery and work towards a degree.

Congress and the administration have a responsibility to taxpayers to support reforms that will lower the $150 billion annual burden of student aid programs. For example, Congress could require a college that receives a certain level of direct federal subsidies place a percentage of its instructional content online for free. This initiative would follow the tradition of the Library of Congress—creating a national library of college lectures that all citizens can use. President Obama could use his bully pulpit to challenge universities across the country to do their part to solve a critical national problem.

Very few of our country’s many, big problems have simple and inexpensive solutions. We can’t afford to pass this one up.


Britain's Labour Party government put mediocrity ahead of bright children

Labour institutionalised mediocrity in schools by encouraging teachers to neglect capable pupils, according to an analysis of GCSE results. Teachers focused their attention on bumping-up pupils from a grade D to a C in order to improve their ranking in school league tables.

Meanwhile those youngsters who were considered bright enough to get a grade B or higher at GCSE have been neglected. And those at the bottom of the pile – who would take too much work to get to grade C – have been consigned to the scrap heap, according to research by the think tank Policy Exchange.

The analysis of GCSE grades from 2000 to 2009 shows the proportion of pupils getting A*, A and B grades has remained static while the number achieving a C grade has soared by 25 per cent. This is the first time the practice, which has become so ingrained that it is even incorporated in teachers’ manuals, has been illustrated in an authoritative study of GCSE results.

One manual reminds maths teachers: ‘Students who achieve a GCSE grade C or above in mathematics help to boost the school’s statistics and so show the school in a better light for Ofsted and for league tables.’ As a result schools have failed to help hundreds of thousands of bright pupils better their chances in life, the report suggests.

Professor Deborah Eyre, author of the study, said: ‘Children who try harder do better. But because of a fear of appearing “elitist”, pupils are not being encouraged to put in the effort which will bring about excellence. ‘We need an approach which will recognise and nurture signs of high performance in every subject – both academic and vocational. ‘There are many more pupils capable of high performance than we currently recognise.’

Schools watchdog Ofsted has found that some 46 per cent of students do not feel they are intellectually challenged at school.

James Groves, of Policy Exchange, added: ‘Schools need a focus on high achievement. If we are to produce enough skilled adults who will be able to compete in a vastly tougher global economy, then we cannot afford to waste any potential at all. ‘Just being able to master basic skills is no longer enough. We need a workforce that can take on anyone in the world and beat them.’


Drift to private schools continues in Australia

In my home State of Queensland, one third of students overall go private and an even higher proportion are in private High schools. Anyone who can afford to wants out of government schools, particularly in the teenage years of their kids. British parents must be envious. Only 7% get private schooling there -- JR

ENROLMENTS in state high schools have dropped as parents look increasingly to the private sector to educate their teenagers.

Figures released yesterday, taken on Day 8 of the academic year, show overall enrolments in Queensland state schools increased less than 1 per cent between 2010 and 2011.

But all of that growth was in primary schools. State high school enrolments dropped slightly from 174,721 on Day 8, 2010, to 174,685 in 2011.

Similar figures provided by the Queensland Catholic Education Commission show their enrolments in high schools went up about 3 per cent, while the state's population has been growing at about 2 per cent a year.

Enrolment figures for state primary schools were much brighter. They increased their Day 8 numbers from 307,147 students in 2010 to 310,104 this year. Prep enrolments grew by almost 5 per cent from 40,974 to 42,912 this year.

Queensland Secondary Principals Association president Norm Fuller said he was unsure of why enrolment in high schools went down by less than 40 students.

He said principals had anecdotally reported that some parents had moved their children from the private sector to their state schools after looking at data on the My School website.

But Shadow Education Minister Bruce Flegg said the figures were "a continuation of a very long-term trend" of parents voting with their feet because there was a perception of more opportunities and better discipline in the private sector.

The figures were released yesterday, only a day after The Courier-Mail applied for the data through the Right to Information process.

While the figures are normally released in the weeks after Day 8, Education Queensland initially delayed them this year because of the floods. The numbers are expected to go online today with a statement that overall, enrolments grew by 1.1 per cent between 2009 and 2011.

Independent Schools Queensland said they had not yet received their enrolment figures.

It is the third year in a row that Queensland state school Day 8 enrolments have grown less than one per cent overall, while the Catholic sector has been growing at about 3 per cent.

But Education Minister Cameron Dick said Queensland parents knew state schools offered quality education and the enrolment figures proved it. "Sixty-seven per cent of all Queensland students attend state schools, the third highest proportion in Australia and higher than the national average," he said.

The Day 8 figures, and those supplied by the QCEC, are initial data collections at schools with an official census carried out for the Australian Bureau of Statistics later in the year.


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