Saturday, March 30, 2013

University of Washington to Offer Its First Ever Online-Only Degree ...

I'm all for exploring innovative ways to extend affordable access to quality higher education, especially for students who find their vocation in low-paying (if much needed) professions. But I'm really not confident that online-only degrees are the way to go.

The University of Washington will offer a new low-cost online bachelor?s degree completion program in early childhood and family studies. Pending final approval, the program will start in the fall.

[...] The Early Childhood and Family Studies degree, which is the first online-only bachelor?s completion program to be offered by the UW, will prepare individuals to work in child care, preschools, social and mental health services, parent and family support, and arts organizations.

So, um, the UW's first ever online-only bachelor's degree will be granted in program training people in a profession that consists mostly of face-to-face interpersonal interaction? I mean, if distance learning is so magical, why train preschool teachers at all? Wouldn't it be cheaper and more effective to just hand all the toddlers iPads and let them teach themselves?

The UW online degree costs $160 per credit ? which is about equivalent to $7,000 for a year of full-time study ? regardless of where students live.

No doubt that's cheaper, sure. But in every sense of the word. And it's not just the students (and their students) who might not get the value out of this that they expect. If the UW is selling a degree for $7,000 a year (and with relaxed admission requirements), won't that devalue the degrees of students paying almost twice the price? Top schools like the UW stand to cheapen their brand if they're not careful.

The program will be administered by UW Educational Outreach, which received a Next Generation Learning Challenges grant partially funded by the Gates Foundation, to help offset costs of developing the degree. The grant includes offering several core classes in early childhood education free to the public, as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) on the Coursera platform.

What a great humanitarian Bill Gates is, promoting education reforms that in no way generate profits for the industry on which he built his fortune. (But then, all those libraries Andrew Carnegie built sure did use a lot of steel, so I guess I shouldn't be too cynical.)

I don't mean to come off as a Luddite. There's a place in higher education for online learning. But let's be clear: The main advantage of MOOCs is that they're cheaper. Not better, or for the most part, not even just as good. Just cheaper.

And if our public policy solution to the crisis in higher education funding is focused on making college cheaper, well, in the end, chances are we'll get what we pay for.


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