Taking Notes on Student Debt: Do MOOCs Threaten Higher Education?
Face it. At some point, the United States government—for political and economic reasons—will have to forgive a large chunk of the Brobdingnagian amount of student debt. In the short term, will the political will be there given our fractious, ideologically stagnant lower house? Writing off even a portion of the loans will be considered a form of welfare for college students and for secondary institutions. The bursting bubble will slather the colleges that charge exorbitant tuition and fees without helping students procure employment. In a society where decisions are increasingly driven by data, institutions with high default and mediocre graduation rates will be excluded from the federal coffers.
With fewer college options, how will students obtain an education to get a job where problem-solving skills will be in demand? Many colleges will cut back on course offerings (at state schools, which rely on recession starved diminished state revenues, this is already occurring). With increasing competition from massive open online courses (MOOCs), universities are feeling the pressure that their future as a viable business model will have to evolve. Or will it? Higher education institutions such as California State University at San Jose have toyed with the idea of replacing remedial English courses with MOOCs. Will this approach work for remedial courses? Probably not. As a publisher who has worked with student interns over the last two decades, I know firsthand that traditional writing skills are in decline (although social media writing skills, namely the ones used for Twitter, are better than adequate). Struggling writers improve their craft when they are interested in the topic and when they receive personalized feedback. It is not easy for the ego to hear that one’s writing is not up to par even if the criticism is constructive.
Recently, I queried two dozen students who consider themselves poor writers at high school and college levels. The majority responded that they needed a better breakdown of how sentences are constructed, tips to improve cohesion and flow in their writing, and a more expansive vocabulary that is readily acceptable when under strict deadlines. Writing is individual. MOOCs are massive. Students are not going to receive feedback in a timely manner from the professor when thousands of students need to submit their work.
Getting back to student debt and MOOCs replacing college courses. If colleges were serious about helping students pay their debts, they would need to keep college tuition affordable and make the effort to track students closely so they could complete college. Many students drop out due to financial pressure, job pressure, family problems, and academic issues. Schools need to reallocate some of the money that presently go into MOOCs into intervention such as counseling and tutoring. Professors and tutors get to know their students’ learning styles and could help their customers—yes, students are the clients—flourish.
MOOCs do have a role in higher education. They could be utilized, for example, in specially selected graduate level and adult education courses as well as courses where students observe or audit. But again, the professor will need a system of support staff to be successful and not have to spend 20 hours a day preparing a class, teaching, performing administrative and grading duties, all which would apply if a teacher had thousands of students. #
Adam Sugerman is the co-publisher of Education Update and a doctoral candidate in Computer, Technology and Education at Nova Southeastern University.