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Higher Education – Revisited

OK folks – it’s long, long, long past due for me to revisit this topic. I can’t believe the last time I wrote about higher education was about a year and a half ago. Then it was my “Death of Higher Education” series, and I guess that wound up a few people. Oh well – truth hurts sometimes. Change can be hard to accept.

(If you’d like to revisit those blogs, click for Episode 1, Episode 2, and Episode 3)

You won’t be surprised to hear this, but my opinion hasn’t changed at all and this whole covid-19 thing has really forced the issue in my view.

The above table/meme was shared with me as a tongue-in-cheek thing, but it really, really drives home what I think the point is – higher education HAS to change. Not “should”, “it would be nice if it did”, or “is probably a good idea” – but MUST change.

And no, this is not me whining because my kids are in college. I’m long over that and noted that in my prior blogs. So don’t waste your mental energy discounting this to me angling to save myself some money – too late for that.

Let’s take a step back before I get ahead of myself here…

I think we all can agree that life “post-covid-19” is going to be different. In what ways exactly are obviously to be determined, but I think the list is going to be pretty long. Anything that involves large groups of people, shared resources, or creates an opportunity to share/spread germs are top on the list. My condolences to anyone in travel/transportation-related industries.

One of the first things to be impacted by covid-19 was K-12 schools, which 1,000% makes sense. Anyone that currently has or has had younger kids knows that schools are big “petri dishes” of germs – I get it’s hard to avoid that, so protecting the kids makes a ton of sense.

Higher education wasn’t far behind as Spring breaks were extended and then kids were told to pack up their stuff and don’t bother coming back – the rest of the semester was going to be virtual. Again, I get it – makes a lot of sense.

The unintended consequence of that move, however, was opening the door (I guess it was kind of forced open) to the competitor of the traditional in-person classroom – online learning. And from the results I am seeing so far, here’s how it looks:

  1. Teachers are woefully unprepared for this
  2. Online learning is very, very ready for this

If your current or future job is a college professor, that’s a bad combination.

A perfect analogy for this competitive situation just happened. My son drives a bit for DoorDash and close to the peak of the dinner rush, the DoorDash servers crashed nationwide. I don’t know the technical issues behind this, but from a customer perspective they could not order from DoorDash – period. So what’s a hungry customer to do? Simple – order from Uber Eats (or another one) – the competition.

DoorDash being “down” opened the door (pun intended) for the competition to serve those hungry customers and if they had a good experience, maybe not go back to DoorDash, or at least it’s not top on the list. Either way DoorDash lost a lot of money short-term and accidentally created the potential for longer-term loss.

Back to higher education…

In my opinion, the forced online learning “situation” is expediting something that is very, very long overdue – a complete overhaul of our higher education system.

Let me be clear here – I am NOT, I repeat not, suggesting that our entire higher education system should be all virtual. That would be silly. So please don’t start flaming me for suggesting that – because I am not.

I AM, however, suggesting, praying, requesting, and begging that online learning become a significant part of how our college students learn going forward.

We are proving now, and if anyone has been paying attention, been proving for years that online learning can be a very effective method of learning and in many (not all) cases at least as effective, if not more so, than traditional, in-person classroom education.

If we are blessed with that happening, quite a bit will change when it comes to “going to college”. The biggest of those, by far, should be cost (as in lower). There is no way that with any amount of moral compass, any place of higher education could argue that online learning costs the same, or God-forbid more than in-person classroom learning. And if they were dumb enough to try to make that argument, I pray that nobody with half a brain would believe it.

Online learning is cheaper and scales infinitely better than in-person classroom education – without question.

Think about it for a minute – if your child is sitting in auditorium-style seating with 50, 100, 200 or whatever students listening to the Professor (or TA) lecture, are they really going to learn more sitting there vs watching it online and interacting in an online forum for that class?

If so, you better be getting a refund for a good part of this semester.

Yes, for many science courses there needs to be labs, etc. Pretty tough to replicate that online. But that’s only part of the course anyway.

I understand that not all courses can or should be 100% virtual (reference my disclaimer earlier in this blog). That’s not my point.

The point is simply that change is desperately needed in our higher education system and I believe that we are being handed a golden opportunity to start that process.

In the interest of executive summaries, let me recap for you, in plain terms, my position:

  1. Online learning needs to become a significant part of higher education ASAP
  2. That will drive prices down by lowering costs and increasing competition

100% of the time increased competition is better for the consumer – without exception.

Change is hard and this change is going to disrupt some very long held “institutions”, but we all know it needs to happen, so quit crying about it.

Don’t shoot the messenger please.

(See you on www.thecupajoe.com soon!)