Thanks to technology information is available with the click of a button. Everything from explanations behind Einstein’s theory of relativity to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s biography can be found online. In this day and age there are schooling options that are entirely available on the internet.
The internet has radically changed the way traditional colleges and universities function and operate, and the question is, at what cost?
University of Arkansas System President Donald Bobbitt gave a talk at UALR last week focusing on the future of higher education in Arkansas. His main goal was to stir action and thought in those concerned in restoring the system of public higher education.
Bobbitt stated, “The United States system of higher education is a system definitely worth saving. This is a system the world admires.” However, with that in mind he warned, “There are many challenges that face the system.”
He stressed the external factors that are causing problems for the current higher education model. “They’re not likely to go away and they’re going to involve some redesigns in the system.”
One of the major challenges facing higher education is the national budget. In the future, the Federal Pell Grant, which is a part of a large number of student’s financial aid packages, may be cut by a factor of 7.8 percent. Unlike other loans and financial aid, the Pell Grant does not have to be repaid.
Although this is not yet confirmed, the possibility illustrates a problem for higher education. In terms of the current system, “The Higher Education system won’t be able to maintain itself,” said Bobbitt. In light of the economic situation in the United States, personal incomes are not increasing. Students will not be able to make up the hole that a missed-Pell Grant may leave in their budgets for school.
UALR, like many of the other University of Arkansas schools, will be affected. Bobbitt mentioned the students at UALR are at “Different stage in life, with different set of challenges and pressures. Very few students may actually start here as freshman.”
With this in mind, the Pell Grant’s effects would be heavily felt at UALR. He painted a hypothetical scenario in which 500 students would no longer be able to attend the school. With a smaller enrollment, there would be a loss of about 4 million dollars.
The good news is the legislature and governor, at the state level, have been pushing for higher education: “We are fortunate in the state that our legislature and our governor have done extraordinary jobs supporting higher education under conditions that are extremely difficult. I think we are one of only 8 states to not cut funding for higher education,” said Bobbitt.
In order to keep with national and global standards, Governor Mike Beebe has charged Arkansas with doubling the number of Arkansan’s that hold a degree. “We have our work cut out for us,” said Bobbitt.
A large factor that points to the need to remodel the system of higher education lies in the attendance rate. “Class attendance doesn’t seem to be that important to this generation,” said Bobbitt. He continued by stating, “The students are getting [the material], they’re just not getting it from [the professors]” Although students are not attending class as regularly, the scores are not directly affected. Furthermore, even students who make it to class seem to be tampering with their phones or updating Facebook accounts during lectures.
Bobbitt admits that the internet has “changed the landscape and the way the game [is] played pretty rapidly.” Students are turning towards for-profit institutions that run entirely online.
Bobbitt warns that a negative outcome is inevitable if the market for higher education is ceded to for-profit institutions. He explained that the money at a for-profit group does not go back into education; rather “60 percent of every dollar goes into marketing and profit.” Companies that run Kaplan College, University of Phoenix, and ITT Technical Institute are taking funds and putting them back into recruitment.
The problem with these institutions lies in the lack of success rate. The dropout rates from the for-profit institutions dwarf those that are typical of a traditional institution.
How then, should redesigns be applied to the traditional public higher educational model, to include what the for-profit institutions seem to be offering?
Bobbitt suggests a couple of things to look into: “We may need to flip what we think in terms of what goes on in a classroom.” He suggests a new paradigm in which time is variable, but learning is fixed, as opposed to a set fifteen-week model where learning is the variable.
Also, he suggests that online courses should work to complement the university as opposed to compete with it. Bobbitt noted that at UALR in the past year, “Many of our students took an online course in order to complete the full time load,” due to different circumstances. New structures should be made by taking into account the needs of the students.
Realizing that the system needs to change to keep up with the technology and needs of the student is undeniable in this situation. Bobbitt stressed that change needs to happen in order to keep public higher education an option.
Toward the future Bobbitt insists on keeping with the core of what higher education offers: namely, quality education: “We are never going to compromise a set of core values; one of those core values – educational quality can not be compromised in anything we do.”