Online colleges seek to avoid ‘access without success’

Take MOOCs, in many ways the most heated portion of an ongoing debate between technology-driven education and traditional face-to-face learning.

Thousands of students are signing up for the online courses, because most of them are completely free, but the retention rates for them are often below 10 percent.

“I’ve always preferred we have that debate in terms of quality, not cost,” said M. Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities.

McPherson, who prefers hybrid offerings to fully online courses, said focusing on education technology in this way will also help change the minds of skeptical faculty, who may be weary about retention rates and their own job security.

Not only will there need to be faculty to deal with the influx of students that will come about with these changes, he said, but students will still need a knowledgeable, experienced instructor to help guide them through the content, and, eventually, into the job market.

Appropriate employment following college has to be the end goal, the speakers agreed, even if that is potentially at odds with some of the loftier, philosophical ideas of what a college experience is supposed to be about.

“But  the faculty role will not be eliminated,” McPherson said. “It will be changed.”

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