How to liberate higher education

American institutions are leading the way in online education, as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have legitimized the concept of geo-agnostic coursework. We’re seeing differing variations on the approaches to online learning, such as MOOCs – from online courses that have very little faculty-student interaction to models where online materials enhance a traditional, classroom-based course.

Many of the world’s leading academic institutions have launched some type of online/distance learning component. Globally, 7.1 million students took some type of online course in 2013. And 33.5 percent of higher education students reported taking at least one online course – an all-time high.

The collective experience that hundreds and hundreds of universities are gaining, and the new models and modalities developed, allow the U.S. to continue to lead in reaching students around the world.

We’re already seeing huge impacts in other countries, however. In Argentina, for example, online education and distance learning is quickly following the lead of the United States, where such courses were originally developed to meet the needs of working professionals who didn’t have the time to attend traditional college classes.

Conversely, in Brazil, many institutions are embracing digital coursework as a way to lower the cost of education, opening doors for student who may not have the economic ability to attend a traditional university program.

And it is in this international space where we will see the opportunities for Western-style post-secondary education. For 60 years, international students had a strong desire to come to the United States to attend college. Now as the global economy evolves, the number of students who can afford higher education is increasing rapidly.

What was once the province of a small sliver of societies is now available to a growing global middle class. And U.S. universities are expanding. 52 U.S. universities operate 82 campuses in 37 countries. By comparison, for all the world’s universities only 16 such campus existed in 1996.

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