The college transformation you should know about

How high-tech internet courses and government-recognized credentials could solve a massive student problem, according to The End of College: Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere.

college-cost[Editor’s note: This editorial originally appeared in The Charleston Gazette.]

Going away to college and learning in the academic beehive of a university campus is a wonderful way for teens to transition into adulthood.

However, extreme cost denies this benefit to millions of young Americans. For them, an alternative system is needed at a tiny fraction of the expense.

A solution may be found if low-cost online courses can be accredited in a way that leads to respected degrees.

(Next page: Are there other ways for students to obtain a college degree?)

Evidence keeps snowballing that high school graduates have dismal futures in America. Many now can’t find jobs adequate to support families, so their marriage rate is collapsing and their children are raised by overwhelmed single mothers. Only college graduates generally have secure careers and more two-parent homes.

But getting a college degree has become more expensive, as institutions keep jacking up prices.

U.S. student debt now tops $1 trillion. Some seniors graduate with $100,000 debt, and the average is nearing $30,000. America desperately needs a cheaper path to higher training.

The solution lies in high-tech internet courses — plus systems giving government-recognized credentials to all who pass the courses — according to a new book, The End of College: Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere.

“Information technology is poised to transform college degrees,” the book says. But it adds that “free online courses won’t revolutionize education until there is a parallel system of free or low-fee credentials, not controlled by traditional colleges, that leads to jobs.”

Some large internet groups are planning “open badges” to give college credit to everyone who passes online courses. This creditation system will keep a complete record of all coursework and papers done by each train-at-home student. Gradually, the author hopes, employers will begin to accept these credentials just like university degrees.

The author, Kevin Carey of the New America Foundation, says old-style universities are grotesquely expensive: “The hundreds of millions of dollars spent to create an ever-newer, ever-fancier campus … the absurd importance of the football team.” Shifting courses to home computers will wipe out all that cost.

“The story of higher education’s future is a tale of ancient institutions in their last days of decadence, creating the seeds of a new world to come,” he wrote.

We hope his vision leads to cheap, well-recognized college credentials for millions of Americans.

©2015 The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, W.Va.). Visit The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, W.Va.) at Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Laura Ascione