As the president of American College of Education, an online institution dedicated to serving the needs of teachers both nationally and internationally, I am fully aware of the positive impact technology and online delivery have had in the field of higher education. And, while our institution would agree in general with the thoughts expressed in the two essays, neither addresses the two fundamental reasons we exist as institutions: outcomes and accessibility.
While Michelle Weise’s essay discusses the benefits of a CBE curriculum, as well as many points on how education should be delivered that we agree with, what is missing is the fact that current CBE programs have sub-standard completion rates. And, though these models are more affordable for a self-motivated student, if a student does not complete the program and cannot effectively transfer the time spent into a traditional program–whether online or on campus–the result for the student is ultimately frustration.
Dan O’Neill’s essay touches on environmental benefits of a large online education model (we also support many of these points), however, the comment that it is not possible to reduce tuition appears to assume that enrollment is not increasing. If enrollment does increase, scale economies will decrease incremental cost per student and allow for a reduction in tuition. If the school is not reducing tuition in this case, the only person benefiting from the efficiencies provided by online delivery is the school itself, not the student. This hesitancy to reduce tuition limits access for talented and willing participants who cannot realistically afford the existing burden of tuition.
As we look at the marketplace, we believe that there are pressures on the horizon that will force tuition to deflate. The consumer is starting to demand to know what she is getting for her hard-earned dollar. Information regarding institutional outcomes is becoming easily accessible, and, while decisions about which school to attend were traditionally and routinely made on name recognition, family experience, and institutional reputation, the future will see this approach diminish as students use the value equation (utility vs. cost) in their decision process more than ever before. This new mindset of cost consciousness will inherently drive down tuition rates of many institutions. It’s also worth keeping in mind that students today are far more reliant on word-of-mouth and social media recommendations than in generations prior, which means institutional name recognition is no longer a validation of cost. Students today are less willing to “pay for the name.”
In response, we anticipate that organizations will look to improve the quality of their product to fight off the pressure to lower tuition revenue. Namely, this is instructional outcomes. And, as Weise’s essay mentioned, we expect the challenge of delivering teaching, research, and community will be dominated by the teaching initiative. Instead of measuring institutional efficacy through research dollars, institutional statistics, and faculty ratios, there will be extended debate around the metrics used to communicate teaching performance. While we don’t know today what those metrics will be, what we do know is that the incoming student will be the one to define them, and schools will be challenged to communicate that they are better than their peers at teaching students, both in terms of quality of programming–and cost to deliver said programming. Schools will need to prove that the education they provided was worth what students paid.
At American College of Education, we started with these two core principles in mind: high quality instructional outcomes and accessibility. We ignored the perceived link between cost and quality that exists in the marketplace and drove to build a model that spends only what is necessary in order to get the outcomes that students expect. We leveraged all the benefits of online delivery and decided to give those efficiencies back to the student in the form of lower tuition. That is how we deliver better-than-average outcomes with credit hour costs that are 40 to 70 percent less than competitors in our field. We believe that we have to be the best value to continue our aggressive growth in a market that is most certainly going to experience significant change for the foreseeable future.
Dr. Shawntel Landry is the provost and interim president of American College of Education.