To harness MOOCs, focus on the outcomes

Many states are wrestling with how to achieve the twin goals of making higher education both more affordable and accessible to their citizens, Excelsior President John Ebersole writes in Forbes. California and, more recently, Florida have been in the news as they struggle to find ways of taming the new elephant in the room…MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses). Political leaders, in apparent frustration with what they see as an intransigent academic community unwilling to control costs, see this new application of technology as the solution to concerns of access and cost. Others, including many academics, see MOOCs as an inferior intrusion into the education process that is fraught with questions of quality and effectiveness. We have three issues here: cost, access and learning. Let’s look first at cost. According to The College Board, the average yearly tuition and fees (not including room & board) at a four-year private college is $29,056 but just $8,655 at public institutions ($21,706 for out-of-state students).  While these are the so-called “sticker prices” that are often reduced by grants and scholarships, students who earned a bachelor’s degree in 2011 still had an average student loan debt of $26,600 as reported by The Project on Student Debt . A report from FICO Labs puts the average 2012 debt load a bit higher at $27,253. More alarming, however, is FICO’s analysis that defaults on student loans are increasing. This, they maintain, can cause a snowball effect, lowering an individual’s credit rating, making it harder for these graduates to access new credit, which in turn creates a drag on the economy.

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