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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Report: Credit-hour model outdated, inefficient

Fourteen percent of students are full-time students living on campus.

Colleges and universities are holding back a competency-based credit hour system in higher education, even as the federal government has signaled support for the nontraditional credit-earning model, according to a report that supports the growing opposition to the credit hour status quo.

The New America Foundation’s “Cracking The Credit Hour” is the latest critique of the long-held belief that college credit should be judged solely on hours spent in a classroom, whether it’s in person or online.

Penned by the foundation’s director of higher education, Amy Laitinen, the foundation’s report points out that traditional universities have stuck with the seat-time credit hour model despite the U.S. Department of Education’s definition of credit hours, which was based on 1,200 comments from educators and includes three ways to measure learning outcomes.…Read More

Experts push gaming as a ‘serious’ element of higher education

Excelsior College's serious gaming panel will convene May 11.

Campus technology leaders say “game” isn’t the four-letter word it once was in the Ivory Tower, thanks to a new crop of instructors willing to make games a centerpiece of their course curriculum.

“Serious gaming,” as it’s commonly called at colleges and universities, involves computer games that maintain some entertainment value—enough to grab and keep students’ attention—while presenting  scenarios that challenge theories, strategies, and research that is often discussed during lectures, but rarely applied.

Some major universities, such as the University of Wisconsin (UW) Madison and Michigan State University (MSU), offer programs on serious gaming and the design of education-friendly simulations.…Read More

Online colleges applaud regulation-killing House vote

The Republican-controlled House passed the repeal 303-114.

A controversial federal regulation that has proven onerous for many online colleges was struck down by a wide margin in the U.S. House of Representatives Feb. 29, although the repeal is not expected to pass the Senate.

In a largely ceremonial move, state authorization rules—which require colleges and universities with online programs to seek permission to offer their courses in all 50 states—were repealed after more than a year of complaints from Congressional Republicans and higher-education officials who said the regulations would restrict college access.

The rules, which took effect last July after months of criticism from online college administrators, were meant to ensure schools comply with state laws that require course-by-course registration with state accreditors. If a college didn’t comply, it would be denied federal funding—the lifeblood of most campuses.…Read More

Online colleges ‘wage war’ with student aid fraudsters

The University of Phoenix has identified more than 800 fraud rings.

Online programs at some colleges have stopped accepting student applications from states known as hotbeds for fraud rings that sign up students for courses, receive student loan payments, and disappear from the virtual classroom.

And some schools have created teams tasked with weeding out potential fraudsters who take millions in federally backed student loans every year, taking advantage of the relative anonymity of online classes.

Higher-education administrators from across the country gathered Jan. 27 for the annual Presidents’ Forum at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C., where student aid fraud was discussed after the U.S. Department of Education (ED) warned colleges of the prevalence of fraud in a Dear Colleague letter released last fall.…Read More

Online nurse training feels old-school heat

Excelsior graduates more than 2,000 nurses at the associate, bachelor's and master's level.

From its modest headquarters nestled in an Albany business park, Excelsior College has become the largest nursing school in the nation.

The school has 16,000 nursing students and, each year, graduates more than 2,000 nurses at the associate, bachelor’s and master’s level, with the majority earning associate degrees.

You won’t see thousands of cars coming and going from its campus on Washington Avenue Extension because Excelsior students take their courses online.…Read More

As regulations loom, a call for cooperation between states

A federal rule might force colleges to withdraw from states with small populations.

Members of an influential online-learning task force said states should create uniform standards for online colleges and universities, making it easier for institutions to comply with a federal rule that will prove costly and confusing to web-based schools.

The Education Department’s (ED) state authorization rule, scheduled to take effect July 1, would force online colleges to seek authorization from agencies in every state where their students are enrolled.

Higher-education officials have said this requirement wouldn’t just be cumbersome for online schools; it could encourage colleges to withdraw from many states, especially states with small populations.…Read More

New federal rule could have worst impact on small states

Online schools could face high registration fees in many states.

Colleges with online programs might withdraw from states, mostly in the northeast, that have small populations and stringent requirements for distance education courses when the Education Department’s (ED’s) “state authorization” regulation kicks in July 1.

Decision makers from online schools from across the country gathered March 28 in Washington, D.C. for the annual Presidents’ Forum, hosted by web-based Excelsior College. Presidents, provosts, and deans decried the state authorization rule, which will require schools to gain approval from every state in which they have a student.

Robert Mendenhall, president of Western Governors University, said during his address to the forum that certification fees vary widely from state to state, with many of the toughest approval processes in small states such as Massachusetts and New Hampshire.…Read More

Online course invites nuclear engineering pros

LeClair says she expects more women to enter Excelsior's nuclear engineering technology program.

There aren’t any 18-year-old freshmen in one of the country’s only accredited nuclear engineering technology courses, but there are plenty of industry experts who can finish the intensive curriculum in less than two years.

Instead of facing a classroom full of teenagers with little or no background on a subject, instructors at online institution Excelsior College in Albany, N.Y., teach students with lengthy military resumes, said Jane LeClair, dean of the School of Business and Technology who oversees the college’s nuclear engineering technology program, the only accredited online nuclear engineering technology program in the country .

“Some of our students have equal knowledge to the instructors,” said LeClair, who first came to Excelsior in 1988 as a nuclear industry adviser and was named dean in January 2010. “Those students bring a wealth of knowledge to our program … because they’re in the field every day, gaining experience.”…Read More

ED looks to crack down on misleading college recruiting

Duncan said ED's proposed rules would increase colleges' accountability to students.
Duncan said ED's proposed rules would increase colleges' accountability to students.

Some of the nation’s largest online colleges could be barred from tying recruiters’ pay to the number of students they enroll if the Obama administration’s new list of rules for for-profit institutions becomes federal policy.

The administration’s set of 14 proposed guidelines for for-profit colleges—announced June 16—was created in response to widespread student complaints of deceitful recruiting practices at some of the most profitable institutions.

Many of the proposals aim to ensure that federal aid is distributed only to students who are qualified to take college classes.…Read More