A thought-provoking op-ed in today’s New York Times that’s relevant to the ongoing discussion by the University of Arkansas about moving more aggressively into on-line education.
The most selective colleges, Mitchell Stevens writes, are designed to cater to the young people who enter.
People make major investment decisions when they are choosing colleges, but with minimal information about quality and fit. Meanwhile flagship public universities, which rely on tuition to offset diminished public subsidies, condone Greek systems that appeal to many affluent families but also incubate cultures of dangerous play. The so-called party pathway through college is an all-encompassing lifestyle characterized by virtually nonstop socializing, often on the male-controlled turf of fraternity houses. Substance abuse and sexual assault are common consequences.
Even at the schools where the party pathway is carefully policed, life on a residential campus can be a psychological strain. A substantial body of research demonstrates that first-generation college students, those from low-income families and racial minorities are particularly at risk for feelings of exclusion, loneliness and academic alienation. The costs of leaving college can be large for everyone: lost tuition, loan debt and a subtle but consequential diminishment of self-esteem.
College doesn’t have to be an “age-segregated playground.”
Rethinking the expectation that applicants to selective colleges be fresh out of high school would go far in reducing risk for young people while better protecting everyone’s college investment. Some of this rethinking is already underway. Temporarily delaying college for a year or two after high school is now becoming respectable among the admissions gatekeepers at top schools. Massive online open courses (MOOCs) and other forms of online learning make it possible to experience fragments of an elite education at little or no cost.
Stevens, who teaches at Stanford, says rethinking the college arrangement is demanded by the changing world — ever more expensive residential colleges and the changing technology.
What’s that word the tech guys like so much? Disruption?
UPDATE: Speaking of the UA’s eVersity project: A team of faculty from the UA System will meet Dec. 17-18 at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute on Petit Jean Mountain to begin planning curriculum for the on-line program. Details here. The team members announced include no participants from UA-Fayetteville.