Kamenetz: Solution To Increasing Tuition Is Online

VERMILLION — University students across the country may soon find a solution to the continuing increases in tuition through expanding online opportunities.

That is what writer and educational futurist Anya Kamenetz said when she visited the University of South Dakota Tuesday.

Kamenetz is the author of "DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education."

During her presentation, Kamenetz outlined three of the basic tenets of university education: Content, socialization and accreditation.

Much content is currently available in an online context, be it from a school posting books on its web site or professors posting lectures on www.ted.com.

"It challenges the idea that the only way to get a university education is to attend a university," Kamenetz said.

Online groups and communities have also expanded the idea of socialization far beyond the classroom, enabling students to make connections anywhere in the world.

These connections could likely help them find employment, as well, Kamenetz said.

"People are much more likely to get a job from a friend of a friend (than because of their degree)," she said.

One main issue remains: Accreditation.

"This is in some ways the toughest question to overcome in figuring out whether we're actually going to succeed in creating a higher education future that is more affordable and effective, and open to everyone," Kamenetz said.

For example, one online company offers enrollment for $99, with $39 per course, she said.

The problem with online schooling is that in a traditional university education, a degree is given based on knowledge accrued from in-class instruction.

"With online classes, students are essentially self-taught," Kamenetz said.

However, degrees may not be the end-all of employment in the next few years. As an example, she used the Behance Network, which lets graphic designers — regardless of degree — post their work online to prospective users, the result of which is they're judged on their work rather than their degree.

"Once you get a few years out of school, that's kind of how it works anyway," she said.

Another factor in the push toward online education is that tuition costs are rising.

"It's a very serious issue," Kamenetz said, pointing to a study that showed from 1978-2008, tuition fees rose higher in price than any other major household expenditures, including gas, food, medical and housing.

"As university costs have gone up, state funding has gone down, and universities have made the decision rather than cut services, rather than … be more efficient, they're going to raise tuition," she said. "It's only going to get worse, because the stimulus money from the Obama administration that has kept public institutions (afloat) for the last two years is scheduled to run out."

Added to this is the higher rate of enrollment.

"Global enrollment is expected to more than double in the next decade or so, and so you have a massive press of people at the gate of higher education," Kamenetz said.

To cope with the expenses, many of these students will take out loans with interest rates they will be unable to pay with ease.

Kamenetz said the average student loan debt burden is currently $23,000.

Statistics like these are convincing people that higher education is no longer an option for them, she said.

"That makes them less motivated to try harder," she said. "Research shows that students as young as eighth grade already get the message that, 'College is too expensive. College is out of reach. I don't need to try hard … because I'm not going to be able to go to college.'"

People  used to see getting a higher education as a human right, Kamenetz said.

"It's just not working that way for most people in our society today, and less so as each generation goes," she said.

For more information, visit www.DIYUbook.com.

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