‘iCollege’ at $199 a class? Idea may appeal, but Pawlenty knows e-learning is neither cheap nor easy

Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s “iCollege” comments on “The Daily Show” last week may appeal to young voters he needs to woo if he runs for president.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty
MinnPost photo by Craig Lassig
Gov. Tim Pawlenty

But some of the points he made in the nationally televised interview with Jon Stewart don’t square with statements he and his higher education appointees have made in Minnesota.

“There’s another way to deliver the service other than a one-size-fits-all monopoly provider that says show up at 9 o’clock on Wednesday morning for Econ 101,” Pawlenty told Stewart. “Can I just pull that down on my iPhone or iPad whenever the heck I feel like it, from where ever I feel like? Instead of paying thousands of dollars can I pay $199 for iCollege?”

As I watched the show, my mind went back to a hearing at the State Capitol last year before a higher education panel of the Senate Finance Committee. In the witness chair was Susan Heegaard, who then was Pawlenty’s appointed director of the state Office of Higher Education.

At first glance, the Pawlenty administration saw e-learning as a potential cost saver, Heegaard testified.

But after looking deeper, the governor came to realize that a shift to online courses could cost the state more money than traditional classroom education — at least for the next few years.

“If done well, it is neither cheap nor easy,” Heegaard testified. “Our understanding is that there could be up-front costs.”

Further, independent institutions that offer quality, accredited online education in Minnesota are charging much more than $199. The website for Minneapolis-based Capella University says [PDF] its tuition runs about $795 for a three-credit lower-division class and $1,035 for upper division.

So while Pawlenty has been consistent in his call for more online classes, his experience in Minnesota does not support his statement that “instead of paying thousands of dollars I can pay $199 for iCollege.”

Web designers in place of janitors
Intuitively, it seems that “iCollege” should be cheaper. After all, you don’t have to pay for heat, electricity and janitors — to say nothing of the basic bricks and mortar.

But a lineup of witnesses at the hearing explained why Heegaard was correct in saying it is neither cheap nor easy.

Pawlenty indicated in his “Daily Show” comments that studying online should be as simple as surfing the Internet on any hand-held device: “Just like having an iPad or an iPhone — information and choice at your fingertips — you decide where you want to go.”

But the information superhighway is littered with garbage. While there’s a wealth of worthwhile information, too, it doesn’t just appear. Someone spent skill, time and money putting it there. As a MinnPost writer, I have learned deep respect for the enormous commitment of time and resources it takes to create and maintain a site delivering high-quality information. 

In the same vein, building and maintaining an online class takes hours and hours — not only for teachers, but also for designers, coordinators, librarians, graphic artists, videographers and Web developers.

The average cost of launching an online nursing course at the University of Minnesota, for example, was $23,000.

Fewer students per class
Once a class is launched, teachers must be available to interact with students individually and in groups, sometimes by phone as well as online. In the traditional mode, the university could pack 500 students into an undergraduate biology lecture. Done properly online, the biology teacher can’t handle more than 25 to 35 students.

Among other challenges, an online instructor needs to establish enough contact to know he or she is dealing with the student who enrolled for the class rather than with a parent or a hired stand-in. If a student submits a paper that doesn’t match demonstrated capabilities, the instructor needs to investigate.

Another huge up-front cost is providing students with good quality Internet access. Minnesota has yet to extend high-speed broadband service to every part of the state. Doing so will cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Eventually, there should be savings. But no one knows how much at this point because online education is too new.

If there is an immediate cost saving, it tilts to the students who don’t have to take time away from work and pay for gas or bus fare, parking and day care.

Face-to-face, too?
Pawlenty also cast the higher education options as an either/or choice. 

“Do you really think in 20 years somebody is going to put on their backpack, drive a half hour to the University of Minnesota from the suburbs, haul their keister across campus and sit and listen to some boring person drone on about Econ 101 or Spanish 101?” he asked Stewart.

That’s not the way he outlined the options in his 2009 State of the State Address. In that speech, Pawlenty called upon the higher education system to “find even more ways to become more efficient and less focused on geography and bricks and mortar.”

But Pawlenty also said, “I know online courses won’t replace some needed face-to-face education and hands-on experience, and we don’t want it to.”

Online classes don’t work for every student. Someone who lacks self-discipline or is disorganized is not likely to succeed. And some lines of study are better suited than others for online education.

Gravitating toward a blend
In fact, both the MnSCU system and the University of Minnesota are gravitating toward a blend of online and classroom learning — not simply tossing out the old in favor of the new.

The number of wholly online classes at the U of M more than tripled between the 2005-06 academic year and last year — from 340 to 1,179. And more than 12,000 students took advantage of them.

Meanwhile, more traditional university classes make far greater use of online interactions for everything from lecture notes to student-teacher chats. And the university is replacing some standard lecture halls with venues in which students will be able to engage in creative learning activities rather than sit passively in a class.

This year, MnSCU is on track to deliver 12.5 percent of its credits through courses that are predominantly online with no more than two face-to-face class meetings, said the system’s spokeswoman, Melinda Voss. One in three MnSCU students, about 93,000, will take such classes. For other classes, the offering is more of a blend with some content delivered online in exchange for reduced classroom time.

Here’s the catch, though: Three in four of MnSCU’s online students also choose to show up on campus for some classes. So the system still needs to provide and maintain facilities where students can meet with certain teachers, participate in group learning and practice their skills in labs.

‘As much as we can afford’
In the end, what Pawlenty suggested to Stewart was replacing the publicly subsidized system of colleges and universities with a free-market higher education system.

“Let’s not confuse supporting the service with who provides the service,” he said. “If I say to you, ‘Jon, we want you to go to college. We want you to do well. We are going to give you money. … We’ll give you as much as we can afford to under our budget.’ But instead of having a one-size-fits-all, command-and-control, you know, bureaucracy run by government employees, let’s put the consumer in charge.”

Given the fiscal record of the last two years in Minnesota, the pledge — “we’ll give you as much as we can afford to under out budget” — is not something on which Jon Stewart and/or the citizens of Minnesota should expect to bank the future for themselves, their families and employers with a need for a well-educated workforce.

Rather than invest in the costly transition to online, Pawlenty has led the state to slash higher education funding. Is he now saying that was a move toward phasing out public colleges and universities? That would be an interesting question for a candidates’ debate. 

Education Policy 101
But Pawlenty deserves credit for thrusting the subject of “iCollege” into the brief interview. There was no real chance for him to deliberate the fine points. Comedy Central is hardly the venue for a boring lecture on Education Policy 101.

It’s an important topic — one that should engage people with a broad range of expertise and perspectives. And it does. A MinnPost story I wrote about this subject last year drew thoughtful comment.

Here are a few excerpts:

A graduate student: Online learning is self-directed and so not for everyone. Students have to be mature enough to schedule regular times to go to class online. They have to set deadlines for themselves to get the homework done on time. All those skills we develop as classroom learners have to be ramped up a notch. I earned a Master’s Degree through an online, for-profit university while working full time and raising a teenager. It was a wonderful experience; nothing compares to the flexibility of it. I was “in class” in my p.j.s from 9 to 11:30 pm a few nights a week over 3.5 years. I was far more immersed in the material than I would have been in a classroom after a full day of work. And I learned without interruption, parking hassles, weather issues, rushing from work, and missed dinners.

A teacher: I have had the joy of working with many dedicated students who have been eager to learn and for whom online learning was the only alternative for education (due to location/distance and time restrictions). Yes, there were students who were just punching a ticket to earn a passing grade, but the proportions of types of students were about the same as for on-ground course students. … Is teaching online more work for the instructor? It can be. The preparation, planning and weekly discussion participation is similar to preparation for an effective stand-up lecture and discussion, but the ‘entertainment’ is different. Engaging with the students through the written medium requires different (and sometimes more time intensive) skills.

Another teacher: I won’t deny that there is a place for online classes but nothing, nothing at all can inspire a student to learn like a compelling professor, and nothing inspires a professor (more) than watching the proverbial light-bulb going off in one or more students sitting in front of us.

Sharon Schmickle covers science, economics, international affairs and other topics.

Comments (18)

  1. Submitted by Ginny Heinrich on 06/16/2010 - 10:04 am.

    “In the end, what Pawlenty suggested to Stewart was replacing the publicly subsidized system of colleges and universities with a free-market higher education system.” That’s his point. Privatize, privatize, privatize. Prove that public organizations don’t work by bleeding their budgets so that they CAN’T work. Break the unions so we can race to the bottom. Hire whomever; after all, the supposedly “free market” will sort out who’s competent eventually. Eventually, education will only belong to the wealthy. Thanks for bringing us back to feudalism, Pawlenty.

  2. Submitted by scott gibson on 06/16/2010 - 10:15 am.

    Pawlenty is a bit like Newt Gingrich in that he likes to throw out comments he feels make him appear to be smart and forward thinking, but he is not interested in follow through. There will be drawbacks, major ones, if online education only takes precedence over face-to-face learning. There will be far less cohesion in society as a whole. Whatever, Pawlenty’s disdain for the people who deliver education is enormous.

  3. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 06/16/2010 - 11:32 am.

    I smell a rat…

    Just as “community based mental health” has become nearly non-existent mental health, the well being of those in need of services having been rendered invisible by moving them out of centralized locations and leaving many homeless and on the streets…

    Just as “home health care” which increasingly is keeping people out of nursing homes and rendering their well being invisible to the general public is already seeing deep budget cuts while families are rendered powerless (because they must act as individuals) to procure adequate funding for their elderly relatives’ care…

    So iCollege will serve the purpose of severely damaging or closing down high quality systems currently in place in favor of rendering higher education invisible, it’s quality nearly impossible to measure, and make rapidly shifting, expensive, easy-to-evaporate online institutions the order of future days.

    A GREAT deal of profit will be made by institutions of questionable value that, like boiler room, call-center based investment houses, simply vanish when the jig is up, but the public will find quality post-secondary level education far more expensive and far more difficult to find.

    As the third world already knows, “privatization” always means massively increased costs to the general public because it wipes out public service providers who, by their nature must respond to the public good and who are not extracting profits from the system and replaces them with institutions whose primary foci are maximum profits, maximum returns for investors and maximum rewards for their executives.

    When government entities and services are “privatized” the public is always impoverished while those owning the private enterprises created to take over those government functions are massively enriched.

  4. Submitted by Jeff Klein on 06/16/2010 - 11:50 am.

    There are a few places where online classes might be nice, but the idea that we could convert to that being the norm churns my stomach. Universities are rich, vibrant places full of learning, creativity, and the exchange of ideas between people. They’re where young people from different backgrounds interact with each other and expand their worldviews. The idea of a bunch of automatons being drip-fed “knowledge” on their couch in Cottage Grove is a really sick vision of the future. SG is correct: Pawlenty’s disregard for academic pursuit as a whole is quite plain. Truly he is a member of the party of willfull ignorance.

  5. Submitted by Daryl Hanson on 06/16/2010 - 12:15 pm.

    The price of college has ballooned over the last 20 years to the point that if colleges were under the same standard applied to say a gallon of gasoline, the plebian of the world would have tar and feathered the CEO’s of “big oil.” Easy government loans and inadequate to non-existent metrics for standards in higher education has left a system that is in dire need of modification. How can an organization educate a student to the tune of over +100K for 4 years for a degree that in today’s international market place is absolutely worthless?

    I completed major portions of my graduate studies (in the HARD SCIENCES …. Solid state physics) via on line and in some cases NEVER talked to my instructor except to ask a question during class via the call in system. The implementation of online classes is efficient and provides for an excellent education. Classes can be recorded and then replayed again and again until a topic is understood. Education is changing and will continue to change, more online and less brick and mortar. Will all traditional colleges disappear? No, because laboratory training is required BUT there will be change. The present day modality is too expensive.

  6. Submitted by Alicia DeMatteo on 06/16/2010 - 01:26 pm.

    I can see where there is a place for this. Online college courses already exist, and are mainly utilized by working adults who would otherwise be taking night classes. But to take 2 or 4 years of classroom time working and studying with peers and replace it with a machine seems like a step backward.

    One of those ideas that sounds good on paper, but not in practice.

  7. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/16/2010 - 01:45 pm.

    Daryl,

    You keep talking about these low cost government student loans. You’re right, the loans have driven the cost of tuition. Colleges and universities never could have continued to jack up tuitions like they have were it not for the loan programs that guaranteed payment.

    The problem is your blaming the government. Those loan programs were largely turned over to the private sector in the early 90s. (Obama just took some of them back) It was not the government but rather the absence of government regulation that then led to the credit crises out of which the fast and easy low interest student loans were part and parcel. The same thing happened in the housing market, prices didn’t go up because houses were actually worth it, they went up because credit and loans were overextended. Universities raised tuition because they could, because parents looking at paying off a $20,000 loan instead of a $16,000 loan figured it was affordable and so on it went. The almost unlimited pool of money drove an arms race for faculty. This is a totally private sector model of growth imported into education.

    And to answer your question, no it wasn’t government getting out of the way and cutting taxes that created the economic expansions of the 50s and 60s. It was massive government spending on education, transportation infrastructure, space programs, and military spending. The economy went into recession after WWII when military spending collapsed, it didn’t recover until Truman revived debt spending and rolled out massive government projects. During this expansion income tax rates hit they’re highest levels, some reaching as much as 90% for the wealthiest Americans.

  8. Submitted by Ginny Martin on 06/16/2010 - 02:28 pm.

    Paul: Thank you for getting the facts out. You are right. The G.I. bill was responsible for educating millions of Americans who would have never expected to get a college education, and that was in part responsible for the prosperity that followed. So were the Housing Acts starting in 1949. The consequences have been mixed at best, and seldom helpful for minorities and the poor but it did help charge the economy.
    When I first read Pawlenty’s comments about sitting in class and listening to boring professors, I thought — this man does not like education or learning or anything connected with it. He apparently does not get excited by ideas and fresh insights and the ability to make new connections and reason through problems. We figured that out without knowing his views on higher education, but this makes it explicit. No wonder he has been such a failure as a governor.

  9. Submitted by Joel Gingery on 06/16/2010 - 02:32 pm.

    I rarely find common ground with Mr. Pawlenty. His views often appear plausable on first encounter; but on futher examination they more often than not turn out to be similar to avatars: wishful inventions often with tenuous connections to reality. Mr. Pawlenty is not interested in discussing the issues of our educational system; nor is he interested in the people and institutions that comprise it. At the moment his one interest is getting elected president.

    However, in this case I recognize and support one aspect Mr. Pawlenty suggests: the ability of students to ‘pull’ learning from the educational system at the students’ direction-student centered learning.

    Our education system is more about ‘pushing’ facts and such into people’s brains than supporting individuals choices to determine how and what they will learn-‘pull’.

    For a more comprehensive examination of this perspective please see for example Russell Ackof’s recent book “Turning Learning Right Side Up.”

  10. Submitted by Paul Scott on 06/16/2010 - 03:06 pm.

    If I was able to “pull” my learning choices at 18, I would have majored in Zenyatta Mondatta, the then-popular third album by the Police. It is hard to quantify, but this iCollege comment is one of the most deeply stupid things the governor has ever said. “Haul your keister across campus” ? Oh yes, what a chore. It’s only a five hundred year old tradition. The man oozes negativity. Can you imagine the acceleration of the couch bounded serve-me-what-I-wantness that ensues if at 18, kids now are to stay online in their parents basement to pick up an education? And how well is class going to fare anyway, competing with Facebook, etc. I will give Pawlenty credit for being honest about the depths of his antipathy towards public institutions. If we select the iCollege candidate we deserve the iCollege society we will surely become.

  11. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/16/2010 - 03:41 pm.

    //Our education system is more about ‘pushing’ facts and such into people’s brains than supporting individuals choices to determine how and what they will learn-‘pull’.

    Joel,

    I just have to take small issue with a part of your perspective. Education is about learning, the consumer model breaks down because it makes a difference whether or not students learn correctly. Since you don’t know what you don’t know a consumer has no way of directing their own education. If you knew what you’re supposed to learn you wouldn’t need to go to school. In other words, it’s not just about what you want to know,or what you’d like to know, it’s about what you need to know.

    There are few areas of human endeavor that simply do not lend themselves well to consumer/market models. Health care is one, there is a huge huge huge difference between a patient-caregiver relationship and a sales or service customer relationship. Likewise, the student teacher relationship is not comparable to any customer based interaction. No customer will pay for a failing grade. One doesn’t “push” facts, knowledge is simply a necessary component of education. Although I think less emphasis on memorization and more on critical thinking and developing intellects with integrity would be a nice direction.

    I think the biggest obstacle we currently face trying to have any kind of coherent conversation about any public policies is that there’s been too much selective learning and fact acquisition. People pick and choose what they want to know and where they want to know it from. That’s resulted in one of the most anti-rational anti-intellectual climates in American history.

  12. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 06/16/2010 - 03:51 pm.

    Where does that figure of $199 for a class come from? Newly released research from the University of Pawlenty’s Rear.

  13. Submitted by Joel Gingery on 06/16/2010 - 06:15 pm.

    Re: Paul’ comments about consumer education and health care models.

    Please visit: http://www.educationrevolution.org/
    and http://www.sudval.org/

    Its ‘complicated’, like trying to understand how an electronic appliance works by reading the instruction manual, but, trust me, its possible. In health care as in education its all about the system, the reimbursment system being one component. By aligning health care providers’, insurers’, and funders’ interests with those of patients, e.g. preventive care, and making the money flow contingent on receiving the care they want, patients can get the value they want-not what the health care system thinks they need-and costs will fall.

    In education aligning the money flow with parents’ and students’ choice, e.g. vouchers (Vouchers have not been very successful because administrators do not know how to change the education system to meet students’ learning desires.) not only about their school but also their course work, would help make the schools responsive to parent and student desires, similar to Best Buy.

    We can have a Best Learning system (and Best Health Care) when we change our thinking about how organizations function so we can change them to get the results we want.

  14. Submitted by Burck Smith on 06/17/2010 - 08:34 am.

    The point that is being missed in the debate is that college and high school students have a range of course-level educational choices that didn’t exist a decade ago. Like other well-developed markets, these courses have different features with different cost structures. However, the funding and payment structure for students is, more or less, a one-size fits all model where all courses are priced the same (or close to it) that is maintained by state and federal student funding policy. Depending on the subject matter and the individual, there are times when online learning is a better choice than face to face learning. There are times when it isn’t. However, with a wide range of choices available, the student is the one who should be making the decision about the type of course he or she wants AND how much he or she is willing to pay for it. Today, because federal and state financial aid flow to institutions as opposed to individual courses, the student must pay for any courses outside of their institution with out-of-pocket money – a significant disincentive to shop for better-priced courses. Also, the articulation system is byzantine at best which is a further disincentive to shop for better-priced courses. Lastly, because of the multiple sources of government funding and tuition discounting, the true cost of a course bears almost no relationship to the price of that course.

    For instance, most freshman level or developmental courses are taught by adjuncts to anywhere from 20-100 students. Adjuncts, if they are lucky, will make about $3000 per course taught. Apart from labor, all other costs are either overhead or born by the student. Excluding overhead and student born expenses, these courses usually cost less than $100 per student to deliver, especially online. When state and federal subsidies are added to tuition and fees, the price for these courses is anywhere from $1000 – $3000. This “profit” margin subsidizes other parts of the university, some of which may be justified and some of which are not, some of which may be used by the student purchasing the course and some of which may not. This enormous “profit” margin will not be able to be maintained in a market where there are many, many more competitors than ever before.

    Lastly, I admit that I have a dog in this fight as my company, Straighterline, is doing the “iCollege” right now. We offer freshman and developmental courses at prices that maintain a relationship with the course’s cost structure. We are deliberately not accredited (though our courses have been reviewed by ACE), but we have a variety – 4 year public, 2 year public, private and for-profit – of regionally accredited colleges that will award credit for our courses. Because we can’t be accredited (among other barriers only full degree programs, not individual courses, can be reviewed), students wishing to take advantage of lower prices must pay out-of-pocket. In a way, this is an accreditation tax on students who don’t have any out-of-pocket money to spend. The “iCollege” is already here. The question is whether public colleges and policy makers are ready to let their states’ citizens have easy access to these courses.

  15. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/17/2010 - 08:59 am.

    //By aligning health care providers’, insurers’, and funders’ interests with those of patients, e.g. preventive care, and making the money flow contingent on receiving the care they want, patients can get the value they want-not what the health care system thinks they need-and costs will fall.

    Just to continue the quibble, health care isn’t about what you want. No one “wants” cancer, or a broken leg, or a heart attack. You don’t shop for health care like you do for new lawn chairs. Medical treatment is the most complex and invasive process in our society. You don’t know what kind of treatment you’re going to need inadvance, and even if you did, evaluating options and outcomes is not a simple matter of surfing the web for the best prices or “reviews”. When you go the emergency room the question is whether or not your going to walk out of there alive, not whether or not you’d recommend it to your friends. The consumer model doesn’t just break down, it actually creates more levels of noise and confusion. People end up going to the providers that have the best marketing campaign instead of the ones that will provide the best treatment. Consumers end up making bad and ignorant choices, we have kids on dialysis for the rest of their lives because their parents thought raw milk would cure their allergies. Putting patients in charge simply makes no sense, you cannot be in charge of your own brain surgery, if you could tell your doctor what to do you wouldn’t need a doctor.

    Turning back to education, I’ve looked at the website you provide and all I can say is there doesn’t seem to be anything revolutionary there. We know how to teach people stuff, humans have been teaching each other stuff for thousands of years. More importantly, we’re actually genetically predisposed to learning, our brains are wired to learn, you actually cannot prevent learning even with a disabled child. We’ve always had dedicated education professionals trying to improve the education system and make learning easier and more effective but the problem has never really been so much how to teach as what to teach.

    We’ll never have a perfect educational system but the idea that every child is so unique that they need an individualized learning environment a parental fantasy that runs contrary basic biological reality. The more we pursue that fantasy the more incoherent our educational system becomes. It seems to me the more we try to introduce consumer choices into education the more un-educated our population has become. We have this phenomena, and Pawlenty appears to be promoting it, whereby educational degrees are becoming a commodity rather than a meaningful certification. Consequently we have more and more people who are “degreed” but not really educated. The consumer model seeks to make it easier for people to buy degrees, but it doesn’t necessarily guarantee an education.

    And please, let’s stop pretending that this “revolutionary” approach is “child centered”, it’s clearly “parent” centered- and that’s the problem.

  16. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/17/2010 - 02:45 pm.

    Me. Smith,

    //the student is the one who should be making the decision about the type of course he or she wants AND how much he or she is willing to pay for it.

    This is silly. This assumes the student knows what they need to know and learn in order to be a Doctor or an Environmental Engineer. If a degree is to signify anything other the fact that you took a bunch of classes you thought were interesting there need to be degree requirements. Do you want a Doctor who skipped organic chemistry because he didn’t think he needed it? Do you want an engineer designing your building that skipped physics and took astronomy instead?

    //Today, because federal and state financial aid flow to institutions as opposed to individual courses, the student must pay for any courses outside of their institution with out-of-pocket money – a significant disincentive to shop for better-priced courses.

    Do you seriously expect the U of M to grant degrees to students who took required courses at unaccredited school? How is the U to know that you’re micro-biology class covers the same material they cover at the U? Are YOU going to pay them to audit your class? One thing it is to transfer from school to school, people do that all the time. But you seem to think someone ought to be able to hobble together a degree and get a diploma from someone after taking any number of courses anywhere.

    I’m sorry but this sounds like a recipe for a diploma mill, and so does Pawlenty’s scheme. One thing it is work to make education affordable, another it is to offer bargain basement courses. It’s not just about having a piece of paper, if your going to succeed in a field that requires higher education you know what your doing.

  17. Submitted by Burck Smith on 06/17/2010 - 03:53 pm.

    Re: requirements — I’m not saying there don’t need to be degree requirements or standards, I’m simply saying that, so long as students meet baseline assessments, it doesn’t matter where they come from, how they got there, how it was financed or who provided it. It is the accredited higher education system that is fiercely resisting all attempts to provide minimum outcome standards.

    Re: accreditation — First, you put far too much faith in the ability of today’s accreditation system to be a course-level quality control entity. In fact, accreditors do almost zero course-level review. There are huge discrepancies across professors of the same course at the same institution. Another indication of poor quality control is rampant grade inflation among accredited institutions. Yet, despite course level and institutional level variance, U of M is likely to award transfer credit based solely on the fact that the other institution is accredited. Perhaps this isn’t so surprising when one realizes that the accreditors are representatives from the schools that they are accrediting. There is nothing that says unaccredited courses don’t provide an experience as good or better than a course from an accredited school. In fact, Straighterline has made sure that all of its course elements are used throughout higher education. Further, we’ve been reviewed by faculty at other schools and by 3rd party reviewers whose opinions are accepted by over 1000 schools. Despite this, we couldn’t get accredited if we tried because we don’t offer a full degree program. Further, to go through the 5-7 year process of accreditation and to meet many of the requirements that have little to do with student outcomes would require the price point to be much higher. It’s very difficult to be both affordable and accredited.

    Re: Cost and Education — you imply that “bargain basement” courses can’t be any good. First, how much does a typical college spend to deliver an introductory level course online? Excluding overhead, it’s likely to be under $100 per student. When you’re online, there’s not much overhead. Why is StraighterLine bargain basement but traditional higher education not? This is the “fine wine” fallacy. If it’s expensive, it must be good.

  18. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/17/2010 - 11:38 pm.

    //Re: requirements — I’m not saying there don’t need to be degree requirements or standards, I’m simply saying that, so long as students meet baseline assessments, it doesn’t matter where they come from,

    I know that’s what you’re saying Burck, and that’s the problem. Who’s baseline assessment are you going to use? Of course it matters how you get there unless your only interest is meeting minimal requirements. Talk about one size fits all.

    //Re: accreditation — First, you put far too much faith in the ability of today’s accreditation system…

    I’m all for improving the accreditation process. Most your complaints are perfectly legitimate. However I see no reason to suppose these issues will be any less problematic with unaccredited online courses. Nor do I see how your proposed system in any way resolves these issues.

    Re: Cost and Education — you imply that “bargain basement” courses can’t be any good. First, how much does a typical college spend to deliver an introductory level course online? Excluding overhead, it’s likely to be under $100 per student.

    According to the article it costs $25,000 dollars to set up an online course. The whole point of the article is that it’s not as cheap as you may think. Why would you exclude overhead anyways?

    I’m sure some inexpensive courses can be good, but most bargain basement courses are not going to be as good as those found in physical colleges and universities. You can create bargain basement education systems if you want, but I say we create the best education systems we can and figure out how to make them affordable or help students pay for them. I think we already have a problem with degreed but not educated graduates, I just don’t want to make that problem worse.

    I’d just like to say I mean to cast no aspersions on you or your enterprise in any of this, I’m just looking at the ideological principles and underlying models and assumptions in general. I wish you and your students nothing but the best.

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