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In the Nation's Interest

Ft. Lauderdale Speakers Address Challenges, Advancements in Postsecondary Access and Completion

Last week, the Committee for Economic Development, together with the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, convened a panel discussion in Ft. Lauderdale: “Innovations in Learning: Boosting Postsecondary Access & Advancement.” Select speakers sounded off on key questions facing students today:

What is the greatest challenge to boosting postsecondary access and advancement?

  •  “The greatest challenge is undoubtedly the costs associated with earning a degree.”
  • “Tools that create greater transparency such as the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard help students make informed decisions about their college careers.
  • “The greatest challenge is readiness for college level work, followed closely by the cost of higher education.
  • “We need to refocus our funding and rules to incentivize the core values we should expect from our higher education institutions: learning outcomes, affordability, access, and accountability. Students and families – as well as states – should evaluate schools based on their outcomes rather than inputs like the size of the library, campus amenities, or football team record.”

What innovations in the past decade have most helped students overcome barriers to complete their degrees?

  • “Online learning has diffused across the majority of colleges and universities in the nation and is now considered a respected and viable option for postsecondary education.  It’s difficult these days to find a postsecondary institution that does not offer an online or blended learning format for their degree programs.”
  • “The quality of online learning is proven to be just as good and in some cases, even better, than more traditional formats. I think it is the recognition and respect of these degrees that have most helped students overcome barriers to completion.”
  • “Technology innovations that can increase completion include the use of tablets, analytics, interactive smart software for skill learning and enhancement, and online courses which accommodate work time, family responsibilities, and travel issues.”
  • “Online education has dramatically increased options for non-traditional (adult, working) students to pursue higher education and earn degrees.  The private (for-profit) sector spearheaded this movement more than a decade ago; it’s exciting to now see traditional and even elite institutions embracing that innovation.”

Which degrees are best suited for online learning?

  • “As technology gets more sophisticated, it gets easier to deliver high quality education online across more disciplines – to the point where it won’t be long before this question is reversed: how is it possible to teach certain subjects in a face-to-face manner without the data and adaptivity that’s available online? As we do a better job of measuring learning and value for time and money, online will show itself to be superior in a wide range of disciplines, as research indicates it has already.”
  • “A few years ago I would have said that only degrees requiring the acquisition of knowledge or expertise were suitable for online degrees; however, due to blogs, synchronous office hours, Skype, interactive labs, simulations and other means to develop community, all degrees can be offered on line.  Currently, the limiting factors for online certificates or degrees are primarily based on specific accreditation limitations (e.g. nursing clinicals that must be done on-site, wet labs that may require levels of oversight and safety not yet suited to online delivery), or courses that require intense hands-on work with specialized equipment, such as automotive technology.”
  • “In addition to asking about the degrees that are best suited for online learning we also need to ask ourselves, what types of educators are best suited for online learning and what types of learners are best suited for online learning.”

What are some ideas to combat the ever-increasing cost of higher education?

  • “There is a convergence between technology advancements and our current economy that has created this perfect storm for educational innovation. There are a lot of initiatives from adaptive learning, to massive open online courses (MOOCS) that are shaking up the way we think about higher education.”
  • “Certificates need to be emphasized for many careers.  A four-year degree may not be necessary.”
  • “Containing, reducing, and in some cases eliminating the cost of textbooks and other course materials through the development of open educational resources and offering different price point choices for student material (e.g. hardcover textbook, print-on-demand textbook, e-books, etc…).”
  • “The cost of higher education has increased at a much higher rate than even health care in the last two decades, but most of that increase has gone to externalities that have little to do with educating students. Refocusing spending on student learning will enable much lower-cost education, as will innovations like four-year degrees offered in three years, competency-based degrees, and credit for prior learning.  When our regulatory and funding systems enable and reward institutions for delivering value, institutions will find ways to bring costs and price tags down.”

To learn more about CED’s work in the postsecondary field, please click here.