Can Technology and Accountability Save Higher Education?

Higher education in America faces a dilemma. How can we make college more accessible, make sure students learn, make sure they finish their degrees on time and still keep it affordable enough for all socioeconomic levels? At least one study suggests technology and improved accountability measures could be the answer.

In the past four decades, post-secondary education has improved accessibility. In the 1960s, just 45 percent of young adults went on to college after high school. Today, 70 percent sign up for some type of post-high school education, according to "The Future of Children" (which you can read here). Women once only make up a third of college students. Today, they outnumber the guys. Minorities have also made historic gains. 

Still, the biggest barrier now remains socioeconomic. Financially advantaged kids are more likely than their impoverished peers to pursue a higher education. 

How can technology and accountability help close the gap?


If colleges could use technology to allow faculty to teach more pupils, as in the online enrollment offered by many of America's top schools, we could theoretically lessen the cost of enrollment. 

"However, no one wants such an increase in productivity to reduce the quality of the education that students receive," notes Cecelia Elena Rouse of the Brookings Institute.
"Therefore, if technology is to help us solve higher education’s quandary, it must provide education at a lower cost without lowering its quality."


Colleges earn government subsidies based on enrollment. That means there's plenty of incentive to improve access, but not as much to ensure completion. That's why only 36 of every 100 students who say they want to earn a bachelor's degree actually achieve that goal, says Brookings. 

President Obama has discussed ways to create funding incentives for completion or to how many graduates find jobs. Some states have attempted that approach, but not that successfully, according to "Future of Children."

But even that approach has its inherent flaws.

"Caution is in order," writes Rouse. "Unless such an approach is implemented and monitored carefully, it will create a perverse incentive for institutions to restrict admission to the students who are most likely to do well, thus potentially reversing the gains in access that we’ve worked so hard to achieve."

Tell Us What You Think

How can we solve the "postsecondary education conundrum?" We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

More from PayScale

3 Reasons to Skip Graduate School

Lots of Money for College

Romantic Jobs That 'Set the Mood'

(Photo Credit: jenny and ralph/Flickr)

1 Comment

  1. 1 alicia 25 Jun

    I have been an online student for the last 4 semesters. It was an adjustment at first, but my first semester of driving 45 min on a toll road from Austin to Taylor, TX just to attend class at a community college that would grant me financial aid MAKE me look into trying to take the rest of my basics online.  I actually feel online classes has forced me to study smarter.  With no teacher around I spend more time really engaged in my studies, watching videos or movies that pertain to something I am trying to understand better.  More reading and looking into subjects on my own just made me feel smarter! I realize that there is just no need to being in class...until I hit my college algebra class.  I finally reached a point where i realized I did need this particular class in person but only because the online videos were just going at a pace that were too fast so it took me 3 rounds of watching the videos, as opposed to 1 round, just to study.  Also the videos of the teacher doing College Algebra began to skip steps because it was assumed we were supposed to know the steps but that was why online college algebra wasn't working for me.

    What I do love about online classes is that school work usually isn't due until Sundays at 11:59pm, so it really gives you the week to work and the weekends to study and get your work done.

    Overall, i love online classes and feel that i've learned more by learning on my own knowing I don't have the teacher hand-feeding me notes.




  1. Please prove to us that you're not a robot:

Find Out Exactly What You Should Be Paid

United States (change)

Comp Managers: Start Here »