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.”
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