From The San Diego Union-Tribune
For high school seniors and their parents, March Madness often has a different connotation—worries about soon-to-be-delivered college acceptance and rejection notices. And for most receiving good news, there are immediate questions about what they will be able to afford, since the cost of tuition alone at a private college now exceeds $30,000 per year, and the average family’s college fund holds just $15,000.
But in the near future, the public’s idea of attending and paying for college is set to change dramatically, according to a provocative new book by Kevin Carey of the New America Foundation. In The End of College: Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere (Riverhead Books), Carey argues that the landscape of higher education is being reconfigured by several major trends. These include the proliferation of low-cost and ever-improving digital learning programs, which allow students to learn from accomplished academic and professional leaders, some combined with new credentialing options that allow learners to demonstrate their achievement in more sophisticated ways than the cardboard college diploma.
For example, elite schools like MIT, Stanford, and Harvard now offer online courses that allow students to learn from top professors and complete problem sets and exams to earn credits to prove their accomplishments without paying tuition. As systems like these gain credibility and more people become comfortable with this new learning, Carey predicts, “Traditional credentials, based on arbitrary amounts of time spent in obsolete institutions, will fade into memory.”
This future of low-cost and high-value postsecondary education could end parents’ worries about paying six-figure tuition bills. But it will also create new pressures on students in elementary and high schools to demonstrate their value and compete with students from around the world who can also take advantage of the new low-cost college options.
“It will be very important for … children to be able to thrive in new digital learning environments,” Carey argues. “It will also be crucial for students to accumulate discoverable evidence of learning.”
What will this require of our elementary, middle and high schools to ensure they are ready?
Today, some students in the nation’s K-12 public schools are fortunate to be one-step ahead of the competition, already benefiting from cutting-edge learning programs in public school systems that are already preparing them for the colleges of tomorrow.
For example, many school districts and public charter schools are now deploying blended-learning strategies, combining traditional instruction by classroom teachers with interactive, digital-learning programs that harness the power of technology to deliver a customized-experience for each student. Real-time information about students’ progress supports classroom teachers with real-time feedback, which they can use to guide personalized individual and small-group instruction.
Increasingly, the most successful blended learning models are expanding from the innovative charter schools that developed them, like San Diego’s High Tech High, and are being adopted in forward-thinking traditional school districts around the country. Today’s blended learning leaders are found in as geographically and educationally diverse settings as the District of Columbia Public Schools, South Carolina’s Horry County Schools, and the City School District of Middletown, New York.
These programs are achieving powerful results. One study of 5,000 blended learning students in nine school districts affiliated with Silicon Valley implementer Education Elements outpaced their peers on national-normed tests by 25 percent in math and 54 percent in reading.
Perhaps just as important is the process by which these student-paced programs better prepare high-school students for success by requiring them to take responsibility for their own educational decisions in ways children in most twentieth-century classrooms did not.
This is important in Carey’s higher education system of the future, where technology will make education better, but not easier, and students will need to own their educational futures—rolling up their sleeves to tackle the hard work of learning and demonstrating their achievement.
The End of College offers American families a hopeful but urgent message. Families should worry less about how to pay for college, but more about whether students are preparing for a world that will care more about what they have learned, rather than what diploma they were able to afford. Introducing high-quality blended learning instruction in the traditional public school classroom is a smart approach to prepare students for the future.
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