Sunday, December 7, 2014

Time to Seriously Consider Innovative 'Open' Education Solutions in S.C.

Maybe its time we started doing some serious 'out of the box' thinking about our state funded higher education system?

Many states and local communities are struggling with tightening budgets and are looking closely at the public education system as an area where cuts can be made. As we've seen in the news, some Governors think they can save money by cutting teacher pay or taking away their collective bargaining rights. Other states looking at increasing class size, cutting school programs, consolidating schools, and other ways to reduce costs. These approaches may help reduce the budget to some degree, but at what cost to the students and our future.

Many other industries are being dramatically overhauled as new 21st century information technologies (IT) and business models are being put in place. Witness what is happening to the newspaper industry, the music industry, the growing online retail industry, finance, healthcare, manufacturing, and other sectors in this 21st century global economy.

The education sector is not immune to the massive changes that are currently underway. Online universities are a reality and are starting to challenge traditional 'brick and mortar' universities of the past. In West Virginia, for example, the state funded West Virginia University (WVU) system is no longer the largest university system. The private, online American Public University System (APUS) now has over 200,000 registered students, more than than the state supported WVU system.

Well known, fully accredited online universities are taking hold all across the country. Witness such well known examples as the University of Phoenix, DeVry University, Capella University, Kaplan University, Walden University, and many more. They offer Associate, Bachelor, and Masters degree programs at prices comparable to state run institutions. Students of all ages can attend classes online even as they hold down jobs in the workforce or are stationed overseas in the military.

There are sound arguments 'pro and con' for maintaining the existing state funded higher education system. Across the state, many of us would take up arms to defend our beloved Clemson Tigers or Carolina Gamecocks. BUT... Bottom line – we may need to have our state government start scaling back its involvement in running state-owned community colleges and universities that operate at a deficit and constantly are asking for more funding from tax payers.

What about taking the first steps to turn over the state-funded education industry to the private sector? Is it past time to do some serious 'out of the box' thinking. The state could partner or contract out to private, for-profit online university systems to offer courses to students across the state, thereby lowering operating costs, reducing state university employee payrolls and retirement programs, and cutting back on expensive projects to build new facilities.

The argument for use of modern information technology and solutions even extends to K-12 state run public schools. Online courses could be offered to students who want to accelerate their education, finish school earlier, and maybe even take online college courses in the junior or senior years to get a jump on their education. Online courses would allow students over 16 years of age, who are hard pressed financially, to work part-time and continue their education and graduate. Online education programs work and are being successfully tested across the country – check out some of these Online Schools.

Aside from privatizing state-funded education systems and moving more towards online education, what about using new information technology (IT) and tool like iPads or Kindle systems to lower the cost of purchasing 'paper' text books. Why not go digital? Even providing these tools for free to students of families that can't afford them will save money. What about having teachers and students using the growing number of free and open source courseware, lesson plans, and many other types of learning and classroom tools. To learn more about them go to the non-profit COSI Open Education web site.

What do you think? Do you have other innovative, 'out of the box' ideas to save costs and improve our state education system? Share them with us.

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