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Diversifying Delivery of Higher Education

Dean Florez

President, Balance Inc.

The future battlefront of sanctioned online education will occur at the undergraduate level where resistance on all fronts historically has ended with abandonment.

New reinvigorated efforts — such as the California Community College System’s Online Education Initiative (OEI) — seek to pool resources across colleges, providing students greater access to the courses they currently cannot find at their current colleges. But does this go far enough?

Unlike Georgia Tech’s groundbreaking low-cost online master’s degree program in computer science (even Georgia Tech’s recently announced move into the undergraduate realm), the cost per unit for undergraduate credit remains the same as the in-class cost.

Cost containment business model changes are not driving these efforts. Whether similar undergraduate online experiments will be successful at larger undergraduate institutions, where brand and residential living is driving campus costs, is yet to be determined.

The online experience for undergraduates has a long road ahead. Here, innovations will rely on tech-enabled emancipation of traditional learning from confined class hours and mandatory physical attendance. Concepts such as seat time, credit hours and a unified institutional degree program must coexist alongside newer tech-driven delivery models offering students more diverse paths toward completion.

Edtech innovators continue to challenge higher education’s present state of comatose passivity.

One example of a startup building upon both in-class and online innovations is Echo360, which provides enhanced data analytics and real-time feedback for both professors and students. The edtech startup enhances online offerings for higher education institutions and their internal constituencies.

Echo360’s CEO Fred Singer is asking undergraduate institutions to be more like Fitbits when it comes to getting faculty to understand the concepts that generate the most confusion in class or online to better tailor instruction. Better yet, Echo360 is meeting students where they live — not their dorms… their cell phones. The startup’s app unchains the class lecture and course materials via mobile playback and 24/7 access.

Will edtech startups like Echo360 rival Georgia Tech at the undergraduate level? If attacking the cost business model is the goal, innovative efforts just might succeed, especially if applied to new online efforts.

Educators acknowledge that students learn at different paces. Yet, higher education institutions continue to measure learning in credit hours and instinctively choose uniformity over diverse learning delivery methods. What is forgotten is the type engagement that technology can and has already provided in every other sector… see many folks waving down taxis anymore?

Does anybody really believe that counting instructional hours as a prerequisite for learning is rational and sustainable in the Internet era? Especially without real-time data? Startups like Echo360 seem to be creating solutions that drive undergraduate retention, which if improved even slightly, pays for its technology implementation and lowers the cost drivers for undergraduate colleges.

New innovation in online technology that attacks the outdated college business model is the only legitimate way to sustainably lower the cost of higher education.

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Dean Florez

President, Balance Inc.

Dean Florez is the president and CEO of Balance, Inc. and has 20 years of legislative & policymaking experience in the higher education field.