We’re one prick of a needle away from the higher education bubble bursting. We’re facing a meltdown, after all—one innovative move and it’s the end of college as we know it. If over 6.7 million students are taking at least one online course, what does that mean for our local institutions?
Well, that enrollment numbers are increasing.
Of course, the positive news hasn’t spread to every school. More than 40 percent of private colleges and universities saw a decline last year, and the next nine won’t be any better.
At Babson, however, more than 6,000 prospective students submitted applications to the College, representing a 10 percent increase from last year’s 5,511 first-year applicants, according to a press release. The statistics can’t hurt: the four-year graduation rate continues to hover around 85 percent, and 99 percent of 2012 Babson graduates were employed within six months of commencement.
Nearly 5,000 students applied early-action to Harvard—an increase of 14.9 percent over last year. And across the river, more than 6,500 students were applying early-action to MIT, symbolizing a nine percent increase from the previous year. The Institute admitted less than 10 percent, though, which MIT’s Dean of Admissions Stu Schmill calls “unprecedented,” saying, “The students who were admitted are exceptional. It’s an exciting time for MIT.”
And it is an exciting time for Boston University, as well. The University saw a record-breaking number of early decision applicants, ringing in at 1,500—a 40 percent increase over last year. The school acknowledges social media could have played a substantial role in the rise. Boston University’s Facebook “Likes” rose by 30 percent and its Twitter followers by 47 percent.
Online college resource Zinch recently polled 7,000 high school students and discovered social media accounts are, indeed, influential to students trying to choose between different schools. A school’s level of engagement can make or break a decision. For students, being able to quickly connect with counselors about the admissions process is crucial.
All that said, there are moves schools can make to stay alive, and they are as simple as properly utilizing social media. With 6.7 million people taking at least one online course, it’s clear students are saturating the Internet, and institutions can use that to their advantage.
One too many academics fear the growth of online education. And who can blame them? The traditional lecture might not be dead, but it is severely flawed, and the professors who don’t incorporate some alternative, whether it be peer learning or an online component, won’t be able to keep up, which is why they need to start innovating now.
The are still too many downsides to online education for it to replace brick and mortar institutions. Massive open online courses, offered through initiatives like edX, Coursera, Treehouse and Udacity, might be steering the disruptive ship and forcing the world to scrutinize traditional education, but they don’t come without a few negatives.
Although Babson President Len Schlesinger admitted in a prior interview he couldn’t feel more positive or enthusiastic about the online platforms, he also mentioned that while people are writing about the “200,000 who signed up to this course, no one is writing about the 160,000 who aren’t finishing it.”
Completion rates pose a real problem, as does online learning’s level of engagement. There’s more to school than completing courses and passing tests. Professor-to-student and student-to-student interaction is key, as are the social skills students acquire as they work their way through college. Sure, no one wants a social life that comes with an average $27,000 in debt, but looking at enrollment numbers, it’s clear students are willing to pay the price.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was right when he said the days of one school for four years are over. Why pay for an introduction to physics when it’s on Udacity, or intermediate algebra when it’s on Coursera? Students should put the tuition toward courses that can better equip them for their desired career instead.
Because, yes, there is a way to blend both an online and offline education without all this “the end of college as we know it” hype.