Should You Get a College Degree Or a Digital Degree?

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Most universities and colleges are now getting concerned about their future as many students are opting for online educational programmes as a more affordable and flexible alternative. For centuries, the higher education process has remained almost unchanged. But now e-learning modes along with some other factors have become a serious threat for the traditional ways of learning and teaching.

Higher Education in the Digital Age

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Cost of education has been rising for the past few years due to rising administrative costs and salaries of teachers, as well as costly investments in latest technology. Moreover, many governments are declaring that universities will not receive generous subsidies as they previously used to. This situation is further worsened with the higher education revolution brought in by online learning. As access to free educational resources is expanding to tablets and smartphones, more and more students are now wondering whether going to college is actually worth it. Can traditional universities and colleges survive this online revolution? What will be the future of higher education if these institutions succumb to online education?

Is College Education Expensive?

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The rising costs of education have been passed on to the students by the universities. Tuition fees in American non-profit private universities increased by 28 per cent in 2012 and have risen further since then. On the other hand, fees in public universities rose by 27 per cent between 2007 and 2012. The average fees at these universities are around $8,400 for in-state students and over $19,000 for others. Tuition at private colleges is almost $30,000 on average; however most students are supported by some sort of scholarships. Currently the student debt in the North America stands at an alarming $1.2 trillion and over 7 million graduates are in default. As a result of rising tuition fees and the increasing burden of student debt, student enrolments in the US decreased by 2 per cent in the year 2012.

The higher education scenario has become so severe that even political leaders have started to take notice. President Barack Obama commented that colleges and universities need to reduce their tuitions if they want to avoid a poor outlook. The reduction is subsidies by state governments in America have been partly balanced by a rise in the federal Pell Grants that are offered to deprived students.

However, the scenario is somewhat different in Europe. Most universities have become shielded by high government subsidies and low college attendance rates. However, tuitions fees in UK universities are also increasing as well. The annual tuition fees in Britain have risen to $13,900 by 2012from merely $1,650 in 1998.

Demanding Affordable Education

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Increasing fees have now become a serious concern as the demand for further education among professionals has been rising globally. With rising competition in job market due to globalisation and technological advancement, more and more people are now looking to earn additional qualification to get an edge over their competition. The constantly rising fees structure are deterring individuals to access education and training that can help them to reach their full potential in their respective fields.

Going the Online Way

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As universities are failing to meet the needs of learners, a new platform has emerged to provide the required academic solutions…Online Education. MOOCs or Massive Open Online Courses have now become strong rivals of established universities as they are enabling learners to access courses via the internet and delivered directly to their tablets and smartphones.

Online programmes, with excellent economies of scale and low establishment costs, have drastically reduced the price of education and enhanced its reach. As students can study from anywhere and at any time, these programmes have allowed professional to pursue additional qualifications without leaving their jobs. Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School thinks MOOCs are a forceful “disruptive technology” which will eventually make incompetent universities extinct. He believes, “Fifteen years from now more than half of the universities (in America) will be in bankruptcy.”

Is Online Learning The Ultimate Solution?

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However, there are still many challenges for online education in the road ahead. The fact is most established institutes and employers worldwide still think that online degrees and MOOCs are nothing but an additional qualification to a traditional college degree. Surely it will still take a lot of time and effort for online education to become a replacement for traditional programmes.

Established colleges and universities still have an upper hand. Apart from proven teaching and examining techniques and offering accredited certification, universities help in developing social capital. Conventional programmes allow students to participate in various activities like debates, presentations, networking, which help in their social and personal development. Can online learning offer all this?

Finding a Practical Solution

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The solution is perhaps in combining both on-campus learning with online education. Anant Agarwal of edX, a non-profit platform founded Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University, offers great alternative to the typical 4 year degree course in America. According to him, students should spend one year pursuing a MOOC which will introduce the learner to the subject and then attending a 2 year university programme in the same field. Then he may follow it up with a final year online programme while working part-time and gaining relevant experience.

Apart from a few reputed institutes, many colleges and universities are now starting to offer some of their courses online in order to meet the growing demand of students. However, the fact remains that currently MOOCs are only being viewed as a complementary option, instead of a replacement. But that is where its strength lies. Online learning is allowing students to gain access to affordable education and acquire additional skills and knowledge.

As time progresses and more universities start accepting MOOCs as a prominent learning platform; it will certainly help colleges, educators and students to create an enhanced learning experience.


One thought on “Should You Get a College Degree Or a Digital Degree?

  1. There’s a huge difference between degrees. If a degree gives a graduate a chance of a job that earns enough to pay off the debt – its worth it. Unfortunately, many students view a university degree as a status symbol, a “right” or a way to enjoy their hobby, not as an investment. MOOCs have a high potential in replacing traditional education in many fields completely and part of education in other fields. But where hands-on experience is required (engineering and science) MOOCs can only go so far.

    I think humanitarian education as we know it will soon extinct, partly because studying theather history of social challenges in Western Moldavia doesn’t pay off and partly because you can now learn Norwegian online or go to Western Moldavia and do social work for a few months. You can’t become a molecular biologist online yet. But maybe in a couple of decades, with mini-labs from Amazone, you can, too.

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