One of the most pressing concerns for many potential college students is access to education, particularly as it relates to the affordability of schools with rising tuition and fees that cannot always be offset by having a job. School itself is such a big commitment, often complicated by the competing priorities in a student's life (particularly for adult learners). In his recent State of the Union address, President Obama referenced the college scorecard that rates institutions based on their cost, graduation rate, loan statistics and employment following graduation. The very first item addressed on the scorecard is cost. Clearly, this is a deciding factor that influences the decisions about pursuing higher education.
In addition to rising costs, many students are faced with the challenge of being non-traditional learners. Our nation is seeing increasing numbers of applicants and students who are older than the traditional 18-21-year-old demographic, who have families, jobs and other responsibilities, or who are entering college for the first time after military service. As the number of these types of students increases nationally and cost and time to completion become an ever-more salient factor in decision making about college, many institutions believe they are helping students by providing the "college-lite" experience - simply requiring demonstrations of skills and competency to prove proficiency in certain areas rather than providing an experience that includes a professor and other students for greater learning and a well-rounded educational experience.
College-lite is certainly a better alternative than no education at all, and for some students, it has the potential to work well. In fact, a broad portfolio of choices that includes online education and competency based measurements may be the platform that helps to guide education in the future, but schools focusing much of their energy on competency-based education options inevitably isolate students from a key component of the learning process: relationship building. Just as bookstores had to revise their business model when online companies began to sell the same products, often at reduced prices, faster delivery times and allowing customers to shop without leaving their homes, education is facing the prospect of having to change their business model to remain viable. And just as there are still many thriving bookstores, traditional on-campus institutions will still exist; however, there will be an increased number of options for how a student might choose to attend college.