Reform Comes to Higher Education (Opinion)

Ann McClure's picture

A few weeks ago I was privileged to speak in Malatya, Turkey on higher education in the United States. I began by sharing my definition of the purpose of higher education: to provide opportunity. It is with this deeply held conviction I made this very personal statement, education has made all things possible for me.

People all over the world -- young and old -- yearn for educational opportunity. This is their path for social mobility, paving the way to a better life and a brighter future for themselves, their children and generations to come. The commitment to educational opportunity is deeply rooted in the American Dream as it creates upward mobility for millions to live their own versions of this dream. Today, we are at a perilous crossroads: Our core commitment to educational opportunity for all has shifted in truth to education for only a few. Educational access has diminished, as the cost of education rises, while spending to offset these costs declines.

For those of us privileged to work in higher education, it is a great honor to seek innovative ways to still ensure educational opportunity for all. This means confronting new realities. As the number of working, non-traditional adult learners (age 25 and older) become the majority, traditional higher education models that cater to young adults (ages 18-24) no longer suit large numbers of students. Add to this that most traditional models require multiple years of college credit and class hours (or "seat time") to earn degrees, often resulting in hefty student loans, making postsecondary education unobtainable for too many in this country.

In his 2012 State of The Union speech, President Obama placed higher education institutions on notice: improve college accessibility, affordability and student outcomes, or lose significant federal dollars. Meanwhile, Bill Gates predicts that "place-based" education -- i.e. going to a college campus to take classes -- will become increasingly less necessary over the next decade, and recently the Gates Foundation announced $9 million in grant for "breakthrough education models."

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