Who will pay for higher education in the future?

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Last week I described the future model of higher education as being mostly free to use. This begs the obvious question. Who will pay for this education? After all, nothing is really free.

State Represenative Jason Murphey

The upcoming semester is the breakout time when a series of free online courses from professors who teach in some of America’s best public and private universities are being made widely available and will come into the purview of the public.

Last week I described how universities are changing the higher education model because they know this is the wave of the future and they don’t wish to be left out. I also described how this method of education is superior in many way to the traditional in-person classroom method.

I believe there are two primary factors which enable this new free higher education model. First, it is made possible by high speed Internet which takes presentations from the best professors and makes them available for all to see. Interactive technology utilizes mobile devices and PCs and allows users to interact and receive real-time support as never before possible in the traditional environment. Technology greatly cuts the cost of delivering a superior educational product to students.

However, the technology factor is not of itself powerful enough to convert higher education to the new model. Local public universities have proven this by charging students just the same (if not more) for online access. Since writing this series of articles I have received feedback from multiple area readers regarding their frustration because UCO has been reportedly charging them more for online classes than for in-person classes.

I believe employers are the second primary factor driving the higher education evolution.

Under the old model, employers had to depend on higher ed entities to produce their workforce. They assumed that by paying billions in taxes to public institutions they would benefit from an educated workforce. Over time, as these institutions have become top heavy with administration and underutilized faculty, the quality of service provided to the students and potential employers has become more sub-par. A student may go in debt thousands of dollars to earn a degree by attending classes that are rarely taught by top level faculty.  By the time students enter the workforce, many do not have the qualifications necessary to compete. As you might imagine, this is frustrating for America’s employers who have to compete in the global market.

This frustration was expressed three months ago by Texas billionaire Mark Cuban. In a post regarding the coming meltdown in college education, Cuban stated, “As an employer, I want the best prepared and qualified employees…  I want people who can do the job. I want the best and brightest; not a piece of paper. The competition from new forms of education is starting to appear, particularly in the tech world. Online and physical classrooms are popping up everywhere. They respond to needs in the market. They work with local businesses to tailor the education to corporate needs, in essence, assuring those who excel that they will get a job.”

It will be employers like Cuban who invest in and fund the free online model. In return, this platform will provide them with immediate access to the top performers and ensure that those who work hard and do well will get a job.

The evolution of higher ed to a free online model is the free market at its best. Employers who are not having their needs met by the current status quo will use the technology revolution to create a dramatic change. The  primary beneficiaries of this change are students who no longer need to go into debt for their education — and taxpayers who will eventually see tax relief as the higher education bubble bursts.

Thank you for reading this article. Your interest and input are much appreciated. Please do not hesitate to email Jason.Murphey@hd31.org with your thoughts and suggestions.

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