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Heard: Northeastern President Joseph Aoun Predicts The “End Of Higher Education As We Know It.”

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Joseph Aoun, President of Northeastern University in Boston, wrote an interesting and partly alarmist OpEd in The Boston Globe recently that argues we are witnessing “the end of higher education as we know it.” His thoughts reveal the fears and opportunities involved with MOOCs and other trends for university administrators as we head into 2013. Here are some choice paragraphs from Aoun’s piece followed by another Boston blog’s view on it…

Aoun writes:

… This transformation is being brought on by “MOOCs” — massive open online courses being offered for little or no cost through entities like edX, Coursera, and Udacity, which aggregate classes from multiple universities onto a single computer-based platform. Millions of people are already utilizing them to tap into higher learning. In the process, they’re spurring a shakeup of higher education — with dramatic implications.

Most significantly, MOOCs are causing higher education to shift from a vertically integrated model to a horizontally integrated one. For centuries, higher education has been a vertical enterprise: Its core functions — knowledge creation, teaching, testing, and credentialing — all have been housed within colleges and universities. MOOCs disrupt this model by decoupling teaching and learning from the campus on a mass scale.

This shift will accelerate as MOOCs continue to take hold. As more people use massive online courses to assemble new educational pathways, the companies that provide them will likely turn to outside partners such as private testing firms to administer exams to large numbers of students, detaching assessment from colleges and universities. Next, credentialing will be separated from colleges as well, as students press providers to offer degrees or other formal validation of the knowledge and skills they’ve acquired. Still more external players may get involved in the credentialing process, such as state agencies or professional associations….

Via Boston.com

Chris Vogel then writes at Boston Magazine: 

Brick by brick, the walls are crumbling down. No one is safe. The Great Democratization is on. El Revolution! College will never be the same, and even the Old Guard — the gatekeepers, fat and rich university brass who have spent centuries protecting Knowledge and the inner sanctum of higher education from the unwashed swill of society — knows it. And you can smell the fear.

Aoun’s warning is hardly big news to those who’ve been paying attention. (Check out our September story on edX and the future of higher education) But it’s interesting to note that Aoun, while outwardly embracing the new frontier of online college education, clearly seems nervous. Without saying so overtly, he is actually on the defensive, battling against the oncoming changes in higher ed. He wants to calmly assure you that his university will not be hit as hard as others.

Universities will no longer be considered good simply because they are exclusive and let so few people in, he says, noting that the new massive online programs, like edX, allow anyone to participate regardless of qualifications or financials resources. And he says that colleges will lose considerable control over the educational process, stating that “the monopoly that colleges and universities have on advanced learning and degree granting will be dismantled.” But then he goes on about who will survive this educational day of technological reckoning, and this is where my ears perked up….

Over the coming months and years, it will be interesting to watch the varied ways that desperate university presidents try to stave off the panic sweeping across college administration buildings everywhere. It’s been a top-down monopoly for so long and now the Internet is threatening universities’ entire way of life and livelihood. In his closing comments, Aoun provides a signal to watch for as the power struggle continues. If universities embrace the edX model, which offers the exact same classes to non-paying students as paying students, then universities should be willing to offer the same degree. If however, schools offer a lesser degree to free online students and a “luxury brand” degree to full-paying students, then we will have a better read on just how scared Establishment types such as Aoun really are.

Via Boston Magazine

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