Deteriorating Higher Education or Just Commercialization?

May 26, 2010 | NeW Staff

In today’s interconnected world, it isn’t really surprising that knowledge is being disbursed at a rate and volume previously undreamt of. More and more people are seeking higher learning. Is the education they are receiving deteriorating with the advent of new technology? I would argue that the answer is yes. While this issue is relevant for parents, students, and professionals everywhere, it is essential for young women as they have made up 57% of enrollments at American colleges since 2000. More women are enrolling and attaining college degrees than ever before. Unfortunately, it seems that we are seeing a classic case of quantity over quality.

The first major milestone to a quality education is the online degree. While some degrees are perfectly able to be taught remotely or through electronic devices alone, many are not. For example, would you want to have a nurse who attained a degree online? Nurses play a vital role in the health care system, often suggesting medicines and dosages that are simply approved by the attending physician. I believe that there is no substitute for person-to-person learning. The ease of communication between people is an essential part of education. When people communicate with each other, they use a variety of means. Some of the most important communication tools are often lost through online interaction. Students do not get to interpret body language or tone. Instructors cannot look at the class, evaluate the level of understanding taking place, and modify the lecture in order to be sure the material is covered completely.

To say that online classes are often inferior to traditional classes is not saying that they are always inferior. Teaching methods in traditional universities have changed greatly in the last decade. We are seeing professors come to rely heavily on PowerPoint presentations. While PowerPoint is a powerful and effective learning tool when used correctly, it has been my experience that it is rarely used correctly. Professors often model the PowerPoint presentation directly from the material in the book or even used the PowerPoint presentations provided by the book’s manufacturer. In itself, this is not a bad choice. However, professors often simply read off of the PowerPoint and there is no value added content to the lecture. In my opinion, the professor has just wasted the class’ time and everyone would have been better served if the lecture had been classified as online and viewed remotely. Another trend in traditional lectures I have witnessed is group presentations of the class material. In many cases, professors are assigning groups to present material from the book on which the professor has not and will lecture on. Congratulations, if you are a student, you just paid an inordinate amount of money to be taught by another student.

Finally and perhaps most disturbingly, some professors have begun outsourcing the grading of student’s papers. Graders are located in India, Singapore, Malaysia, other Asian countries, and some are even located in the United States. Many professors argue that this is a better business model. By outsourcing grading, each student receives more comments and a more detailed explanation of the grading process. However, we must ask ourselves if these comments are relevant. Are the comments in line with what the professor is really trying to teach? Feedback on papers and projects is a critical component to learning. Professors claim that they are outsourcing the activity, not the responsibility, but it does not seem that way. If the professors are not reviewing each comment on the paper for relevance and accuracy associated with the content he/she is teaching, then the professor is outsourcing responsibility.

In conclusion, I would simply like to say buyer beware. The costs of online degrees are often higher than those of traditional degrees. Traditional degrees often do not deliver on what is advertised, and though professors claim outsourcing is a better business model, I have not read anywhere that the cost savings are passed to the student. To the 57% of enrolling women, do your homework. All degrees are not created equal. 


The Star – Profs Now Outsourcing Marking to India

Consumerist – College Professor Outsources Grading Papers To Asia

New York Times – The New Math On Campus 

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