VITALITY AND AFFORDABILITY OF HIGHER EDUCATION
The basic structure of our higher education system has been unchanged since before the printing press was invented. An estimated two-thirds of undergraduate credit hours uses a classroom lecture-style structure. In it an instructor covers virtually the same material as in the texts used. The same coverage is repeated by other instructors in other sections, other years, and other institutions. This is highly wasteful of both faculty and financial resources, as well as student time. It ignores the opportunity for using more effective resources and processes.
Things are beginning to change - albeit in piecemeal fashion. A growing range of learning resources and for-profit training programs are developing using video tapes, audio tapes, and computer programs, as well as written materials. More than 100 colleges now offer at least partial non-residency degree work, and credit for non-academic experience. More students are finding more effective learning alternatives to a college education - both because of cost and relevance. Public and private funding sources are questioning the return on investment in higher education.
In this situation is opportunity for major improvement in our public higher education system as well as the danger of starving a system which has performed well, even if it has not taken advantage of substantial new opportunities.
The following outlines a procedure for gradual or rapid modification of our existing system. This procedure would allow our system to become user- rather than supplier-oriented, to evolve into a resource for life-long learning, to develop global market capabilities, and to achieve an order of magnitude improvement in financial effectiveness:
I. ACCREDITING LEARNING ACHIEVEMENT
PROPOSAL ONE: Separate the process of testing knowledge and accomplishment in academic fields from completing resident college courses.
Knowledge and accomplishment increasingly comes from a variety of sources beyond traditional college classrooms. Separating accrediting of learning achieved from the taking of residency courses has been the successful basis of many European higher education systems for years. Over one hundred schools in the U.S. - running the gamut of credibility - now offer degrees by home study. The New York State Regents Credit Bank provides credible evaluation of academic records and equivalency examinations available to people anywhere in the world.
CLEP (College-Level Examination Program), and PEP (Proficiency Examination Program) together currently administer standardized equivalency examinations in more than seventy-five course areas, at a cost of from $30-$125 per course. These programs could be expanded or supplemented to cover other areas or evaluation techniques.
Both self-testing and outside-testing needs to be included. Self-testing to ensure effectiveness and thoroughness of learning, and outside-testing for validation to others. A clear program of equivalency testing and accreditation encourages students to find diverse and cost-effective ways to learn and puts the emphasis properly on the learning achieved itself.
II. JOB COMPETENCY CERTIFICATION
PROPOSAL TWO: Develop or expand, where needed, certification programs for new workers in various fields, combining accredited academic courses, work experience, apprentice training, oral examinations as pertinent.
Few would claim that either resident academic training or equivalency exams ensure the necessary training for many fields of work. Certification separate from academic training is required in a wide variety of fields. Improved certification requirements combined with supervised apprentice programs can offer a meshing of academic study, work training, and income for students preparing for work in various fields.
Together, these first two proposals separate the learning process from the process of demonstrating competency in subject areas. In doing so, they shift the learning process into an environment of competitive vitality where new options can prove themselves. Students can choose ones appropriate to their particular needs, and can develop the initiative for self-motivated learning.
III. ACCESS TO LEARNING RESOURCES
PROPOSAL THREE: Replace the "live" lecture format of 50% of undergraduate college courses with a high quality videotape medium
With the average American now having spent more hours in front of a TV before entering kindergarten than is needed to earn a college degree, the medium cannot be ignored as a potential learning environment. Videotapes of college lectures can provide a roughly comparable experience at a small fraction of the cost, and with greater ease of access. Development of high-quality video presentations, such as the PBS Planet Earth series, can frequently provide a better learning experience than the standard lecture format.
Beginning video development with introductory courses in each field and moving into more advanced areas would allow greatest numerical impact early in the program. The project could begin with "talking head" taping of present lectures. After the first year, it could be self-funding through using released staff time or staff funding to develop improved, higher quality videos. Additional funding could be sought from federal education funds, from a consortium of state higher education systems, from PBS, or foundation sources.
The program could be incrementally implemented, and can be easily updated, augmented, selected for specific use by individuals and academic programs.
(A growing number of technologies are developing which may offer potential application in specific subject or process areas. Some are proven, some quite untested. For simplicity's sake, we focus here on only one - videotapes. This is a familiar, proven, and understandable technology, so we can more clearly focus on the elements necessary to generate an effective system. We could equally well include books, fax, computers or tele-conferencing as parts of the technological medium, but the simple video element will demonstrate some particularly valuable attributes. In practice, other technologies would be added and incorporated as their benefit is proven.)
PROPOSAL FOUR: Develop satellite broadcast/cable TV/VCR distribution for instant global availability.
This distribution system multiplies market access exponentially at extremely low cost. Such "free" service can be balanced by marketing opportunities for testing services, books, workbooks, etc., improved global credibility, marketing opportunity for non-video residency courses, and bringing globally qualified students into Oregon.
With VCR's, broadcasts need not be synchronized with time zones and viewing times, or be dependent upon "registered student" status. Access for continuing education would become automatic. Performance and lessons from existing satellite systems such as those in Alaska and India should be reviewed, as well as Astronaut Rusty Schweickart's proposal for a low-cost education satellite system.
With satellite access, program libraries may be developed at any remote location, or programs adapted and modified to local needs and conditions.
PROPOSAL FIVE: Develop the videos in separate visual / caption / verbal "overlays" to permit optimum reformatting for marketing in other languages.
The low cost of reformatting rather than producing new programs would give first marketed programs a significant edge in for-profit capturing other language markets, as well as lower overall costs.
PROPOSAL SIX: Develop a multi-track international process for developing videos in order to stimulate quality competition.
1. In-house planning and production of tapes (particularly at beginning to set quality standards.
2. Purchase of programs, tapes, etc. for as-is or modified use.
3. Competitions for new programs, proposals, etc.
4. Awards for most successful programs.
5. Both peer-group and independent processes for planning and review of programs.
6. Contract production and/or planning under in-house review.
PROPOSAL SEVEN: Develop a family of "gate-keepers" and other techniques to facilitate effective access to the resources desired.
Too large a selection of resources can be intimidating and consume too much time and effort in selecting an appropriate resource. Experience has shown the importance of respected reference sources for "best book or tape in the field", for what areas should be studied to prepare for specific interests, and for giving a taste of what reviewed resources have to offer. The Whole Earth Catalog, Literary Reviews, certain mail book catalogs, and newsletters in various fields have demonstrated the value of such "gatekeepers" and how to perform that function well.
Video programs should include tables of contents / indexes at the beginning of the tapes, on boxes, and available separately to simplify access and review of specific segments.
The present academic structure provides partial funding for university staff to do personal research. Such research is often vital, and should not be eliminated by the inevitable development of lower cost delivery of learning resources.
PROPOSAL EIGHT: Develop a prioritization and funding process for public supported research.
Priorities and funding should be developed separately by the State, by universities, by academic discipline, by problems, and by geographic area.
PROPOSAL NINE: Develop a dated on-line index to:
A: Research in progress
Prevent unnecessary duplication. Encourage "networking" of people working in related areas. Provide medium for interconnecting projects. Provide opportunity for public dialog on most effective avenues of research.
B: "Research needed" proposals
Person suggesting research and its potential benefit would establish priority for the idea and get equal credit for its results. List could be used to develop funding. Others could propose alternate research to achieve the same ends.
PROPOSAL TEN: Develop a "sabbatical funding" process for 'support' of non-funded research.
This should not be limited to academic personnel.
V. OBTAINING BENEFITS FOR OREGON
PROPOSAL ELEVEN: Refocus existing state campuses and academic communities to:
A: Focus on residency-needed courses requiring hands-on studio work, interactive study, tutorials, labs, language, co-learner groups, field trips, research frontiers and graduate programs. Live lecture courses where other resource access is available should be charged at full cost. A "Community of Learners" should be sought rather than a faculty/student structure.
B. Develop student-based access, study groups, tutorial aid, etc. to supplement print and electronic resources.
C. Attract the best foreign students, and create a strong focus on international and intercultural training for global employment opportunities and education needs.
PROPOSAL TWELVE: Develop Oregon business opportunities relative to the program.
A. Develop programs to give opportunities to and retain such students in the Oregon economy.
B. Expand education videotape industry in Oregon, with a process for drawing in experts to participate in specific tape development, and means to benefit academic and businesses from their visits.
C. Develop or expand local participation in testing and certification programs.
PROPOSAL THIRTEEN: Review resource allocation
Making more effective learning resources available releases financial resources for reallocation. That decision is a public and political one, but the boundaries within which reallocation can occur include:
A. Funding reduction
B. Fee reductions and wider access to more students
C. Increased faculty research time
D. More individualized teaching, course research, etc.
E. New courses and programs
Together these proposals establish the framework for a more flexible, dynamic and cost-effective higher education system which acknowledges and builds upon the proven successes of our present system. This framework allows the expanding variety of learning processes available to us today to take their proper place beside the traditional process of classroom lecture. It recognizes the opportunities and challenges of our new global society, and helps Oregon carve out a viable role in that society. Perhaps most importantly, it demonstrates that learning is something that can be shared with everyone, with benefits to all.
The current willingness to propose drastic cuts in various public services is tied to an unspoken assumption that we as a culture are suddenly poor, and can no longer afford education, health care, etc. That root assumption itself is untested and unverified. It is more likely that much of our wealth has just been diverted from its accustomed channels into different pockets. At worst, our effective wealth can easily be maintained and/or regained through non-intrusive changes. This issue should be examined before making harmful cuts in services.
It is also important in considering proposals for change in our higher education system that we look beyond just cost reduction. There is important opportunity today to reach higher and achieve more - and through it to also achieve more cost-effective operation. If we don't, others will, and will compete against our system to our disadvantage.
Public funding of higher education performs a number of functions:
* Scholastic aid - making education accessible to a greater portion of the state's students than could otherwise afford it.
* Research - making possible unfunded faculty research
* Services to the state and its economy
* Training of an effective workforce
Most "radical" education proposals do not improve the efficiency of education. They commonly involve restriction or elimination of one of the above functions. While a few percent or possibly tens of percent of improvement is possible from more effective administration or business practices, it appears that only proposals which incorporate as well appropriate structural and technological change can have any hope of truly significant impact.
Assuming each university lecture course is offered only once yearly, even a "talking head" videotape program could represent up to a 90% elimination of resource waste over a ten year period. Multiplying that by the number of universities in the world gives a rough projection of the potential resources that could be released to more effective use.
The development of alternative learning resources and access routes is burgeoning today, and will force changes in higher education without the opportunity to properly address the full range of issues involved. For-profit learning modules are unlikely to provide the depth of academic freedom, currency of information, and open dialog of a system that incorporates all participants in its design and operation. Likewise, student-initiated taping and renting of college lectures will open a rats-nest of issues of ownership of information that can better be addressed in a constructive and comprehensive dialog. And any system of higher education that fails to take leadership in addressing these issues will soon find itself a discredited and forgotten bystander as our education system moves into the 21st century.
Education is the basis of success in the coming century. Its vitality, effectiveness, affordability and appropriateness need to be ensured and expanded if we are to be among the successful.
Nehalem OR 97131 USA
© October 1993