Oklahoma colleges need to alter business model to expand

The Oklahoma Editorial Published: October 5, 2012
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Twelve Oklahoma colleges and universities are part of a national initiative to increase the number of degrees awarded over the next 14 years. This is a worthy goal. However, those touting the effort hinge its success largely upon increasing taxpayer appropriations. There is little discussion of using technology to increase efficiency and lower costs while serving a larger group of students.

That's disappointing because online learning is growing in the world of higher education. L. Rafael Reif, president of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, recently wrote in The Wall Street Journal of that school's venture into online education. Since last December, 150,000 people from 160 countries have signed up for MIT's online course content. Reif wrote, “Online education holds the key to making residential education better and less expensive even as it promises to offer education to many millions more people.” He believes providing courses online for a small fee can ultimately boost the school's on-campus efforts as well.

In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry has called for tying 10 percent of a university's funding to graduation rates. Perry has also called for universities to develop a $10,000 bachelor's degree, a goal that nine schools have embraced. According to its student newspaper, The University of Texas-Arlington is collaborating with Tarrant County College and local high schools to allow students to complete 24 credit hours of dual-credit college courses during their junior and senior years in high school, attend TCC and then UTA, reaping a bachelor's degree for $10,000 in the process.

If schools as prestigious as MIT can explore lower-cost online learning, why can't Oklahoma colleges? If a $10,000 degree is possible in Texas, why not in Oklahoma? According to The Institute for College Access and Success, 56 percent of Oklahoma students currently graduate with an average of $20,708 in student loan debt.

Instead, Oklahoma college officials often seem focused on maintaining the current system structure and associated revenues. In 2005, OU suffered a public-relations embarrassment after requiring most freshman students to live on campus, including those residing within 50 miles who were previously exempt from that mandate. The university backed off after public outcry from students trying to save on college expenses by living at home.

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