by Dave Kitchell
Former Gov. Mitch Daniels has said in a letter to his new Purdue University community that what is down the road for colleges and universities is a vastly different world.
Consider the impact of technology and online education and there is a limited merit to what he says. Universities such as Purdue and Stanford are offering more courses online, and there are several advantages to doing that. One is cost. It costs less money to heat and light a building than to have a professor host an online session from an office at home. Another advantage is flexibility. Online courses can be offered at night, and some courses utilize quiz technology that allows students to take a quiz at any time between classes.
Having taken online courses myself, I can attest to the convenience for working students. There is no long commute home after an online class, no dark parking garages or worries about flat tires or accidents – particularly this time of year when weather is a huge factor in attendance.
Daniels should know something about online education because he divvied up the state higher education pie when he was governor to expand course offerings through Western Governors University which is a state university in Indiana and other states.
Online college education is cheaper than traditional education primarily because it does not require students to live on a college campus. But that and several other advantages of colleges and universities bode well for not only the future of higher education, but the country. Part of the reasoning behind leaving home and physically moving to college is to experience life in a place other than home. This may be important not only for home schooled children, but for students from the inner city and small communities who simply desire the experience of living somewhere other than the community where they grew up.
There’s also something to be said for good old-fashioned college environment. Yes, it can be distracting, corrupting and even dangerous at times. But so is adulthood and one of the few places we train adults is in higher education.
Let’s ask parents for a minute if they would rather their college-age son or daughter develop a friendship with someone they know in their classes or their dorm, sorority or fraternity, or someone they met online. Notre Dame’s Mantei Teo would probably answer yes to the first part after he was apparently duped into an online dating relationship that not only involved a fake girlfriend, but her faked death. This story now will probably cost Teo more in the upcoming NFL draft than anything he failed to accomplish in any other phase of his life which, until the story broke last week, had been as stellar as any college athlete’s in the country.
There also is a quality of life component to living in communities even where small college are located that bodes well for the future of higher education. In checking through the various guides rating the best places to live and work in the United States, most of the top destinations are college towns such as Austin, Texas, or Madison, Wis. The average age of residents in those communities is younger and there are more amenities for college-age people.
Yes, there are probably millions of fans who would rather watch a college football or basketball game from their recliner than crowd their way into a seat on-campus, but there are generations of college graduates who keep contributing to their alma maters, hoping their own children or grandchildren will follow in their footsteps and experience what they once did. It’s one of the few things we can pass down from generation to generation. University experiences such as being able to spend time working with a researcher or professor one-on-one are best when the contact is in person, not online. The same can be said for tutoring.
Yes, the University of Phoenix, which is one of the nation’s premier online institutions, has done incredibly well, but ironically, it too, has a football stadium, or at least has its name on one even if it doesn’t have a football team. What I’m getting at here is that higher education transition is a two-way street. The likelihood that online institutions will add on-campus opportunities in the future also is likely.
As technology evolves, education will evolve with it, but don’t look for the Big Ten to shrink to the Big Three anytime soon simply because students are taking online courses and universities want to save money.
For Mitch Daniels, there will be plenty of Boilering up in his tenure, even if there are plenty of Purdue downloads every day.
Dave Kitchell is a columnist for the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.