MOOCalypse soon?

Online learning will replace residential campuses predicts Nathan Harden in The End of the University as We Know It  in The American Interest.  Only the elite universities will have bricks, mortar and ivy.

The future looks like this: Access to college-level education will be free for everyone; the residential college campus will become largely obsolete; tens of thousands of professors will lose their jobs; the bachelor’s degree will become increasingly irrelevant; and ten years from now Harvard will enroll ten million students.

Community colleges will survive, writes Rob Jenkins, a Georgia Perimeter College English professor, in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

MOOCs or other forms of mass education can’t provide the workforce development and training sought by many community college students.

Most technical training is by nature hands-on, requiring extensive facilities and on-site instructors. (Honestly, would you want to have your hair cut by someone who learned how to do it by watching the equivalent of YouTube videos?) Many companies do not have their own training facilities and count on local community colleges to provide skilled workers. That is unlikely to change anytime soon.

It’s also unlikely that students who need remediation will succeed in a MOOC, Jenkins writes. These students need instructors.

Community colleges could outsource many of their courses to elite universities via MOOCs, writes Harden. They could serve more students with fewer faculty, lowering costs.

Community colleges have “figured out how to make online courses as personal as possible, which seems to be the key for the vast majority of students,” Jenkins writes.

. . .  MOOCs and other such “innovations” . . . seem to appeal mostly to students who are already well educated.

Often those students are either professionals seeking to gain additional expertise in their fields or people looking to expand their intellectual horizons—like the engineer who takes an advanced poetry course just because she likes poetry and didn’t have an opportunity to pursue that interest in college.

In other words, these are highly motivated, extremely self-directed learners. But the vast majority of undergraduates who register for online classes are not either of those things—especially in required core courses they don’t really want to take. That’s why online faculty members at community colleges have worked so hard for years to make their courses as student-friendly as possible.

Most online students “will seek out the smaller ‘classrooms’ and more personalized online experience offered by community colleges, rather than the faceless crowds of MOOCs,” Jenkins predicts.

MOOCs let students take courses taught by famous professors from Stanford or MIT. But these famous professors aren’t necessarily great teachers, writes Jenkins. Great teachers “can be found disproportionately at community colleges.” And there won’t be 10,000 students in the class.

While many four-year colleges and universities require students to borrow heavily, community colleges are  “a great value,” Jenkins concludes.

In my state, tuition and fees for a full-time student at a two-year college are about a third of what students pay at one of the state’s large research institutions, and about half of what they pay at the smaller, regional universities. Many of our students also live at home, which reduces their expenses even more.

. . . As long as students are looking for inexpensive courses that transfer easily, with excellent teaching, a supportive environment, and a variety of options—both online and face-to-face—community colleges will continue to thrive.

I think Jenkins is right about the survival of community colleges — and Harden is right about the demise of non-elite residential colleges and universities.

If I were an entrepreneur, I’d develop “college experience” apartment complexes for 18- to 24-year-olds. There’d be keggers, pizza parties, frisbee contests and a designated football and basketball team to root for. There’d be T-shirts and sweatshirts with the complex’s name and tastefully designed logo. Residents who wanted a degree could study online; others could enjoy the experience without paying tuition.