Technology — Not Taxes — Can Solve America’s Higher Ed Crisis
While the state of higher education has yet to take center stage in what has been one of the most bizarre political seasons to date, the candidates are slowly rolling out their ideas and giving us a peek at what his or her presidency might bring.
On the Left, Bernie Sanders has publicly stated that he wants to provide free college education for all. Hillary Clinton states on her campaign website that “the federal government will make a major investment in the New College Compact by providing grants to states that commit to [specified goals] and by cutting interest rates on loans.” She may also follow a similar path to President Obama, who has pushed for free community college.
On the other side of the electorate, Republicans have yet to say much of anything about higher ed on the campaign trail — most likely for fear of raising the specter of higher taxes. Both Ted Cruz and John Kasich have expounded on the need for skills training but have simultaneously talked about scaling back, perhaps disintegrating the Department of Education. Trump has echoed that sentiment but has provided little other detail on his views.
And that shortness of detail — virtually across the board — has been a disturbing trend. For all of the hints, promises, and sidesteps, actionable insights have been few and far between. The unspecified promises on the Left create the prospect of higher taxes for Americans everywhere. Rhetoric on the Right invite lowered opportunity for many future students.
However, I have a three-word solution for our education challenge that will appeal to both sides. Were I to sit with the new President on Day One and offer my thinking on this enormous challenge, I’d simply say:
“Tech, not Taxes.”
In my view, the solution lies not in funneling more money into existing educational choices, but rather in creating greater efficiency and radically new opportunities through innovative technology. Namely, tech-enabled, quality online education that can be accessed by anyone, anywhere with an Internet connection. While distance learning has been around for decades, today’s online education is far more advanced through the use of disruptive technologies like cloud computing, at-scale video distribution, social networking, and AI.
Today’s online learning is increasingly adopted by the world’s best universities. Fiscal conservatives should find the availability of universal, quality online education comforting, while socially conscious Liberals should see great potential in the benefits.
The “Tech, not Taxes” approach can be used to alleviate the three key problems facing our higher education system today:
- Limited access
- High costs
- Inflexibility of current opportunities and traditional approaches
Our college system is not widely accessible. Although somewhat more inclusive now, it’s a learning process that was once only available to the children of wealthy families. While community colleges and scholarships have created opportunities across wider economic lines, much of the design reflects the original students for whom the system arose. A traditional, on-campus college education still requires large amounts of dedicated time, purchase of expensive materials, and the means with which to feed and house a student while they matriculate.
Technology can break down barriers in this system, however. Online courses can function much like new-age textbooks — providing most, if not all, of the materials needed for a given course without a student’s additional investment in heavy source materials. And by creating access to courses via the Internet, students can learn from anywhere, anytime — creating opportunities for those who might not be able to relocate to a campus for a significant part of their lives or quit a full-time job.
Governor Kasich, in particular, has shown that he sees value in this approach, at least when it comes to his home state of Ohio. In his 2015 State of the State address, he touted the use of online learning technology at Ohio colleges saying, “…if you’re a nurse and you’re 32 and you want to get a bigger certificate, you’re going to be able to go online and get that done.”
This improved access can also have strong implications for increasing efficiency and lowering overall costs. Much of the Department of Education’s work revolves around taxpayer-funded student loans, which puts a big target on the Department’s back from the likes of Cruz and Trump. Trump has famously said he would like to “cut the Department of Education way, way, way down.” Rather than strip the DOE down to nothing, however, the country will benefit more from finding ways to make those funds go further.
Online credentials — such as those offered by the edX and ASU collaboration, The Global Freshman Academy — offer a freshman year experience at a fraction of the cost of studying on-campus. And, MIT/edX’s MicroMaster’s has not only introduced a new, modular digital credential that employers value, but also opens up pathways to on campus programs and credit at a significant savings.
Programs like these offer concrete approaches in which technology can create new opportunities while stretching the tax dollar. The next President, rather than limiting the DOE, has the opportunity to empower the agency to find new ways for financial aid to be applied to innovative tech-enabled online credentials, potentially saving billions of taxpayer dollars while offering more educational and career-focused opportunities.
The flexibility of online education can have a similar innovative effect on traditional approaches to education. We can make college an unbundled experience, with some courses taken online and others taken in classrooms. This tech-enabled approach can allow flexible pathways to college for people working part-time. Blended models allow many lessons to be learned online, freeing professors to work with students directly. We might therefore be able to provide a better quality of education in less time.
These ideas represent the kind of thinking we need to see from the future leader of our country. In January 2017, the next president, whoever he or she may be, will take an oath in front of millions of students looking to better their lives through education.
Right now, everything is rhetoric, but reality is just around the corner. Tech, not taxes, is a very real answer to a very real challenge.
More posts on this topic:
- “This Isn’t Crying Wolf: Machines Will Take White-Collar Jobs During the Next Administration”— Martin Ford, author of “Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future”
- “The Next Big Industry That No One Knows About (Not Even the Future President)” — Suzy Welch, business journalist, television commentator
- “I Don’t Believe in Federal Miracles, But Here’s What the Next POTUS Can Do” — Bruce Katz, inaugural centennial scholar at The Brookings Institution
- “We Need to Figure Out What America Stands for in the 21st Century — and Have a Foreign Policy That Reflects It” — Ian Bremmer, President at Eurasia Group
- “Like Any New Boss, the Next President Will Need to Build a Great Team — and Trust” — Joel Peterson, Chairman, JetBlue Airways
- “America’s Healthcare System Needs This from the Next President” —Deepak Chopra, Founder, Chopra Foundation
Contact John Assunto for all of your Education Recruiting needs! Johna@worldbridgepartners.com or 860-387-0503