There have been a few posting of late on the future of higher education. Jason has provided a series of interesting posts on whether it still makes sense to get a PhD (see here and here). I provided a few posts on the challenges posed by online courses, particularly MOOCs (massive open online courses) that are available for free (see here and here).
Tamar Lewin has a piece in today’s NYT on the University of California system. The proposal is to require state public colleges and universities to give credit for online courses if students cannot gain access to oversubscribed courses.
In part because of budget cuts, hundreds of thousands of students in California’s three public higher-education systems are shut out of the gateway courses they must pass to fulfill their general education requirements or proceed with their major. Many are forced to spend extra semesters, or years, to get degrees.
Under the legislation, some of the eligible courses would likely be free “massive open online courses,” or MOOCs, like those offered by providers like Coursera, Udacity and edX; others might come from companies like Straighterline, which offers low-price online courses, or Pearson, the educational publishing and testing company.
One might argue that the University of California has a great deal of fiscal problems that leave it with few other options. California is unique. But one might argue that it is more a harbinger of things to come than a unique case in a class of its own. Due to growing health care costs and unfunded pension liabilities, many states will soon find themselves where California is today, and higher education budgets will be constrained.
All of this will likely have a significant impact on the future of the academy and should be considered by those who are contemplating graduate school. As state budgets face greater strain and new generations of students become more accustom to online learning (or are given no other option), The demand for new PhDs will likely decline significantly. The NYT piece quotes Mark Yudof, the president of the University of California, as saying that faculty “might want to add recitation, or assessment or discussions groups” to online offerings. But my guess is that much of this work will be assigned to graduate students or adjuncts rather than tenured or tenure-track faculty.