Looking to Digital Technology for College Cost Relief

Stanford University president John Hennessy and Salman Khan, founder of Khan Academy, sat down recently to discuss how the digital era could lower the cost of higher education during the All Things D conference. According to PC Magazine, Hennessy complimented the "flipped classroom" idea first introduced by Khan Academy, but said that lectures are not enough to hold the attention of students, and interactive elements like quizzes and social media should be implemented. According to AllThingsD.com, Hennessy said that "lectures on video are just as boring as traditional lectures." Quizzes and social media build a community around the learning experience. "The phenomenal thing we found in the experiment is that questions would be answered very quickly," Hennessy said.

Community is part of the reason Hennessy believes that Stanford will never give online-only undergraduate degrees, according to PCMagazine.com, saying that the schools prefers students to spend four years on campus as a part of the community. Stanford does offer a master’s degree program through distance learning, and students may receive certificates in an area of study, but both Khan and Hennessy emphasized the importance of the physical experience, like interacting with professors in research, interning, and building contacts. However, technology can supplement community interaction. Khan mentioned a feature coming to Khan Academy that allows students to tutor other students and earn badge rewards.

Hennessy and Khan also discussed the cost of education. Khan, according to PCMagazine, said there is a disconnect between consumers and providers in education where the consumer thinks they are paying for credential and the providers are selling teachers, labs, and facilities. Hennessy said the big problem is a large portion of students who don’t graduate, but have loans and don’t pay them back. Stanford, according to PCMagazine.com, will waive tuition for accepted students who come from a family that makes less than $100,000 a year, and waive room and board if the student comes from a family that makes less than $60,000 a year. But only elite universities are capable of sustaining the current tuition model. Schools are realizing a need to change the financial model.

InsideHigherEd.com reported that Wesleyan University is moving away from a need-blind admissions policy, and will begin to consider students despite their ability to pay. Once financial aid runs out, the college will begin to factor in the family’s ability to pay. InsideHigherEd.com reports that the college will need to raise enough money or the last students admitted each year will not include those who need aid. InsideHigherEd.com reports that higher education institutions usually share the view that a family’s financial position should not factor in the college admissions, process, but that 32% of public institutions and 18% of private institution said they met the full demonstrated needs of students. Roth makes the argument that the need-blind admissions process is the ideal, but may not be realistic for all colleges or admitted students. Digital education may lower the costs by alleviating some of the costs in the traditional classroom.

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