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Smith: Technology In Education

05/14/12 7:55AM By Mike Smith
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(Host) Lately, a debate in Washington has erupted over whether the interest rate on government student loans should jump from 3.4% to 6.8%, but as a former state official and now president of FairPoint Communications in Vermont, commentator Mike Smith, thinks this debate misses the point...

(Smith) Whatever the interest rate, our attention shouldn't be focused on finding ways to make it easier to acquire more debt - but rather on ways to lower the cost of a college education so everyone can afford it without going deeper into debt. Part of the solution seems to lie in technology since technology has the ability to allow colleges to share resources and thereby reduce both personnel and infrastructure outlays that in turn will result in savings and lower tuition costs.

Opinions vary as to how quickly and extensively technology will dramatically change the higher education landscape, but we're already seeing a shift in how a college level course might be delivered in the future. Harvard and MIT recently announced that they're investing $60 million and jointly forming a non-profit to offer educational courses on-line. This follows a trend that Stanford University and others have started in collaboration with the private sector . And free tutorial classes through Khan Academy are already popular, especially among high school students.

Some experts think that corporations will eventually get into the business of higher education and bypass existing education structures altogether. Others predict there will be only a few physical universities left in the world come the middle of this century because technology will allow these institutions to reach students worldwide. With no need for dorms, cafeterias, or libraries, infrastructure costs will be greatly reduced. There will also be a drastic reduction in the need for professors, who will in turn be better educated and better able to teach, especially when given sophisticated online and video learning tools to use in the classroom. A smaller infrastructure and lower personnel costs means a dramatic drop in cost - thus enabling more people to afford college, or so the theory goes.

While this futuristic model may seem somewhat far-fetched, many of the underlying principles are already taking hold. Nowadays, most colleges and universities offer on-line courses. Here in Vermont , Norwich University has long had on-line graduate degree programs. Champlain College is a leader in the use of technology in the classroom. And Community College of Vermont has pioneered the use of distant learning.

Of course any changes in higher education will have a particular impact on Vermont since higher education is a major sector of our economy.

But here lies an opportunity for Vermont to lead the way and shape the future so that changes will have less impact on our economy and at the same time make higher education more affordable. For example: At least four institutions in Vermont have nursing programs: Vermont Technical College, Castleton State, Norwich, and the University of Vermont. It makes sense for courses to be shared through technology by students at all of these institutions.

This kind of change is never easy, but the way things are going, doing nothing isn't an option - especially for those paying for a college degree, and institutions trying to attract future students.

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