The Edmond Sun

Opinion

August 6, 2012

In the future higher education will be free

EDMOND — How much would you pay to take a higher education course from MIT? Earlier this year, 154,000 students signed up for one of this prestigious university’s online courses for free!

Some of America’s best universities are planning to revolutionize education. Based on the success of the MIT program, Harvard and MIT have each invested $30 million in their own online free education platform (edx.org). They are inviting other institutions to use the platform, and the University of California Berkeley has already joined.

You can register for the Artificial Intelligence course from Berkeley — the class starts on Sept. 24. Or perhaps you would rather take Introduction to Solid State Chemistry from MIT starting Oct. 15. Also starting on Oct. 15 is Harvard’s Quantitative Methods in Clinical and Public Health Research. Please let me know if you sign up for one of these courses. I would really enjoy hearing about your experience.

Edx.org is just one free online higher education platform. There will be more. A famous Stanford artificial intelligence professor who has led the development of Google’s self-driving car recently taught his artificial intelligence class for free to 160,000 students. He has developed the Udacity.com platform which featuress several free courses ranging from Applied Cryptography to Algorithims.

Unlike a lecture received at a classroom, the virtual setting can allow students to pause, rewind and replay material until they really understand it. They can take the course at their own pace while holding down a full-time job and raising a family. The connectivity with thousands of other students will expose them to much more interactivity than what is available at a local campus.

The innovators of the future will not receive their education by taking out thousands in student loans and attending a local university for years at a time. They will simply go online and receive instruction at their own pace from some of the best educators in the nation at the best institutions. For this education they will pay very little.

I don’t think we are far from the day when these free online programs will be accredited just like in-person classrooms. If immoral politics keep accreditation agencies from accrediting the superior online programs, I suspect employers will value the program’s certificates of mastery at the same level as accredited diplomas. The previously mentioned Udacity program already partners with a number of companies to which they can channel the résumés of high performing students.

These students will receive their jobs based solely on their performance and understanding of the subject matter. They won’t have to wait years, spend hundreds of hours commuting, and worry about having to pretend to agree with the political views of a professor in order to pass a class and get a diploma.

You may wonder why America’s best universities are creating these free offerings. As one professor explained, “Universities like Harvard need to be in the space.” They cannot afford to miss out on the opportunity to adapt to the new model of education.

There are those in higher education who defend the status quo and suggest that education delivered online at less cost is somehow inferior to the very expensive traditional model. To the contrary, as you can see from the above examples, technology not only cuts cost but provides access to the very best educators in the world.

One journalist explained how this new system threatens the entire old-fashioned higher ed model used by many middle-ranking institutions such as Oklahoma universities. He asks, ”Why would you pay high fees to sit through a mediocre lecture, when you could go online and watch world experts...?”

Will Oklahoma schools continue to follow an antiquated model by charging the same amount for online education as in-person courses? Will they continue to significantly increase tuition cost each and every year?

Adopting the new model of delivering education is vital for cutting costs, improving the quality of education and keeping Oklahoma universities from being left behind by other universities who now understand the importance of migrating to the new way of providing higher education. Oklahoma should be one of the first to innovate and adopt the new best practices. We owe the taxpayers nothing less.

REP. JASON MURPHEY, R-Guthrie, represents House District 31, which encompasses all of Logan County and a portion of northern Edmond. He may be reached via email at jason.murphey@okhouse.gov, on Facebook at facebook.com/JasonMurphey and Twitter.com/JWMurphey.

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Poll

Do you agree with a state budget proposal that takes some funds away from road and bridge projects to ramp up education funding by $29.85 million per year until schools are receiving $600 million more a year than they are now? In years in which 1 percent revenue growth does not occur in the general fund, the transfer would not take place.

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