Universities must change

Stephens Hall was once the administration building of Towson University. All original images on this page are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License. shownbyphotos.com © 2012 R2 Productions, LLC.

President Obama recently put universities on notice to control rising tuition, but it is only partly to blame for the rising cost of higher education. Residential campuses place an additional burden of students through room and board costs. Distance education alternatives reduces costs to students and the university. Students save by reducing commuting costs, room and board while the university saves on providing residential support services. I teach at a small to moderate-size university where approximately 47% of the cost of residential student is in room and board. This represents the cost of gaining the institutional culture for those not within commuting distance of the campus. This is the price tag that must be figured into any discussion of the perceived value of being physically present on a university campus.

However there is still much reticence on the part of administrators, as I have recently encountered, to do this.Hanging on to the status quo is not going to reduce costs, unless universities are interested in reducing credits to graduate, hire cheaper adjuncts, or cut salaries and benefits, especially for high priced administrators.

Universities should leverage online distance learning to replace the role of 2-year junior colleges as feeder schools. “Multiversities” will evolve to rely mostly on online courses for general education and face-to-face or hybrid for upper-division courses and those in their major. Once students are fully engaged in their major, they should benefit from the mentoring that comes from personal interaction. Much good can come from the apprenticing with a faculty member. At that point the presence of teacher is a powerful tool for engaging and retaining students in their chosen field.

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About Michael Ritter PhD
Professor of Geography at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, science textbook author, educational technology blogger, podcaster, and freelance media consultant.

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