MIT Launches Online Certificate Program

UniversityThe current higher education system is failing. This is not exactly breaking news. Universities are becoming more and more expensive every year. Students leave trained for jobs that no longer exist, with a pile of debt that they may never be able to pay off. That status quo simply can't hold for long.

Institutions began experimenting with online education in the 1990s and, like everything else on the internet, they have gotten better at it over the years. Online eduction is now fairly mainstream, it offers lower costs, fewer risks, geographic flexibility (which saves on housing costs) and schedule flexibility. There are hundreds of free online courses that offer certificates.

Now MIT is getting into the game, offering certificates programs in skills that are in demand such as supply chain management. From Gabriel Kahn at Slate:

"MIT, in a press release, says the new programs are part of its effort to “reimagine the building blocks” of education as universities begin to deliver more of their content digitally.

Yet the program is also part of something much larger: the beginning of the unbundling of the American university. Much in the way that 12-song albums gave way to 99-cent iTunes purchases, universities are now under pressure to offer more ways to slice off smaller bits of education.

Degrees, the currency of higher education, have traditionally been traded in large denominations: four-year bachelor’s degree, two-year master’s degree, five-year (or much more) Ph.D. But a variety of forces, from skyrocketing tuition to the proliferation of online classes, are now compelling universities to rethink that approach. High fees are keeping many would-be students from enrolling in conventional degree programs, while universities are under pressure to unlock new revenues."

To see how this will play out, just do a quick cost benefit analysis. If you were a young person, and not wealthy, which would make more sense: Spending four years at university getting a 'well rounded' education and taking on piles of debt as you start your adult life or working and learning new skills as you need them, and taking courses in subjects that interest you when you have the time and can afford it financially?

As an employer would you prefer a person with a well rounded education from a public institution, or someone who has learned the specific skills you are looking for from a world renowned institution? There may be some that would prefer the former, but not many. Most, likely, wouldn't care that much so long as the individual can do the job.

A well rounded education is an ideal of western civilization but, to be honest, we don't have that now. I've been to university. The majority of students work hard in the courses that interest them and the ones that relate directly to their chosen profession and squeak by in the courses that make them "well rounded" any way they can. Then they promptly forget the information from those courses once the B (or C) is in the books.

Universities, like every other institution, are going to have to adapt to the 21st century. They will need to examine the role the play in society, the product they deliver and then determine how to deliver it in a way that fits with the lives of students. If they can't effectively do this, they will quickly go the way of newspapers.
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