One of the great questions floating around higher education today is, “how it can be that students are graduating with so much debt?” As many of you reading this are students yourselves, I’m sure you’ve wondered this a time or two.
There are many passionate arguments, but for me they reduce to a pretty simple correlation. Today, many more people need a degree to get well paid employment. This means more people than ever before are going to college.
For the most part, public higher education is “capacity locked” by their physical campus, and with state budget cuts, cannot grow capacity. They also do not believe they should or need to reach remote adult learners who never completed their degree or who want to earn a master’s degree while staying in their community.
So the market intervened to serve online students using solutions that do not demand a campus. We are lucky the likes of the University of Phoenix did this using high prices (compared to most public providers), average quality, and high margins to finance the market development, technology development, teaching methods, and faculty education. Unfortunately, some of those who did this also focused more on return to investors than on student success.
So why, you ask, are we lucky they did this? The good news is that the multibillion dollar capital investment needed to make high quality online feasible at a fair price is done. This means that public universities can now offer high quality, online degree programs at a very fair, in-state price and still be economically self-sustaining. It also means that adult learners can go back to school at a fair price, in their communities, without having to pay for housing or give up their incomes.
For example, look at Colorado State University OnlinePlus. We offer the campus’s programs online to more than 10,500 students – and we’re self-sustaining.
Through OnlinePlus, the CSU System has demonstrated that it can create and deliver high quality online degrees that are self-sustaining, easily serve more than 10,000 students per year, and are priced to keep student debt as low as possible. This proves that the high quality, public state university providers can offer in-state tuition for anyone in the world.
The growing student debt reflects growing higher education demand, shortage of supply, price increases, a few unscrupulous players who leverage the 90% of tuition federal student debt rule for investor profits, and cut-backs in state support of traditional campuses. The solution is competition from public providers at in-state pricing that can grow to serve the needs of millions of adult students.
If the Harvard Extension School can do this with tuition and high access for the past 100 years, why can’t every member of the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities do the same? We did.