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Covid-19 Benefits Education Consumers

April 25, 2020

For generations, classroom instruction at colleges and universities has been mandated by a “Standard” of “Regional accreditation.” In light of the Covid-19 Pandemic, all classroom teaching in American colleges and universities has been shut down. In addition to the possible closure–never to reopen–of a thousand colleges, the cost of a college education will no longer require that education consumers go into debt.

Here’s the reason why!

If you aspire to postgraduate education as a medical doctor, attorney or even a librarian, you must have graduated from a “Regionally accredited” college or university. That is a peculiar requirement of the American system of “Regional Accreditation.”

The ”Regional” associations of higher education–there are six of them–affirm “Standards” of higher education that originated in the late 19th century.  That is a throwback to an era before Guglielmo Marconi invented radio in 1895,  and before televisions became commonplace. As a consequence, all “Regionally” accredited institutions are required to offer programs for degree credit in which a majority of courses are taught in classrooms on a physical campus.

This “Standard” of “Regional” accreditation is the reason that college or university degree programs cost as much as they do.

All those colleges where instruction occurs in classrooms must maintain campus facilities where students learn, eat, sleep and interact socially. The high overhead cost of a physical campus explains why most undergraduate courses average between $900 and $1,000 per course. Graduate degree programs can cost $1,800 per course!

But, now, due to a viral pandemic, these “Regionally accredited” institutions cannot offer classroom classes.  They are, in effect,  in violation of the classroom “Standard” of their own “Regional” accreditation agencies. They are also in violation of federal and some state authorization regulations that require student/faculty “Discussions.”  If a college or university cannot demonstrate that “Discussions “are part of the education experience, they do not qualify for access to federal tuition loans and Pell Grants.

These “Standards” of classroom instruction and in-class “Discussions” are the reason that solely Internet-based degree programs cannot meet the “Standards” of “Regional accreditation.”

The current crisis of high cost college degrees can be traced back to the Higher Education Act of 1965 that was an aspect of President Lyndon Johnson’s personal pride (he was called “Senator Cornpone” by President Kennedy’s Harvard educated advisors) and that drove LBJ’s ruthless “Great Society” programs. LBJ would show “them” that he was their equal or even better by exponentially increasing the size and scope of the administrative state begun by President Franklin Roosevelt.

Having earned a third class degree from Southwest Texas State Teachers’ College, LBJ was determined to make a college “education” an Entitlement of American citizenship.

By the mid-1980s, however, the Internet, Web browsers, and low cost PCs, in effect “remaindered” classroom education.  Classroom instruction was no longer a necessary requirement of a college education. As a result, every regionally accredited college and university was threatened by Internet delivered training and education programs.

Beginning in 1885 when the first association of regional accreditors was founded, an accredited college diploma had to be earned in a classroom. The challenge to the higher education Establishment by new technologies was met by doing absolutely nothing. New technologies would remain peripheral to established practices. 

That was good for college teachers, and university administrators, but very bad for consumers of “accredited” degree programs.  

In 2017,  I predicted The Coming Death and Future Resurrection of American Higher Education.  Regulations and “Standards” that blocked use of the Internet in programs for degree credit and sustained the high cost of a college education would be subjected to Schumpeter’s “creative destruction.”

That “creative destruction” is being forced on American higher education by a pandemic that has forced the closure of classrooms in order to avoid contamination–and physical harm to students and teachers.

All regionally accredited institutions are now compelled to offer online courses for degree credit. The regional agencies that accredit most colleges and universities must now permit their members to offer courses via the internet–not in classrooms. As a consequence, the tuition cost of courses for degree credit will be lowered from $1,000 per course to a much lower $350 or even $400 per course. Federal student loans that support high tuition cost will be a thing of the past.

Why? 

Because American students understand that going into debt to take courses disseminated via the Internet ought to cost less than courses of instruction in classrooms, it’s possible that at least one thousand colleges will not reopen in Fall 2020, and their high tuition and fees will become a thing of the past.

My reaction is not sadness at the destruction of this high-cost system of classroom-based “education,” but I am concerned that academic leadership taking American higher education into a new, less regulated, digitally-based era, is not easily found.

American scholars never had to learn the instructional design of distance learning because every college level course was taught in classrooms. That type of innovative leadership is non-existent or limited to a few who, like Steve Jobs, think that there is life beyond traditional ways of communicating what is important for the good life.

 

 

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