Revamping higher education


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It’s time that we start thinking about how to reform higher education and make these institutions — including the UI — more efficient.

Public and private colleges all across the country are faced with budget cuts in one form or another. The UI has its own sets of economic challenges. Tuition costs have been increasing for several years, predating the economic recession. And the overall costs of operating a higher-education institution such as the UI have been increasing for several years as well. Even after a $100 surcharge and 6 percent increase in tuition, students would likely see tuition hikes that exceed the rate of inflation in future years. Even if the university is able to plug its $24.7 million budget hole, it is likely to continue to experience higher overall costs, coupled with declining state aid.

Let’s use this crisis to think of and create a better, more efficient, more innovative university for the future.

The truth is that our current model for higher education is outdated, from the four-year graduation model to not offering more classes online. Right now, we are being forced to find ways to reduce costs and cut the budget to meet immediate financial challenges. If we allow narrow solutions such as layoffs or tuition increases to be the extent of our problem solving, we’ll soon find ourselves in the same — or worse — predicament.

Hartwick College, a small liberal-arts school in upstate New York, is offering students the ability to earn their degree in three years instead of the traditional four. A number of innovative colleges are making the same offer to students who wish to save time and money.

This accelerated program isn’t for everyone. Instead of taking between 25-30 credits a year, students wishing to graduate in three years take up to 40 credits a year. But for students planning to pursue graduate and advanced degrees, it could be attractive. What is a year’s tuition saved worth to you?

What if you could earn more college credit before you even step inside of a college classroom? Large schools such as the University of Texas make it easier for students in high school Advanced Placement classes to earn up to a semester’s worth of college credit — a semester’s worth of money saved.

Offering more courses online and combining courses could save money as well. Our world is a digital one; students use computers and are online as much as they are doing just about anything else. Large lectures — or possibly some entry-level classes — could easily be transferred online, reducing costs to the university.

Not all classes should be put online. Attending a class with your peers and getting instruction from a professor is extremely valuable. Yet in some courses, there’s no room or a need for that type of interaction. In those cases, it may be appropriate to transfer those courses online.

These are just a few ideas; hopefully, they provide a starting point for a broader dialogue about how to structurally bring down higher-education costs. All may not be applicable or even desired.

The administration should continue soliciting ideas from the public on how to reduce budget costs.

There were several good ideas generated concerning how to reduce energy and operational costs.

Whatever decision or decisions are made now should not conclude the discourse. The UI needs to facilitate an ongoing conversation among students, staff, and faculty.

Let’s think big and innovatively about the challenges we are faced with. We could turn a downright nasty situation into a watershed moment.

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