Published on 2012/09/14

How Can Colleges Compete with Free Content?

As the influence and reach of Massive Open Online Courses continue to grow, and it becomes easier for students to earn credits for the successful completion of these courses, questions are being asked about how traditional institutions can compete.

In his column last week, Inside Higher Ed’s “Dean Dad” explained that the traditional college model is built on the scarcity of information and learning opportunities, and with the explosion of the number of higher education institutions—both public and private—since the 1960, the model began to make increasingly less sense. And now that high-quality academic programming is being made available for free online, and some institutions are beginning to offer credits for the successful completion of these courses, the scarcity model has become completely outdated.

As a response, Dean Dad suggests that colleges focus more clearly on their differentiators; the things they can offer that MOOCs can’t. For example, the presence of academic and career advisors who help students choose degrees that both interest them and lead to careers, organized tutoring, in-person collaboration on projects, personal connections with educators and specialized facilities. As an extension, he suggests institutions start moving away from the massive lecture hall model of instruction.

He argues that while high-level students are liable to succeed in any educational setting, the role of non-elite institutions is to balance the playing field between those well-prepared for higher education and those who are not. Providing structure, support and customized, human interaction is what he feels the “value-add” of colleges are to their students.

He also suggests institutions begin to really develop their non-academic offerings to make the student experience as enriching and fulfilling as possible.

To compete with the MOOCs, non-elite institutions need to provide personalized, supportive education—and soon.

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