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Ballooning Costs and Demand Attract Alternative Providers

AUDIO | Ballooning Costs and Demand Attract Alternative Providers
As the cost of higher education has skyrocketed in recent years and demands from students for alternative approaches to education have become more prevalent, alternative providers are finding space to succeed in the higher education marketplace.

The following interview is with Dennis Jones, president of the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems. Jones recently discussed the need to ensure the quality of non-traditional, alternative higher education providers because they are here to stay. In this interview, Jones expands on those ideas and discusses how alternative providers have made significant in-roads into the higher education space.

1. When did higher education institutions begin to lose their monopoly on high-quality postsecondary learning opportunities?

I’m not sure they completely have, but I think that it’s been driven, as much as anything, not by the delivery of education as much as it is the emergence of alternative forms of credentialing … especially the move towards competency-based learning and credentialing.

That has opened the door for all kinds of things that we haven’t seen here before.

2. Over the past few years, a number of alternative providers have begun to gain legitimacy in the higher education space; why do so many providers seem to be appearing in this industry now?

Well, I think part of it is still a burgeoning demand and an inability of the traditional higher education providers to meet that demand at anything that looks like a reasonable price.

We can look at places like California and other states where demand significantly has outstripped the capacity of traditional institutions to respond to that demand. And, in those circumstances, lots of room opens up for alternative providers, especially the good ones.

3. How do you expect the marketplace to adapt to accommodate this array of new higher education providers over the next five to 10 years?

Well, I think that we will see an interesting combination of these new providers and old providers … leveraging some of what these new providers have to offer. We’re already seeing some institutions that have been in the traditional space starting to get in the business of credentialing learning that has been acquired through MOOCs [Massive Open Online Courses], where the providing institutions themselves provide no credit but other institutions are saying, “Okay, we will find ways to assess that learning and provide credit for it,” which makes it transferable to elsewhere. So there are aggregators, if you will, starting to appear.

Increasingly, I think we will see not so much all of these new providers being complete degree providers, but providers of some instruction or some other support service. I’ve written — 15 years ago or 10 years ago … — about the unbundling instructional function in higher education with different actors, if you will, providing different parts of the instruction. And now the latest things I’m thinking about are the roads of higher education institutions in re-bundling some of the instructional activities that are available everywhere.

It’s going to increase, I believe, the importance of students’ support services in physical locations and leverage instructional materials. … Learning content is increasingly free. But that doesn’t mean that how you put it together so that students learn can be done by most students, at least without guidance and help. How that gets provided is the brave new world for many, many particularly colleges like community colleges where they have access to place-bound students.

4. Is there anything you’d like to add about the emergence of so many new providers into the higher education space and what’s driven those numbers to increase so rapidly?

… The push toward making higher education affordable is still, I think, one of the large motivating forces for this. Clearly, the country and most states need a lot more of their population to be educated. Most of the folks who are not getting educated are at the low end of the socio-economic scale, so how we provide expanded access, how we help students succeed, is going to have about it a large measure of productivity improvement and price, if not capping, even price decreasing in some ways. So, it’s exciting times in this business world.