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Halls of ivy meet reality, challenges page 2
Rick Hurley and Steve Greenlaw's op-ed column on the future of college education in America.

 UMW is well regarded for its stellar educational offerings and its beautiful campus.
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Date published: 10/14/2012


Traditional colleges and universities face tremendous pressure due to rising costs, diminished state support, and increasing competition from for-profit schools, especially those that operate online with lower traditional infrastructure and facility costs. In recent years, state support for UMW has dropped from 50 percent to the low 20s, and for flagship universities like the University of Virginia into single digits.

For-profit universities typically charge more than public universities. Often, their programs are online so that the location of the school and the timing of the courses are irrelevant. These online courses focus on a limited number of professional programs, such as computer science, business, and nursing. For people who need a college degree for career advancement, the for-profit schools can be an attractive option.


What used to be a local market (for commuter students) or regional market (for residential students) is now a national or global one. We've witnessed the MOOC phenomenon: Massive Open Online Courses, taught by faculty at Stanford, MIT, and other well-known universities including U.Va. The courses are open to any interested student on the Internet and enroll tens, or even hundreds, of thousands of students. Unlike other online courses, MOOCs are offered free of charge. How can traditional universities compete with that? Who would pay to take a course at a small regional university, when they can be taught by star faculty from Stanford?

For now, MOOCs come with a catch--when you successfully complete a MOOC taught by a Stanford faculty member, you do not get academic credit from Stanford. The sponsoring universities have been careful to state that a MOOC course is not the same as a regular course taught at the university, even if that course is taught online. Why then would people participate in a MOOC? They may simply want to learn the subject. They may have limited access to higher education in their community-- a large proportion of the MOOC participants have been from other countries, especially in the developing world where access to higher education is limited. Or, they may believe MOOC credits will eventually count toward a college degree.

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Richard V. Hurley is president of the University of Mary Washington. Steven A. Greenlaw is professor of economics at the University of Mary Washington.