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October 14, 2012 12:10 am


Germanna Community College also provides practical workforce education in such areas as automotive training. edhuff14.jpg.jpg

Germanna Community College fosters innovation, as faculty and students utilize technology in learning.

SOME GOOD may have come out of the August 2011 earthquake that put Germanna Community College's largest building out of commission till January 2012.

Losing space for 321 classes created a slingshot effect that accelerated GCC's progress toward what may be the future of higher education. The college increased its capability to offer the option of "hybrid" classes sooner than it would have otherwise. Hybrid classes combine the convenience of online "distance learning" with the personal touch of classroom learning.

Some chafe at the idea of reducing face time between faculty and students. But the technology exists to make online classes increasingly interactive. And our area and our nation's future depend on college degrees and workforce training being affordable and accessible to more students.

Earlier this year, the Pew Research Center's recent Internet & American Life Project and Elon University's Imagining the Internet Center asked more than 1,000 experts and stakeholders which of two possible scenarios for higher education in 2020 they believe is most likely to come to fruition.

Thirty-nine percent foresaw change by the end of the decade, but nothing radical:

In 2020, higher education will not be much different from the way it is today. While people will be accessing more resources in classrooms through the use of large screens, teleconferencing, and personal wireless smart devices, most institutions will require in-person, on-campus attendance of students most of the time at courses featuring a lot of traditional lectures. Most institutions' assessment of learning and their requirements for graduation will be about the same as they are now.


Sixty percent thought there would be major changes:

By 2020, higher education will be quite different from the way it is today. There will be mass adoption of teleconferencing and distance learning to leverage expert resources. Significant numbers of learning activities will move to individualized, just-in-time learning approaches. There will be a transition to "hybrid" classes that combine online learning components with less-frequent on-campus, in-person class meetings. Most institutions' assessment of learning will take into account more individually oriented outcomes and capacities that are relevant to subject mastery. Requirements for graduation will be significantly shifted to customized outcomes.

Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet Project, said in a statement that some of the experts surveyed "are worried over the adoption of technology-mediated approaches that they fear will lack the personal, face-to-face touch they feel is necessary for effective education. Yet, a share of this group was excited about the possibility to leverage new online capabilities and peer-to-peer collaborations that they believe would enhance knowledge creation and sharing."


Educators across America are faced with a paradox, said U.S. Undersecretary of Education Martha Kanter, a keynote speaker at the recent 2012 Virginia Community College System Chancellor's Planning Retreat.

Funding limitations make change seem risky, she said. But the greatest risk for our students, for our institutions of higher education, and for our nation would be a failure to change, to experiment, to innovate.

"Our biggest battle is the status quo," Kanter said. "I think we can do a lot better. So we're very interested in ideas." For example, she said, one means of increasing completion rates might be issuing Pell Grants for short-term training in high-demand fields.

She noted that there has been much discussion about the need to make higher education more affordable, but that in the process of doing so, quality must be maintained.

It seems likely that community colleges, which typically cost about one-third as much as public four-year colleges and universities, will play an increasingly important role in keeping costs down and making quality higher education and training accessible to millions who are not currently being served. That can be achieved by attending a community college for two years, earning an associate's degree, then transferring to a four-year institution for the next two years and receiving a bachelor's degree there. And it can be accomplished through noncredit workforce training that quickly and inexpensively prepares students to fill jobs that are in demand.


This summer, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell announced a pact between Virginia's Community Colleges, including Germanna, and Western Governors University that creates a shorter, less costly route to a baccalaureate degree for nursing students. The agreement means students may complete a bachelor's degree in three years--two of them at a community college and one online--at a low cost of $17,000 in tuition and fees.

It requires students to earn their associate's degree in nursing at Germanna or one of Virginia's 22 other community colleges as well as passing the state board test to earn their license to practice as a registered nurse. They then complete nine more online courses to earn their bachelor's degree in nursing.

Glenn DuBois, chancellor of Virginia's Community Colleges, said: "This could be a blueprint for offering similar baccalaureate opportunities in other high-demand fields such as information technology, business, and other health care-related programs. Virginia's Community Colleges were created to address Virginia's unmet needs in higher education and workforce training. Higher education costs have become one of those needs and this agreement is an important part of the solution."


Increasing cooperation between institutions of higher learning is another way to cut future costs, Kanter noted. An example is the recent co-enrollment agreement between Germanna and the University of Mary Washington that GCC President David A. Sam said benefits area students both academically and financially.

Germanna students will be eligible to take up to five classes at UMW. Students will pay Germanna tuition rates for the UMW courses. And those credits will count toward both their associate degree at Germanna and a BLS degree at UMW.

Kanter said community colleges must broaden their function as a bridge "between people who don't have jobs and the workforce."

Closing the skills gap, keeping it closed, and staying competitive will require a change in the way Americans think about education from being something most complete in their early 20s to a process of lifelong learning. This will mean greater diversity in student ages.

The American Association of Community Colleges' 21st Century Commission on the Future of Community Colleges has noted that two-year institutions "serve a broad range of ages, from teenagers in dual enrollment programs, to seniors seeking encore careers or personal enrichment." But it predicts that while enrollment among 18- to 24-year-olds will increase by 12 percent by 2019, the increase in the number of students ages 25 to 34 will jump 28 percent, and it will surge by 22 percent among students 35 and over.


In the future, Kanter said, community colleges must serve "every student who has aspirations, whether they are the 35-year-old woman who raised kids who hasn't had the chance or a kid who has dropped out of high school."

The thing we can least afford to waste is human potential.


Michael Zitz is Germanna Community College's director of media and community relations.

Copyright 2014 The Free Lance-Star Publishing Company.