Monday, March 28, 2011

States Need to Consider Innovative 'Open' Education Solutions

Many states and local communities are struggling with tightening budgets and are looking closely at the public education system as an area where cuts can be made.  As we've seen in the news, some Governors think they can save money by cutting teacher pay or taking away their collective bargaining rights. Other states looking at increasing class size, cutting school programs, consolidating schools, and other ways to reduce costs. These approaches may help reduce the budget to some degree, but at what cost to the students and our future. Maybe its time we started doing some 'out of the box' thinking?  

Many other industries are being dramatically overhauled as new 21st century information technologies (IT) and business models are being put in place. Witness what is happening to the newspaper industry, the music industry, and the growing online retail industry, e.g. Amazon, eBay, etc.  The education sector is not immune to these changes. Online universities are a reality and are starting to challenge traditional 'brick and mortar' universities of the past. In my home state, the state funded West Virginia University (WVU) system is no longer the largest university system.  The online American Public University System (APUS) now has more registered students than WVU. 

Well known, fully accredited online universities are taking hold all across the country.  Witness well known examples such as the University of Phoenix, DeVry University, Capella University, Kaplan University, Walden University, and many more.  They offer  Associate, Bachelor, and Masters degree programs at prices comparable to state run institutions.  Students of all ages can attend classes online even as they hold down jobs in the workforce or are stationed overseas in the military.  You've probably heard the arguments. Bottom line – why don't state's start scaling back their involvement in running state-owned community colleges and universities and turn over the education industry to the private sector to some degree.  The state could even partner and/or contract with these schools for courses and reduce their state university employee payroll and retirement programs.

The argument for use of modern information technology and solutions even extends to high schools.  Online courses could be offered to students who want to accelerate their education, finish school earlier, and maybe even take online college courses in the junior or senior years to get a jump on their education. Online courses would allow students over 16 years of age, who are hard pressed financially, to work part-time and continue their education and graduate.  Online education programs work and are being tested across the country – check out some of these Online Schools

Aside from online education, what about using new information technology (IT) and tool like iPads or Kindle systems and lower cost digital books.  Even providing these tools to students of families that can't afford them will save money.  What about having teachers and students using the growing number of free and open source courseware, lesson plans, and many other types of learning and classroom tools. To learn more about them go to the non-profit COSI Open Education web site.

What do you think? Do you have other innovative, out of the box ideas to save costs and improve the education system?

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