WARNING: Rocky Times Ahead For UW,

IIf we can market the Huskies, why can’t we market our faculty?

Moody’s Investor Services.has downgraded its outlook for all of higher education. The credit rating agency cited  poor revenue prospects:

“The U.S. higher education sector has hit a critical juncture in the evolution of its business model,” said Eva Bogaty, assistant vice president of Moody’s, in a statement. “Even market-leading universities with diversified revenue streams are facing diminished prospects for revenue growth.”SMS

“While employment and earnings data continue to support the underlying value of a college degree, alarm over a potential student loan bubble and diminishing affordability of higher education has reached a fever pitch in the last two year.”

The report goes long term by asking about the impact of  online courses.  Moody sees these as a disruptive force in the way the web has destroyed the business model for traditional news print.

While Moody see this a threat from on online market where which students everywhere can take courses for free, our rivals among top US and English universities are in the early stages of branding new products.

The idea that this means future students will learn genetics while sitting at their kitchen table is wrong.  The level of instruction that justifies a UW requires person to person contact.  BUT the web can change the model.  I suspect that ten years from now, WWU will still be here but will offer “branded” coursewares.  … Harvard, Oxford, and Cal Berkeley will be selling online materials, including lectures.     WWU faculty will be able to teach materials, with a great brand … that is not be possible now.

I am disturbed that our competitors do see this as major source of cash and that the private sector is investing as well.  All of this could well add up to the future of higher education — if anyone can figure out how to make money.  Currently Udacity seems to be the most interesting model.  They have invested $15 million dollars in a partnership with the American Council on Education (ACE).  The program will offer coursewares on campus at a fee.  San Jose State University will jointly offer three $150 courses with Udacity, in a trial run enrolling 300 students. Three of the four Udacity courses ACE will evaluate are introductory math classes created at San Jose State. The fourth is Udacity’s introduction to computer science.

This debate may pl;ay out more rapidly in poorer countries where the cost of maintaining a research university is prohibitive. It is hard to imagine that students in developing countries will choose to borrow and pay $ 50,000  to invest in a prestigious training and then get jobs that do not generate enough revenues to cover their tuition debts.  Is this really all that different in Washington State?

Online curse work is attractive to legislators because the investment is small.  Our own legislature approved WGU .. an online school that supposedly functions with NO faculty yet gives Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees!  WGU accomplishes this (if it workl at all) by paying coaches .. into subject experts .. who coach students in how to uses the online materials. The fantasy here is that a coach can replace a professor who knows her subject.

A quote I found from a student in Columbia is interesting,

“To study at home without a teacher in front takes time, discipline. …public universities in Latin America are difficult to access, in terms of cognitive abilities. Entering a private institution, however, can be easier, but you need the economic capacity enabling afford.  In a conventional model of education, you might think that those with more resources can be paid the most prestigious universities and I think the model could be played online as well. In the region, for someone who has resources, he would either connect to the internet and continue his/her education, or attend the best private institution in Colombia, “

So, back to my comments about Moody’s.  If prestigious coursewares are being offered via the web, why shouldn’t the UW be a part of that market.  If we can market the Huskies, why can’t we market our faculty?

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