Colleges squeeze out middle-class

High-priced private colleges are “feeling the heat but not ready to compete,” writes Tom VanderArk in the Huffington Post.  Middle-class parents won’t to pay $50,000 a year for a second- or third-tier college when they can turn to do-it-yourself learning alternatives, which are improving all the time.

Vander Ark predicts higher education will become “a blend of online and onsite learning and a blend of multiple providers.” School will become “a web of cloud-based applications delivered to multiple devices with ancillary physical services.” Only the best bricks-and-mortar colleges and universities will survive.

Western Governors University, an online collaborative, pioneered using competencies rather than seat time in 1995.  “WGU was ahead of its time, but individual progress models will soon be common in K-12 and will eventually infiltrate higher education as online learning continues to grow.”

While the U.S. has some excellent, highly selective colleges and universities, we’ve been coasting, Vander Ark writes.

Most students pay too much, get too little, and half drop out. For students being priced out of the market, there are a growing number of cheap or free alternatives and many are personal digital learning options.

Students also can cut college costs by earning credits in high school through AP courses and dual enrollment in community colleges.

After high school, a student can attend a community college for about $2,400 per year — about one third of a public four year and about one tenth the cost of a private four year university. The bad news is that a small minority graduate and go on to a four year degree. After spending the summer attacking private colleges (that on average have higher two-year completion rates), it was good to see the White House focus on the terrible completion rate of community colleges in a summit hosted by Dr. Jill Biden.

New online colleges offer “a freshman year for about $1000 plus textbooks,” but low-cost college credits aren’t always transferable.  Private colleges don’t want to collect less tuition. State universities may not take transfer credits either.

“If you run a college and don’t have a ‘better and cheaper’ agenda, you’re going out of business,” VanderArk concludes.

Family Tree is drawn by my friend and former colleague, Signe Wilkinson.

About Joanne


  1. Joanne, it is frustrating to click on “comments” and find that there are only trackbacks. Would you consider leaving these out, or perhaps putting them on the post itself rather than in the comments section?

  2. In addition to my private comments, put me down publicly as annoyed with the misleading “comment” count.

  3. The U.S. Department of Education recently conducted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that suggests the Dept of Ed will severely restrict access to various federal loan and grant programs to students attending career colleges. Unlike state-owned public institutions and private, not-for-profit colleges, career colleges operate on a for-profit basis.

  4. Well, because of the Obama administration, soon college will only be government-run for the near-elite students, and Ivy League private for the elite students again, like the ‘old days’. Middle class and lower adults need not apply, and they’ll be told they didn’t deserve the alternatives, either, which will no longer exist.


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