On the heels of the passage of a historic tax increase to cover deficits in the California higher education system, the UC system is apparently already warning that they may need to raise tuition again. In response, Governor Jerry Brown has called for action and discussion about rising tuition costs, and in particular, to discuss how getting more aggressive with online education might help the cost situation. The Los Angeles Times characterized it this way:
"In order to meet the needs going forward without constant large tuition increases, there will have to be different ways in which people learn and people teach," Brown said.
He told the regents -- and they quickly agreed -- to invite industry leaders in free online education, such as the Udacity website, to the January meeting to discuss how UC can more aggressively get into the digital classroom.
Brown said he wanted those talks to be "not in the gilded tones of academia but in the harsh reality of the marketplace and technologies."
In response this call, the 20 Million Minds Foundation is sponsoring a conversation about controlling rising costs while maintaining (or improving) quality in the California public higher education systems from 9 AM to 2 PM Pacific Time on Tuesday, January 8th. More information, including the full agenda and the webcast sign-up form, can be found on the home page of 20mm.org.
This event has the potential to be impactful for a variety of reasons. First, the folks who are organizing the event were directly involved with California's new law to fund the creation of 50 open textbooks for higher education. Their involvement by itself means it is likely to be an interesting event. Second, it comes at a critical moment in California's funding situation. Something has to change. Third, it's California. What happens there matters, both because the state is so big and because it has been a model for quality public higher education. Californians still have a great deal of civic pride invested in that idea of themselves (which may be why Governor Brown was able to pass the tax increase). And finally, with the MOOC hype at its apex, previously unthinkable technology-driven changes to large, conservative prestige schools are suddenly not only thinkable but positively trendy.
It turns out that e-Literate will have its own little part in this grand drama. Our very own Phil Hill will be both a speaker and the moderator of several panels. I will have the privilege of participating on one of the panels. Never having been at an event like this before, I will be fascinated to see how it all plays out. Obviously, various folks will be coming with different agendas. From my personal perspective, while I'm not a big believer in the role of the "harsh reality of the marketplace" as a driver for educational policy, I do think the harsh reality of student debt burdens should motivate a sense of urgency. And I think there is a huge opportunity for a long overdue rethink of how we approach education. Fellow panelist Candace Thille from CMU's OLI has said it well:
“Rather than using information technology to mimic or scale typical classroom teaching methods, I hope the participants will begin to discuss how to use emerging technologies to effectively re-engineer the teaching and learning process as a whole. We have the opportunity to address large-scale societal issues in higher education while simultaneously making progress in our fundamental understanding of human learning.
Another issue we need to address is balancing institutional competition and collaboration. Many higher education pundits believe that the competitive nature of American higher education is a key reason that many American research universities are the best in the world. However, pursuing innovation in teaching and in education research are areas in which, I believe, we can make progress more rapidly through a better balance between competition and large-scale collaboration.”
If the conversation can get beyond a zero-sum political tug-of-war between disruptive xMOOC companies and traditional academic institutions to a genuine dialog about new possibilities, then this could turn out to be a big deal. But as I said, I've never been to anything like this before and I'm frankly not sure what to expect. It will be interesting.