GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP - Can a college degree earned on an iPad be as good as one earned in the Ivy League?
Yes, and maybe even better, Anya Kamenetz, 30, author of "Generation Debt" and "DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education" told an audience of faculty and students at Richard Stockton College on Tuesday. She said the accessibility, cost and quality of higher education must change to meet the demands of a growing global population.
"I believe we are at a tipping point," she said, citing reduced state aid and mounting student debt at a time when most jobs that provide a middle class living wage require a college degree.
Her proposed solution is a more innovative use of resources ranging from YouTube to the Open Courseware Consortium to give students more options.
How might that work?
Rather than assigning a term paper, a professor has students write Wikipedia entries on Latin American authors not represented in the online encyclopedia. Those articles are then peer-reviewed by users of the site.
A publisher makes the online edition of a textbook available for free to read, but charges for downloads or printouts.
A group of students from anywhere who want to learn about something get together online and develop their own program.
"We are going from one path to many paths," Kamenetz said. "You can design your own path."
Online learning has been growing, and students clearly want options. Thomas Edison College, the state's public "college without walls," had a 65 percent increase in enrollment between 2004 and 2009, from 11,000 to more than 18,200 students, the largest increase of any state college. The state also offers online college courses through the New Jersey Virtual University.
Faculty and students attending the talk raised issues of time, technology and interest. A student asked if college students are motivated enough to develop their own programs, saying he knows students who wouldn't get anything done if they didn't have to actually show up for class.
"Self-motivation is central," Kamenetz said. "DIY U puts more demands on learners."
Questions ranged from the intellectual property rights of academic materials to student access to technology, and how a student might actually put together an accredited degree program from a range of different sources and experiences.
Stockton Provost Harvey Kesselman said he invited Kamenetz because he wants everyone at the college to think more about how to deliver education beyond the traditional classroom.
"This is still in the formative stage for us," he said. "That's why we brought her here."
The college just completed a $65 million Campus Center and is reviewing bids for a new Science Center. Kesselman said brick and mortar buildings will remain an integral part of college for thousands of students, but providing other options can help control costs and give students more access.
"We don't admit as many students as we'd like to because we don't have the room," he said. "How can we give students more opportunity? What is the role of the faculty in making that happen?"
Kamenetz began her talk by noting that the model for higher education has changed little since scholars taught from scrolls in cathedrals. Colleges replaced cathedrals, but today the students themselves can be the cathedral.
"We learn because we want to," she said. "The cathedral is in us."
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