Technology drives change so relentlessly that one day we feel like our feet are planted on terra firma, and the next we feel as if we're treading deep, eddying waters. Former Federal Reserve Board chairman Alan Greenspan didn't title his memoirs of his tenure The Age of Turbulence for nothing. He had, after all, presided over several booms and busts, and he vacated his position just before the housing bubble went pop.
The technology bubble of the late 1990s Greenspan characterized as an effect of "irrational exuberance." And though once stratospherically soaring dotcom stocks came crashing down, it's safe to say that, in the long run, the various products developed in those heady days have left American culture and the economy fundamentally altered, melting all that's seemingly solid into air.
Consider, for instance, these prophetic words from an article in the January 13, 2011 edition of northeastern Louisiana's News Star: "Gone are the days when the majority of students on a university campus enrolled immediately after graduating from high school, lived in a dorm and their only job was to attend class and make good grades."
"Today," the article continues, "the average University of Louisiana System student is 25 years old, works over 20 hours a week, commutes to classes and most likely began his postsecondary education at another institution."
The article is quick to point out that this development is not unique to Bayou State natives.
According to a recent publication by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, nontraditional students are the new tradition. AASCU reports only 16 percent of college students across the country "fit the so-called traditional mold: 18 to 22 years old, financially dependent on parents, in college full-time, living on campus."
Just who fits the profile of the new traditional "nontraditional" student, exactly? The article presents the following hallmarks of this brave new campus presence:
With these unique qualities comes a host of unique demands. Technology, which has contributed to redefining the typical college student profile by virtue of the change it has wrought over the years on the U.S. economy, also stands ready for enlistment with respect to meeting these needs. The watchword is, of course, distance learning, something to which Louisiana's state university system has committed itself wholeheartedly. "University of Louisiana System schools work hard to develop innovative educational delivery mechanisms to help their nontraditional students thrive and achieve degree completion," the article continues.
As a major participant in the Center for Adult Learning in Louisiana, our universities are making it easier for adults who stopped out of college to re-enroll and finish their degrees. The UL System is also the state's leader in distance learning, currently offering more than 70 programs completely online.
Higher-ed nabobs in The Bayou State have the clarity of foresight to appreciate that their collective future fortunes hinge on cultivating an educated population. The more means by which to acquire this education, the better. Louisianans are no strangers to adversity; Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath showed them at their resilient best. It's heartening, then, to see them apply this same can-do attitude to university education. Perhaps soon Louisiana can claim to be home of big brains, as well as home of the Big Easy.