Though the week's headlines have been dominated by the approach of Hurricane Irene to the U.S. eastern seaboard, it appears that private sector colleges and universities (PSCUs) face a storm of their own, which comes in the form declining enrollment and with it declining revenues.
"New-student enrollments have plunged -- in some cases by more than 45% -- in recent months," reports an August 23, 2011 Wall Street Journal article. Owing to this decline are reforms career colleges made internally to their recruiting practices, which many deemed inordinately aggressive, and stiff competition from community colleges, which many prospective PSCU students regard as offering better value.
This enrollment decline has done little to dampen optimism with respect to one area in which PSCUs hold a distinct advantage: online education. An August 25, 2011 New York Times article reports that "a host of new online enterprises are making earning a college degree cheaper, faster and flexible enough to take work experience into account. As Wikipedia upended the encyclopedia industry and iTunes changed the music business, these businesses have the potential to change higher education."
The dismal economic situation in which the U.S. finds itself has added to the attractiveness of online higher education. "[M]ost experts agree that given the exploding technologies, cuts to university budgets and the expanding universe of people expected to earn postsecondary degrees," the New York Times article continues, "there is no end in sight for newfangled programs preparing students for careers in high-demand areas like business, computer science, health care and criminal justice."
Also significantly adding to the attractiveness of online higher education are skyrocketing university tuition rates and the burgeoning student-loan amounts necessary to pay them. If online instruction truly offers a more cost-effective alternative to residential higher education, you can expect prospective students to move in droves to the latter, especially in light of the fact that finishing college debt-free seems to have become the primary goal of many of them. "Graduating from college with little to no debt is possible," an August 25, 2011 Credit.com article reports.
Achieving an education does not have to be a financial burden, as it is unfortunately proving to be for so many Americans. We all deserve an education, but we also deserve to give ourselves the best possible solutions for achieving and affording that education. Your degree should give you an advantage in your career and financial life, not set you back.
Education should indeed be considered a right, not a privilege -- and this should hold regardless of whether you choose to study health informatics or project management. As the higher-education sector gropes toward this realization we can expect many bumps along the way. The task is, however, to avoid discouragement. Rome wasn't built in a day, nor will be any radically egalitarian techno-edutopia.