Suppose someone gave you a home where the buffalo roam. You'd be concerned that you'd be depriving yourself of the benefits typically associated with more populous areas. You'd be concerned that, should you find it necessary to ehance your marketability by pursuing additional education, you'd be hard put to find a place to do so.
With the advent of online higher education, however, a professional certificate or degree is only an Internet connection away. Such anyway is what folks in The Mount Rushmore State are coming to discover. "More and more students are getting degrees from South Dakota public universities without ever stepping foot on the six traditional college campuses," reports an October 22, 2011 Argus Leader article. "Enrollment in online courses and at the state's three university centers is up from five years ago, according to a study released recently to the Board of Regents."
The South Dakotans piling into online courses fit the profile of the typical distance learner. Specifically, these scholars are:
Burgeoning enrollment in online course has led to an incipient parallel system of education, with one track consisting of familiar residential higher learning, and the other of online and other distance-learning instructional delivery modalities."'It's a separate market, but a growing one," observes a South Dakota distance learning expert about online education. "'A working adult really does need the convenience and flexibility that distance education provides.'"
The experience in South Dakota certainly lends force to the arguments of distance learning higher-education champion. One such champion – and a rather high profile one at that – is Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida and younger brother to former president George W. Bush. In a October 6, 2011 Inside Higher Ed opinion piece, Bush and co-author Jim Hunt make an appeal for the two-track higher educational system coalescing in South Dakota and elsewhere. They wish not only that it continue, but that it become the dominant model for 21st century postsecondary education.
Bush and Hunt cite as Exhibit A in the case the altered circumstances of the modern university student. They write that "the vast majority of today’s students ... are financially independent; 34 percent work full-time; and 25 percent have dependents of their own." These factors make distance learning a no-brainer when it comes to serving this market segment's educational needs. "Online degree programs would allow these students, and countless others, to take classes at their convenience while earning a degree from a program with the same admission and graduation requirements as their on-campus counterparts."
Bush and Hunt thus call for immediate and rapid implementation across the postsecondary-education board, particulary by state universities, which are characteristically ponderous, bureaucracy-burdened behemoths slow to incoropate any innovations into their operations. "The technology is available to make this vision a reality now," they proclaim, "and it should be adopted by public colleges and universities so that they can survive and thrive in the short term, while increasing access and revenue, as they take steps to address the other issues they face."
A video clip of an interview with former Governor Bush elaborates on the vision Hunt and he present in their Inside Higher Ed opinion piece.
Bush's optimism is certainly infectious. He depicts a market-driven higher-education culture that wrings the best out of student and instructors and returns a fair bit of coin to investors and significant stakeholders. Of course, "the market solution" can often prove quite caustic, dissolving the best and worst elements of those practices and institutions that once stood outside commercial exchange relations. The fact that Bush and Hunt want to march into the market state institutions, many of which are land-grant and tax-exempt, should give most people of good will pause, because the end result would be a de facto, if indeed not de jure, privatization of public institutions. All the techno-utopian razzmatazz of Bush's rhetoric ultimately serves only to conceal his true object, i.e., the privatization of public resources, or, to use the hoary old activist jargon, a little bit of old-fashioned primitive accumulation.