After teaching in classrooms ranging from community colleges to for-profit institutions, I can identify a common thread that reaches all sectors of higher education: There are many learning needs and challenges. As we face a world that is becoming smaller through globalization, emerging socioeconomic needs come to the gates of the Ivory Tower. Challenges with disruptive students and students perusing Facebook in class on the U’s FREE wireless internet are no longer the ‘superstar’ topics of conversation among faculty. Rather, the face of higher education is changing, and rapidly.
With the boom of for-profit college institutions over the past 10 years, the world of higher education faced new challenges and questioned the sectors quality of education, instructors, and curriculum. While I believe there are problems needing to be addressed in the for-profit and land grant or private university sectors, significant changes have been made internally and politically that brought sweeping change to the face of for-profit education. Gainful Employment requires for-profit career education based programs to prove they are preparing their students for ‘gainful employment’ in a recognized and employable career occupation. Schools who fail to meet these regulations risk losing access to federal student aid.
In addition to the Gainful Employment legislation that the Obama Administration supports, a portion of students are suing the institutions for falsely misleading them about the validity of the program, accreditation validity, and deceptive admissions processes. While for-profit institutions are under the lens among students and legislators, a different area of university based learning has taken over the university coffee shop roundtable: Open Courseware.
The basis of an ‘open courseware’ platform is to offer an individual or general community access to curricular university classes where faculty and instructors publish entire or parts of their curriculum. One could say the moral purpose of open courseware is to give free educational access of materials to any individual who seeks or has a desire to learn. Essentially, an individual not enrolled in a post-secondary institution gains access to knowledge and resources which essentially could give individuals, or even entire communities, the ability to seek education and higher learning enfranchasied from socioeconomic restrictions. Ivy League schools, such as MIT’s OpenCourseWare, Yale’s Open Yale Courses, Harvard’s Extension School Open Learning Initiative historically have spurred the open courseware moral purpose initiative among higher education. Of course, we cannot leave out the hallmark of consortium open courseware technology, Apple’s iTunes U.
As an educator, I can acknowledge arguments that the open courseware philosophy contributes to the idea that institutionally, higher education no longer is the sole distribution of knowledge and thereby, becoming an alternative to seeking such knowledge. In layman’s terms, one could humorously say, the Ivory Tower is becoming increasingly less important in society and therefore so are our jobs. Well, hindsight is always 20/20. However, we as the ‘Ivory Tower’ are also addressing a very important civic need, giving access to education for those who have none. Common knowledge will historically show countries with solid educational roots generally have citizens who are considered more tolerant, participate in civic engagement, and maintain higher living standards in comparison to countries with a weak or nominal education level. In the United States, we have people who, depending on their socioeconomic status may never have the opportunity to attend a university or pursue higher education. If we do not open a door or even attempt to reculture the ‘gatekeeper’ perspective within higher education, I feel the long-term effects on our culture would be detrimental.