I have written numerous articles about best practices for educators to use when teaching adult students, and I have enjoyed conversations that have begun as a result of comments posted. Several of the comments that have been written in response to my articles have discussed aspects of higher education that seem to be broken or in need of repair. I understand those perspectives and I have respect for anyone who wants to discuss important issues in this field. For example, I have read many articles recently about adjuncts, especially online adjuncts, related to issues concerning pay, course size, and job security. I know that the for-profit online school industry has come under great scrutiny. In contrast, there is a non-profit online school that is gaining popularity by offering competency-based degree programs resembling correspondence-based courses.
If you aren’t familiar with the original concept of a correspondence course, it was popular in the 1970s and usually consisted of a participant being mailed study materials and a test or assessment that had to be completed and mailed back in. There may have been lectures to watch on public television at a particular time of day as part of the program. Once the requirements were met, a certificate of completion was mailed. I have spoken with several people who have completed degrees with the non-profit online school mentioned above and the reason why I compare it to a correspondence course is that it is possible to complete classes without ever having to interact with an instructor. The only requirement for course completion is to pass a final assessment, with a pass or fail option in place of a grade, and the passing grade is often set with a percentage as low as 55%, which is a failing grade for most traditional colleges.
With all of the issues surrounding the field of higher education, the question then becomes: Is it possible to still earn a degree, one that holds value for students? More importantly, is it possible to measure the true value of a degree in higher education? I believe the answer begins with a matter of purpose and by that, I mean schools should be working to ensure that educational programs and courses are designed with a specific purpose and completed for a specific purpose by the students. Educators should also see this as a matter of importance as they develop their instructional strategies and work with students in the classroom. It may sound too idealistic and improbable to implement; however, there is something that every educator can do to ensure that their students are working towards this goal of purposeful-driven education. What I will focus on is the educator’s perspective and strategies that can increase value for students.
My Experience in Higher Education
While working for one of the larger for-profit online schools, students stated to me hundreds of times in their introductions that once they completed their associate’s degree they would be able to purchase a new house, new car, and earn a six-figure income. I do not know if that was their belief when they began their degree program, and I do not want to blame anyone if that wasn’t their initial belief; however, students need to have realistic expectations. For these students, a degree was almost like a lottery ticket to a better life. While they were not really certain how that transformation was supposed to occur, they were convinced that it would happen upon graduation.
I can also share an example of my own continuing education. I enrolled in a traditional MBA program as I was planning to relocate and I knew that I was going to start my own small business as a consultant and writer. I also knew that historically a MBA graduate was highly-sought after; however, that has changed over time. Obtaining a MBA no longer guaranteed a certain job or career. What I acquired after graduation was a knowledge base that would inform my small business practice, help develop my business acumen, and continue to inform my teaching practice.