Need-to-Know News of the Week: The ‘Student Cliff’, Coursera’s Signature Track and More

In this ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series, I aim to share noteworthy stories with readers that speak of developments within higher education and K-12 that have potential to influence, challenge and/or transform the traditional model of education.

The year has started off with a bang, barely half-way through January, we’ve got three significant developments in higher education that will likely set the tone for 2013. On Tuesday, Coursera presented its money-making proposition, soon after two reports were released with news of declining enrollment numbers, one dubbed the ‘student cliff’, and there was this meeting of numerous education minds to discuss California’s crisis in public higher education.

tumblr_inline_mgcljcjtIO1rrgk3x

Coursera’s Verified Certificate, http://www.coursera.org

1) Coursera: Wants to Make Money in 2013
Coursera has been coy about how it plans to make money; co-founders Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng have not shared a business strategy despite the $22 million invested by venture capitalists (Empson, TechCrunch). This changed on Tuesday; the model starts to take shape.  Coursera revealed Signature Track, a program that will offer Verified Certificates to interested students for a fee [between $30 and $100 per course]. The Signature Track program is a novel concept, outlined in detail on Coursera’s Blog. Here’s an excerpt.

Today, we’re excited to announce Signature Track, a new option that will give students in select classes the opportunity to earn a Verified Certificate for completing their Coursera course. Signature Track securely links your coursework to your identity, allowing you to confidently show the world what you’ve achieved on Coursera.

Signature Track offers:

  • Identity Verification. Create a special profile to link your coursework to your real identity using your photo ID and unique typing pattern.
  • Verified Certificates. Earn official recognition from Universities and Coursera for your accomplishment with a verifiable electronic certificate.
  • Sharable Course Records. Share your electronic course records with employers, educational institutions, or anyone else through a unique, secure URL. 

I find the point about ‘sharable records’ most significant. It appears the student will be able to develop a portfolio of the work completed. This appears similar to the idea of competency-based education models.  Not all Courersa’s university partners have signed up for the program, so far only, Georgia Tech, UCSF, Duke University and University of Illinois.

Further Reading: Coursera and Universities to Offer ‘Verified Certificates’ to Extend Credential Options for Students, Marketwire, Paying for Proof, by Paul Fain, Inside Higher Ed and Would You Pay $100 for a Free Online Course, by Bill Oremus, Slate.

2)  The Student Cliff
Move over fiscal cliff, we’ve got another big problem, fewer college bound students, less tuition dollars which leads us to the ‘student cliff’ (Kiley, Inside Higher Ed).  According to the report released Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education, there is a demographic shift, fewer students within the demographic group that have traditionally gone to college is declining. This change “will force states and institutions to rethink how they do business, putting a greater emphasis on recruitment, retention, and serving new segments of the population”. Click here for article which includes a link to the report.

The U.S. Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics released “Projections of Education Statistics Through 2021 on Wednesday which shared different projections, but does tell a similar story. Post secondary enrolments will grow by 15 percent between 2010 and 2021, but this is far lower than the 46 percent increase that occurred between 1996 and 2010.  This will lead to more pressure on institutions in light of the increasing number of options for degree seeking students. More competition, putting pressure on schools to specialize, show value, and focus on strengths.

3) California Higher Ed Needs a Re:Boot:
California is in crisis mode, at least the Cal State higher education public universities are. The problem is money [at least that appears to be the problem], students can’t get classes to graduate, there is less money from public funds, all causing much angst among students, academic leaders and politicians. This week there was a day long event, a panel discussion, Rebooting California Higher Education sponsored by the Twenty Million Minds Foundation. The purpose of the event was “to raise the awareness and discuss key issues regarding the potential for online education to lower the costs for higher education in California.”

Twenty+Million+Minds+FoundationThe problem is complex, which was apparent by the panel discussion at re:boot event. Though consensus was not the goal, there appears to have been much discussion that was unproductive, as values and ideas about the purpose of education differed greatly. Audrey Watters gives a good overview of the event. Other good reading about the event, Re-booting CA Higher Education: My First Thoughts, Michael Feldstein, e-literate, and Re:Booting California Higher Education – Transcript of Darrell Steinberg Introduction, Phil Hill, e-literate. One of the biggest problems with this issue as I see it, is that online education appears to be the quick fix to the cost problem, and seems to be viewed as a compromise. What is the real problem with higher ed in California? Does anyone really know? It doesn’t seem so.

Closing
We will no doubt be hearing more about these developments and stories over the next few weeks – stay tuned!