Coming in from the Cold

The  ongoing consolidation of the online higher education system, especially in the for-profit sector, is one of the most important developments in the last twenty years.  Yet, like the emergence of the internet in the early to mid 1990’s, it remains almost completely invisible in the mainstream– I am tempted to say lamestream— media.  I think it’s under-reported even in the education media.

There’s a lot to be concerned about the emerging online system– arguably, the most transformative development of the internet so far– yet the emergence of the new institutions seems to be happening without much public discussion, much less scrutiny.  The discussion that is going on, such as in Inside Higher Ed (“Going Off on Online Rankings“) seems so lost in the trees that it never considers the forest.

The U.S. News and World Report’s rankings of online schools are significant because they signal the first stages in the maturation of the online industry, led by for-profits, but increasingly joined by public schools. The final shape of the system– it’s ratio of for and not for profit institutions– has yet to be determined, mostly because the online system so radically widens the pool of potential students.

We need answers or at least a debate. Will the new system make life-long learning a practical reality? It’s not a part of  the Republican or Democrat deadbeats’ agendas, but ironically that absence  may signal its significance.  Just as importantly, is this emerging system going to reproduce the traditional system’s exploitative labor policies,  massive debt, and alienating mass consumption?

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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