In the Future, the Cost of Education Will Be Zero

In the Future, the Cost of Education Will Be Zero
July 24th, 2009 | by Josh Catone

The average cost of yearly tuition at a private, four-year college in the US this year was $25,143, and for public schools, students could expect to pay $6,585 on average for the 2008-09 school year, according to the College Board. That was up 5.9% and 6.4% respectively over the previous year, which is well ahead of the national average rate of inflation. What that means is that for many people, college is out of reach financially. But what if social media tools would allow the cost of an education to drop nearly all the way down to zero?

Of course, quality education will always have costs involved — professors and other experts need to be compensated for their time and efforts, for example, and certain disciplines require expensive, specialized equipment to train students (i.e., you can’t learn to be a surgeon without access to an operating theater). However, social media can drastically reduce much of the overhead involved with higher education — such as administrative costs and even the campus itself — and open source or reusable and adaptive learning materials can drive costs down even further.

The University of the People
One vision for the school of the future comes from the United Nations. Founded this year by the UN’s Global Alliance for Information and Communication Technology and Development (GAID), the University of the People is a not-for-profit institution that aims to offer higher education opportunities to people who generally couldn’t afford it by leveraging social media technologies and ideas.

The school is a one hundred percent online institution, and utilizes open source courseware and peer-to-peer learning to deliver information to students without charging tuition. There are some costs, however. Students must pay an application fee (though the idea is to accept everyone who applies that has a high school diploma and speaks English), and when they’re ready, students must pay to take tests, which they are required to pass in order to continue their education. All fees are set on a sliding scale based on the student’s country of origin, and never exceed $100.

Right now, the University only teaches two courses, information technology and business administration, which school founder Shai Reshef says are the two most useful degrees for finding a job around the world. Of course, the school is not yet accredited and can’t yet confer degrees, but applying for proper accreditation is planned.

Each week, students log onto to the school’s web site to attend a lecture, following which they can discuss the subject matter with other students (asynchronously due to time differences), download course materials, get help from other students or volunteer professors, or take tests to advance to the next course unit. Tests will be automatically graded, or peer-reviewed by multiple other students.

“It’s not for everyone,” said Reshef at an education event earlier this year. “You need to know English, you need to have a computer… our assumption [is that the students will be from] the upper end of the lower class or the lower end of the middle class… it’s people who almost made it… who could have been at the university but missed their chance.”

The administration of US President Barack Obama is reportedly also considering the merits of establishing a free online university. According to draft discussion documents obtained by Inside Higher Ed in June, the administration has had high level discussions about creating courses aimed at community college attendees that would be delivered online for free. According to the report, the government is considering a $50 million per year budget to “pay for (and own) courses that would be free for all, as well as setting up a system to assess learning in those courses.”

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Comment by Kristy Martin on March 21, 2010 at 8:19pm
This is one way of keeping everyone who wants to learn to study for a cheap price. this kind of social media tools lets everyone continue on their dream.

Kristy Martin
social media marketing

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