Expanding Access To Disappointment

Reihan thinks that massive open online course (MOOCs) may be “the logical culmination” of two trends in higher education:

At the same time that the higher education sector is taking on tougher-to-teach students, it has aimed to use labor less intensively. Elite liberal arts colleges that offered a great deal of personal attention and hand-holding gave rise to large land grant universities that offered somewhat less personal attention and hand-holding. State schools, in turn, gave rise to community colleges, which offer still less of both, which in turn left room for for-profit higher education institutions that eagerly recruit students with minimal preparation for college-level coursework while offering them hardly any personal attention or hand-holding at all. With each step, higher education has in a sense become more inclusive. Yet with each step, the institutions in question also see a higher attrition rate.

By way of illustration, consider the four-year and six-year graduation rates at a few California colleges and universities.

For students who entered Stanford University, one of America’s most prestigious and selective research universities, in the fall of 2005, 79 percent graduated in four years while 96 percent graduated in six. At highly-selective but public UCLA, the numbers were 68 percent in four year and 90 percent in six. At Cal State Northridge, a considerably less-selective land grant public institution, 13 percent graduated in four years and 46 percent graduated in six. Pierce College, a community college located in California’s diverse San Fernando Valley, had a 23 percent graduation rate over three years for its associate’s degree program, and 13 percent succeeded in transferring to four-year colleges. The for-profit University of Phoenix of Southern California, which prides itself on its accessibility, had a four-year graduation rate of 2 percent and a six-year graduation rate of 15 percent. You get the picture.

More Dish on MOOCs here, here, here, and here.