Saturday, March 30, 2013

Why high schools will be the next major innovators in higher education

Nearly all of the press about innovation in higher ed is focused on technology firms--Coursera, or any of the many other MOOC providers, for example, or new low-cost online institutions like the University of the People.  But if I was looking for the business sector best situated to innovate on cost and quality in higher education, I would look to high schools, not high tech.

Three reasons why:

  1. High schools already have means to get their students college credit. Whether it be via AP, IB, Cambridge exams, CLEP, or concurrent enrollment, a large proportion of high schools in the US make it possible for their students to earn low-cost, transferable college credit.  And as those programs expand, the cadre of high school teachers prepared to support college-level learning grows as well.
  2. High school teachers, on the whole, have more training and experience in supporting student learning than do college faculty. (This is in fact one of the major lessons of MOOCs--that in very large, impersonal, online college courses, most students fail to complete.)  As the demographics of college-goers change, it will be high schools and their teachers more than universities and their faculties,who  are prepared to ensure their success.
  3. High schools, particularly independent high schools, have both market opportunity and the need to innovate here.  Independent, private, and parochial high schools charge tuition to their students. They are also widely perceived to be better schools than public high schools. But while their tuitions are generally lower than college tuition, and their value propositions stronger than public high schools,  they struggle to enroll and retain students.  If independent high schools built out their college-credit opportunities, though, they would both strengthen their value propositions and  reduce the overall cost of education to their students.
All of these points suggest that high schools should expand access to college credit with an eye towards offering their students a complete general education before moving on to college.  Doing so, most reasonably through the creation of a 13th year of pre-college coursework, would strengthen their market position, take advantage of their strengths, and make it possible for their graduates to move more directly to graduation from college. In turn, students would have greater access to less-expensive, rigorous, and well-supported college-level courses, and the credits that go along with them.

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