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Look out Residential Colleges: The Ivy Gates Just Opened Wide

by Carol Barash, PhD, on Nov 21, 2012 9:43:00 AM

If you are applying to college this year, wake up and pay attention: the landscape of higher education just shifted, especially for residential colleges.

With the launch of Semester Online, higher education is altered permanently with online learning—and not just in the US. Imagine: you are a committed young activist who wants to spend time working on water rights in Africa. You can take your courses online, while at the same time doing the real world work that makes you excited to get up in the morning. Or you are a student who needs to work to be able to afford college in the first place: that daunting task just got a whole lot easier. And very soon you will not need to live on a physical campus to get an absolutely world-class education from the smartest and most engaging professors living today. 

One thing I know for sure: today’s students are infinitely creative and entrepreneurial: if they don’t need to be physically present at Vanderbilt to take Vanderbilt’s hottest course, they will take it somewhere else, for credit at another university altogether. If they are no longer limited by the courses in one college’s catalog, they won’t be. If they can study political theory with the world’s expert in the morning, and hang out with their kids in the afternoon, they will—and everyone wins. Students will optimize “college” as the best combination of courses they can build into meaningful work and life opportunities at the most competitive price they can find. They are smart and demanding, and they will keep pushing universities to change.

Not just course lists, but core assumptions about what constitutes “college” burst wide open with the launch of Semester Online, which Forbes described as “solv[ing] the US education problem”:

  • Students have expanded opportunities for blending school and work, so the financial burden of college can be mitigated.
  • Free to take courses anywhere, students can choose whether they want to pay for bricks and mortar. BTW, all that money that was pumped into fancy campus amenities over the past 20 years suddenly seems very 20th century.
  • And professors won’t be tethered to a single campus either. They can teach from the places where they do their research and bring a much wider group of students in touch with that research, improving everyone’s learning.

What will matter, more and more, in an actual physical campus are not the physical advantages but the interpersonal ones: the opportunities for collaboration, expansion, and the types of creative group work that still happen best in person. The great colleges of the next generation will be the ones that provide their students with the widest learning networks, the broadest access to the best courses and professors, and the most ample physical and intellectual travel to learn in ways that are grounded in solving the big challenges we have in front of us as interconnected countries and human beings.

Fasten your seat belts earthlings; the changes have just begun!

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Topics:college admission