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Can we afford technically exceptional higher education?

September 25, 2013 03:12 PM


I blogged a few weeks’ ago about the challenges President Obama articulated on his recent education tour. His proposed initiatives to make higher education more affordable and better at equipping students with the knowledge and skills they need for meaningful 21st century employment got my attention for two reasons: First, because I believe firmly that innovating the ways in which we deliver and price education is central to universities’ ability to turn a quality education into an investment. Second, because the concept sounded so much like LPTETM:

As Optimos defines it, LPTETMis the antithesis of the government’s low price, technically acceptable (LPTA) procurement evaluation criteria. Essentially, who wants to provide – or pay for – ‘acceptable’ services and solutions because they happen to cost the least?

I asked Dr. Nariman Farvardin, president of my alma mater, Stevens Institute of Technology, if he would share his thoughts with our readers on how colleges and universities can be accessible and affordable, while delivering a technically exceptional education.

Dr. Farvardin joined Stevens in 2011 after 27 years at the University of Maryland, where he most recently was the university’s senior vice president for academic affairs and provost. Previously, he was professor of computer and electrical engineering, served as chaired the Department of Computer and Electrical Engineering, and was dean of the A. James Clark School of Engineering.

I’m delighted to welcome Dr. Farvardin to Optimos blog!

~ Lisa


Innovating Higher Education’s Future

When introducing a series of initiatives aimed at making college education more affordable, President Obama referred to higher education as “the single most important investment students can make in their own futures.”

The president does not overstate the importance of a college education to a young person’s future. On average, college graduates earn one million dollars more over a lifetime than high school graduates.

Making higher education accessible to as many students as possible and ensuring its value are goals that we as a society must embrace. A college education has become America’s most effective ladder to the middle class, unlocking opportunities for students across the socioeconomic spectrum that would not be available otherwise.

As critical as the issue of affordability is, however, this perspective misses an equally important part of the college equation: outcomes. As President Obama correctly states, a college education is an investment. It is therefore imperative to also consider the return on investment.

At Stevens Institute of Technology, we place a strong emphasis on the value and return on investment in the education we offer, and that ROI has skyrocketed. Stevens ranks third in the nation with graduates’ gross cumulative earnings at $1.46 million above the cost of their Bachelor’s degree after 30 years in the workforce, according to PayScale. 

In addition to optimizing ROI, Stevens is making deliberate efforts to hold down the cost of tuition increases. We have reduced the rate of increase to just 3 percent for the last two years.  Moreover, 93 percent of Stevens’ students receive financial aid to offset the cost of education. 

It is an understatement to describe this period in the history of higher education as one of great transition. New opportunities afforded by emerging technologies such as massive open online courses (MOOCs), the different learning styles and requirements of “digital natives,” increased employer expectations, and many other societal and economic forces exert an unprecedented degree of pressure on the higher education industry.

Institutions that emerge stronger during this period of dramatic change will be those that adopt an innovation mindset, those that make higher education accessible, affordable, efficient, and effective. This is an imperative, both to provide opportunities for an increasingly diverse pool of potential college students, and for the value—economic and otherwise—that higher education brings to a vibrant economy and a free and progressive society. 

Innovation is needed in this critical time in higher education. The Harvard- and MIT-led edX initiative, Georgia Tech’s $7,000 computer science master’s program, and widespread experimentation with MOOCs are some high-profile examples of such innovation in our sector. Employing new technologies is just one component of the innovation necessary to make higher education more effective, more efficient and more accessible for a more diverse group of learners. Beyond technology solutions, however, the models used to deliver disciplinary and liberal learning, as well as employer-valued “transcendent skills” —communication, collaboration, and problem-solving to name a few—must be continually examined to ensure that higher education’s “products” remain both grounded in relevant disciplinary knowledge and adaptive to our dynamic society.

Thankfully, there is no one-size-fits-all solution in higher education. The future of our industry will comprise adaptive and agile institutions that provide value to a diverse range of students in flexible and affordable modes.

President Obama has eyed an issue intimately linked to the long-term outlook of our nation, matched by the complexity of the solution required to address it. An approach that recognizes the potential of technology and the benefits of a traditional college experience – while avoiding crude, superficial measurements – will lead us in a direction to provide more educational options to more people.

Dr. Nariman Farvardin is the president of Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J.





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