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Employer Needs Drive Online Higher Education Revolution

Posted on February 21, 2013

Where will your company turn in 20 years for new college-educated hires, and courses for incumbent employees? Your local campus?

Agarawal edxMany experts put the odds below 50-50 that you will come anywhere near an ivy-covered hall for your educational needs.  Higher education is facing the same kind of technology-driven disruptive change that has overtaken other information-based industries such as newspapers, bookstores and video rental. The talk in the field revolves around alternative business models and innovative delivery systems, from new competitors, individual institutions, and consortia such as Cambridge-based edX.

Employers, in fact, are at the center of this change. The established higher education model has been unable to keep pace with employers’ programmatic needs, or to provide sufficient flexibility in terms of timing and location. It also tends to be pretty expensive. Today’s career-oriented undergraduates, and especially older “nontraditional” students, are attuned to these issues.  It’s hard to imagine a more “traditional” college student than Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel ” yet “Johnny Football” is reportedly taking all his Texas A&M courses online this semester.

The headlines focus on elite private research universities going online, but they may actually be among the least affect by the disruption. The larger impact, one expert notes, will be on less prestigious institutions that “face disintermediation in their existing relationships among employers and students.”  With the number of high school graduates dropping in Massachusetts and the northeast, these comprehensive campuses will be hard-pressed to fill their classrooms by attracting more “nontraditional” and graduate students.

That’s what is so important about edX, which began with MIT and Harvard, now includes major state universities (UC-Berkeley, Texas), and is bringing in community colleges (Bunker Hill, Mass Bay).

And that’s why AIM’s March 15 Executive Forum with Anand Agarwal, President of edX, should be of interest to all employers. It’s not just about the future of one of our state’s key economic sectors and resources, or about a tradition-bound industry moving towards a new business model ” it’s about new opportunities for employers and employees in an increasingly competitive knowledge-based economy.