The Bane of a Residential College
I was somewhat bemused by this comment on MITx (the free and open-access online course offerings that MIT is now making available to tens of thousands around the world) made by the chair of faculty of MIT, Samuel Allen, in a piece he wrote for the MIT Faculty Newsletter. Allen sees the critical issues regarding the program in this way:
A major question about the potential impact of MITx is this: If MITx is wildly successful, what is the future of the residential education experience that has been our mode of teaching for MIT’s entire history? If students can master course materials online for free (or for a modest “credentialing” fee), what incentives would there be for anyone to invest in an expensive residential college education? In short, what will be the “added value” of a residential education that will justify a residential student’s financial investment?
Or, as Steve Kolowich succinctly summarized for a story for Insi
deHigherEd, the looming question for MIT faculty and administrators is: “What if MITx is too successful?” Put that way, this reminds me of the time a relative of mine went to the U.S. Post Office to purchase a large quantity of stamps and the clerk said that he couldn't process the order because he would then be out of stamps ans so would be rendered incapable of providing stamps to other customers. I guess some people feel that they must avoid success like the plague.
In one sense, I think that both faculty and administrators are right to be concerned that a model similar to MITx would prove “too successful,” that is, rendering the residential college model to be, at least for a sizable proportion of students, largely obsolete. After all, the interests of the faculty and administrators are intertwined within the very educational model that MITx conceivably could supplant. While potential students the world over are rejoicing at the opportunity to receive high quality offerings at a dramatically lower price and thus would love to see MITx become “too successful,” the higher ed establishment is understandably a little shaken.