If South Carolinians want to remain competitive in the 21st century labor market, we need greater access to higher education, and that means breaking the old, exclusive and expensive pattern of colleges and universities.
Experiments like the University of South Carolina's Palmetto College are a good start. This program will allow students with two years of classroom college credits to finish a bachelor's degree online.
The program will be fairly limited at first, but as it grows, it may represent a more useful future model for higher education.
The current model simply doesn't work well for our collective or individual economic futures. It requires students to compete for limited slots at expensive schools. It limits the number of people who can access higher education, and it makes the cost prohibitive for many.
Colleges are exclusive because they can house only so many students in dorms and in classrooms.
They are expensive because the facilities and faculty are expensive on a per-student basis.
That could change if colleges and universities move to a higher-volume business model that isn't based on residential students.
If students don't have to live on campus, then they and their parents don't have to pay the college for room and board costs, which often equal tuition.
If a college professor can teach 5,000 students through an online class, his salary and expenses can be shared by 5,000 rather than 100, lowering the cost of the class.
The technology needed to enable this class also would be a fraction of the expenses of building and maintaining physical classrooms.
There are some areas of study that would require hands-on personal training, but the more we can use technology to create virtual schools and online classrooms, the more progress we can make in offering higher education opportunities to more people and making those opportunities affordable.
That would allow South Carolina to have a more educated and higher-skilled workforce, which would enable us to better attract businesses, improving our economy.
USC and other state schools should push forward with online learning. The function of these colleges is not to win football games or to reach high rankings in national magazines. It is to prepare South Carolinians and the state's workforce for their economic future.
That future will require much greater access to higher education, and online learning may be the method to accomplish that goal. - By the Herald Journal of Spartanburg