American colleges and universities are continuously challenged to increase access to higher education, improve the quality of student learning, and control or reduce the rising cost of instruction.
These challenges are interrelated. As tuition costs continue to rise, access is curtailed. When high failure rates prevent students from successfully completing courses and programs, promises of increased access become hollow.
Solutions to these challenges appear to be interrelated as well. Historically, either improving quality or increasing access has meant increasing costs. Reducing costs, in turn, has meant cutting quality, access, or both.
In order to sustain higher education's vitality while serving a growing and increasingly diverse student body, it must find a way to resolve this familiar-and seemingly intractable-trade-off between cost and quality.
Many colleges and universities are discovering exciting new ways of using information technology to enhance teaching and learning and to extend access to new populations of students. For most institutions, however, new technologies represent a black hole of additional expense.
Many campuses have simply bolted new technologies onto an existing set of physical facilities, a faculty already in place, and an unaltered concept of classroom instruction.
Under these circumstances, technology becomes part of the problem of rising costs rather than part of the solution. By and large, colleges and universities have not yet begun to realize the promise of technology to improve the quality of student learning, increase retention, and reduce the costs of instruction.
The National Center for Academic Transformation (NCAT) has created a verified course redesign method that addresses these issues. Partnering with 30 institutions* and supported by an $8.8 million grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts, NCAT has demonstrated how colleges and universities can redesign their instructional approaches using information technology to achieve greater learning success and cost savings.
The course-redesign projects focus on large-enrollment, introductory courses that reach significant student numbers. Lowering costs in these courses can generate substantial savings. These courses are targeted because undergraduate enrollments in the United States concentrate in only a few academic areas. In fact, just 25 courses generate about 50% of student enrollment at the community college level and about 35% of enrollment at the baccalaureate level.
The insight that these figures point to is simple and compelling: To have a significant impact on large numbers of students, an institution should concentrate on redesigning the 25 courses in which most students are enrolled instead of putting a lot of energy into technology investments in disparate small-enrollment courses. By making improvements in a restricted number of large-enrollment courses, a college or university can literally affect every student who attends.
NCAT offers persuasive data that shows how course redesign using information technology can offer a broad solution to higher education's historic cost/quality trade-off. Specifically, NCAT's redesign methodology can address higher education's primary challenges: enhancing quality, improving retention, expanding access, and increasing institutional capacity.
*The 30 institutions include research universities, comprehensive universities, private colleges, and community colleges in all regions of the United States.