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Tue, Jul

Dr. Dre, USC Among Those Disrupting Online Education

DC DISPATCH--(First in a Series on Higher Education) Some Sunday mornings, it seems like The New York Times has a window into my daily thoughts.

Just recently, I read an article by Alina Tugend,entitled, “The 60-year Curriculum.” This engaging piece referred to a “new way of thinking about higher education.” It provides a roadmap for professionals well past their traditional college years. In effect, Tugend outlined how college-and-beyond programs are now being disrupted, largely by Internet offerings. (Photo above Dr. Dre and Iovine at USC.) 

The story couldn’t have come at a better time for me, as I am searching for practical ways to continue my education. I've always believed that continuing education is vital and rejuvenating. It keeps a professional up to date on current trends; increases salary potential; offers access to opportunities and new technologies; and allows for exposure to new perspectives and processes. But, although I'm fully aware of these advantages, I've still been hesitant to pursue continuing education, wondering whether it would really be a viable option. 

A quick examination of various Ph.D. programs indicated that the commitment required is simply not practical for people like me. For example, one program would require me to teach for two years, and while it includes a stipend, it wasn’t enough to replace full-time work. 

In the midst of this deliberation, I recalled Ms. Tugend’s piece stating, "… the 60-year curriculum, which is more an evolving model than a concrete program, is primarily taking shape in the continuing education arm of universities, to develop a higher education model that is much more nimble. It needs to respond quickly to the reality that employees now change jobs and careers many times and that rapidly evolving industries require them to continually learn new skills." I personally identified with her observations, especially the mention of online options that would allow me to continue current projects and not relocate across the country. 

If I'm honest, I have to say I had some real bias against online-vs-campus options. Many others no doubt share my view, lumping most of the Internet programs into the same bucket as certain controversial and even unscrupulous schools. However, it turns out that many of America's premier universities including Harvard, Yale, Georgetown, Rice, UNC, Vanderbilt, Pepperdine, and my very own beloved alma mater, USC, have robust course offerings online. These are top-tier institutions whose graduates command competitive salaries. 

Access to and delivery of higher education has certainly evolved. Tuition can be a barrier to entry but most online programs still qualify for federal financial aid. Moreover, the idea of being able to remain in place and continue working during the programs creates new options and possibilities. 

Even better, the classes have evolved well beyond the "live stream the lecture" days, with interaction, the ability to ask questions, and even interactive study groups. I’m glad universities are starting to realize education isn’t “one size fits all” anymore. Students come from all different kinds of backgrounds and need different offerings from schools to meet their education needs. For me, being able to continue with my current projects at my current location are a whole new ballgame. 

My current favorite offering is at USC’s Iovine and Young Academy , where Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young (aka Dr. Dre) have collaborated on a Master of Science in integrated design, business, and technology. But 2U has a number of short-course learning options available. Courses like “MIT Sloan Business Artificial Intelligence: Implications for Business Strategy” might freshen up my resume while also increasing the old brainpower. 

From a writing standpoint, several offer the sort of background I can apply to coverage areas – hey, you'd be surprised how much sources love it when a writer knows something about the subject area – such as "Fintech Disruptions in Finance" offered online by the University of Cape Town in South Africa. 

Education today is being disrupted by the possibilities new technologies bring, much as we are seeing disruptive change in the task industry--how we do our grocery shopping and how we receive our media. The early days of point-and-shoot are giving way to sophisticated applications. Frankly, it's a little embarrassing not to have realized this before, because of course the online world would extend to higher education. 

There has been some media coverage explaining the transformation, pointing out that the tech partners only do the tech, not the education, which they leave to the schools. In a 2018 staff-written story, Forbes reported on a Maryland-based company that provides much of USC's online content. Forbes noted that "... by avoiding any notion of being an academic institution, 2U has positioned itself as a white-label software-and-services firm with a blue-chip client base. Its graduate offerings are in fields with strong job prospects. Besides UNC, 2U has offerings with schools including Yale, NYU, UC Berkeley, Tufts, Northwestern and Vanderbilt." 

To which I, of course, thought: Really? 

The trick for those top schools, at least for folks like me, will be to remember that some of us have become a bit skeptical after seeing a wild, wild west of online diploma mills, controversies tied to a certain college tied to a certain Commander-in-Chief, and other high-profile scams. To see these top-tier schools in the online-education world takes a bit of getting used to. 

But, hey, when you partner with Dr. Dre (USC Iovine & Young Academy), you're bound to disrupt something.

 

(Sara Corcoran writes DC Dispatch and covers the nation’s capital from Washington for CityWatch. She is the Publisher of the California and National Courts Monitor and contributes to Daily Koz and other important news publications.)

-cw