Today’s issue of Politico features an excellent Op-Ed by Education Secretary Arne Duncan. I’m not sure how long it will be online so I’ve cut and pasted it below. You can read the whole thing in its original form here.
Moving college into the 21st century
By: Sec. Arne Duncan
October 1, 2009 05:04 AM EST
At many turning points in our nation’s history, forward-looking presidents have made bold investments in higher education that have paid dividends for generations to come. In the midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act, granting federal land to states for the establishment of colleges and universities. In the final months of World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the GI Bill, providing veterans with access to a college education and setting the stage for America to lead the world in college attendance and graduation. President Harry S. Truman supported the expansion of community colleges – now a vital set of higher education institutions that provide a bridge between high school and college and a place for adults seeking new work-force opportunities. Because of the combined foresight of these presidents, the United States has the most diverse and the best system of higher education in the world.
Today, we’ve reached another turning point. The global economy is changing, and the United States needs to educate its way to a better economy for the 21st century. President Barack Obama has set a goal that by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. To reach that goal, we need to bring 5 million more Americans into higher education and ensure that future generations will have the same opportunity for a college education and success in the work force.
The president has proposed a comprehensive agenda to keep a college education within reach, especially for America’s poorest families, and to dramatically increase college graduation rates in the next decade. President Obama’s agenda includes the largest increase in federal financial aid since the GI Bill – a 30 percent increase in fiscal 2010 alone. In addition, the president’s American Graduation Initiative would provide $12 billion more during the next 10 years to improve community colleges and help students gain access to higher education and ensure that they earn their degrees.
Beyond these investments in our future, one part of the AGI has the potential to have a lasting impact on the future of higher education: The president is proposing to invest $500 million over the next 10 years to create world-class online college and high school courses that will be available to all 24/7/365. Colleges, universities, publishers, other institutions and related consortia will be invited to compete to create state-of-the-art online courses that combine high-quality subject matter expertise with the latest advances in cognitive and computer sciences. Such courses will enable students to move through the material at their own pace. When students do not understand a particular lesson or concept, carefully designed assessments will identify the gap in their learning. They’ll relearn the material and have another chance to demonstrate mastery.
Such an open-source, easily accessible system of robust courses will produce the most profound equalization of access to cutting-edge knowledge and information since the creation of the public library. We will see the creation of new companies, perhaps even entirely new industries, situated squarely in the knowledge sector, which is so crucial to our national and global economic success.
Colleges and universities will be responsible for deciding whether to grant college credit if students demonstrate that they have mastered the content and skills of these courses. Some may want to offer credit in proctored testing centers as a way to accelerate student learning and accommodate more students. College professors may use an entire course, or portions of it, to enrich their classes. The Department of Defense may offer the courses to military personnel worldwide. Some motivated students will seek access to the free courses on their own, simply to discover their potential or to prepare themselves to re-enter the higher education system.
Successful completion of these courses may even encourage students to continue or complete educational paths they did not know they could master. By opening up the digital doorway to the best online higher education and high school courses available, we will provide millions of Americans with the knowledge and skills they need to advance their education and succeed in our global society. As history has taught us time and again, everyone wins when we invest in the future of higher education.
In the decades to come, the best outcome of all may well occur when the students who benefited from these free, open-learning resources become the next generation of American leaders. Millions will remember how they were helped to learn and advance toward a better life; that is something people rarely forget. It is a story they are likely to share with their children and their grandchildren – about how an American president saw a challenge and turned it into an opportunity for all.
Arne Duncan is secretary of education.