My Journey: Can Education Happen Entirely Online?

After my freshman year of college at Virginia Tech (VT), I seriously contemplated dropping out. Today, I am a graduate student and the biggest promoter of higher education you will ever meet.I remember sitting in one of our massive lecture halls among 400+ students and saying to myself: “This is a waste of my time. I could learn more by watching a 12-minute video from a world-renowned expert on” Little did I know, the same world-experts were only a few steps away on our campus, waiting and willing to engage curious and passionate students; it would just take the right courses to find them.

In the summer following my freshman year, I told my mom, “I don’t think I’m going back to college in the Fall. I am not learning anything and I am not inspired.” Throughout my life, my parents recognized my need for autonomy and compelling curiosity, so they did little to redirect and stifle my path. However, this situation was different. My mother’s look demonstrated that I’d be giving college another try. I did, and I couldn’t be more thankful because that sophomore year changed my entire life direction.

I met world-renowned faculty, learned about the make-a-difference research occurring across the campus, and find my life’s purpose in education.

My Fear

Only a few nights ago, I heard someone say, “A degree is a piece of paper, nothing more.” Originally outraged by the comment, I came to learn more than 380,000 individuals taking classes online in degree-granting programs at the University of Phoenix probably share her philosophy. Many have questioned the value of higher education.

Products vs. Social Goods

For-profit colleges and universities are devaluing the entire industry of education. When asked about the benefits and costs of privatization, Dr. Jim Hawdon, Director of the Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention at VT, said it best:

Businesses are good at developing products and maximizing profit. But when it comes to delivering public goods, they fail. That’s not what businesses do.

Although education is classified as a quasi-public good, I firmly believe it’s not an industry with the goal of maximizing profit. If students are only paying for a product (i.e., a degree), then the creative and engaging learning process (involving inspiration, mentorship, faculty collaboration) will be cut out to reduce costs. I believe the value of higher education is in the interpersonal connections and processes that allow students to cultivate divergent thinking skills and creative abilities, develop content knowledge, and produce an unknown and surprising career path.

For me, a swarm of caring professors and administrators, applied research, and real-world experiences in student organizations would facilitate life-long friendships and a passion for making a large-scale difference with applied science. None of this could have happened with an entirely online education.


~ by shanemccarty on February 25, 2013.

One Response to “My Journey: Can Education Happen Entirely Online?”

  1. You articulated quite concisely some things I have been contemplating for some time…especially the point about education is not about maximizing profit.

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