This month I attended three graduation ceremonies. I’ve never been much impressed with graduation celebrations. I never attended any of my own and have thought of these as “take-it-or-leave it” occasions when grown adults parade around in medieval dresses and goofy hats. This time, however I began to see the sense of closure and affirmation that graduations give to so many people, the feelings of accomplishments and reasons for thanksgiving. I came away from these gatherings with less cynicism and more appreciation for the rituals that mark healthy turning points in our lives.
But the graduation ceremonies were reminders of my recent reading about the new directions that education and training programs must take if they are to survive and thrive. The costs of traditional on-campus programs are soaring. This kind of education is becoming available only for the wealthy or for those willing to incur huge debt from student loans. Dire but probably accurate forecasts predict that many colleges and seminaries will be forced to close in the coming decade. In response to all this, low quality but less-expensive on-line universities have appeared to offer degrees that don’t qualify graduates to enter professions, pass licensing exams or transfer their credits to quality training programs. Increasingly, on-line courses are offered that are unaccredited, lack student interaction with one’s peers or professors, and often involve nothing more than passive viewing of pre-recorded tapes followed by multiple-choice tests.
Nevertheless there is good news. The better educational institutions and professional training programs are making changes to provide accredited, quality off-campus programs where learners interact with one another and have contact with their instructors. Skill-development courses are taught in local communities, often supplemented by internships or short-term, face-to-face, modular training. This lacks the growth possibilities that come from dorm-living and late-night discussions. But there may be few alternatives. Like the music and publishing industries before it, education may be facing a change-or-die situation. In order to survive and retain quality, degree granting institutions and even continuing education for professionals must change. But the future is bright for those who face reality and actively embrace the possibilities of new technologies and fresh ways to learn. Undoubtedly we’ll even find ways to retain significant graduation experiences.
What do you think? Please comment.