The year just concluded was an interesting one for education, particularly with the increasing interest in distance learning and how it might transform higher education across the country.
Technology paved the way not only for a host of new, free online college courses, but also made digital textbooks possible in classrooms across the country and at all levels of education.
Here are some of the top stories in education from 2012, culled from news articles on U.S. News University Directory and other media sources.
Rise of the MOOCs in Distance Learning
Massive Open Online Courses took off in 2012, with many major universities joining forces to create cooperative ventures that offer online classes for free. Harvard and MIT launched EdX, later adding Georgetown and the University of Texas. Coursera, founded by two former Stanford professors, includes Columbia, Duke University and Princeton. Udacity is another major player. But while millions have signed up for classes, completion rates remain low. Another issue: who will find a way to monetize MOOCs?
The Fight For Women’s Education Gains Ground Amid Bloodshed
Worldwide, more than 32 million girls are denied access to schools that are open to men. One of the leading advocates for equality in education – 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan – was shot on her way home from school in October. She is now recovering in a hospital in Britain, and Pakistan has vowed to open schools to all children by 2014.
Paper Textbooks Go the Way of the Buggy Whip
Within a few years, regular textbooks will have all but disappeared. Students from elementary school age to college seniors are increasingly using digital textbooks in class. Arne Duncan told the National Press Club in October, “Over the next few years, textbooks should become obsolete.”
Apple already leads the pack with textbooks for iPad that incorporate rich media such as video, photos and graphics as well as text. Amazon, Google and Microsoft are also working on tablets that can be used in the classroom.
Cheating Scandals Across the Country
The most notorious cheating scandal came from Harvard, mostly because it is Harvard. A suspected 125 students cooperated on coming up with answers on a take-home final, submitting identical answers in some cases and others that were close enough to one another that it raised a red flag for school officials. Meanwhile, Air Force cadets were accused of cheating on an online calculus exam and at the high school level, students in New York City were texting test answers to one another. Even school officials were caught – in El Paso, Texas, education administrators were accused of keeping low-scoring students from taking standardized tests in order to prop up schools’ overall scores.
Congress Comes After For-Profit Colleges
After a report from Congress found some for-profit colleges were charging too much and offering a substandard education, some schools took steps. The University of Phoenix, for example, created a mandatory three-week orientation class that allows potential new students time to think through their decision to enroll. It’s unclear what if any action will be taken at the federal level.
Student Debt Reaches All-Time High
A study by the Pew Center found that 20% of American households have student debt, the largest number in history, while the average debt load for graduate college students reached $26,500. Still, other numbers indicated attaining a degree is still worthwhile in terms of job prospects. The latest numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) show the unemployment rate for those with a bachelor’s degree or higher is 3.8%, less than half the level of those without a college degree.