WILL UNWOUND #394: “Rave Thursday – In Praise of the On-Line Society”March 24, 2011
Have you noticed lately that the trend seems to be to evaluate higher education from a cost benefit standpoint? It wasn’t always like that. In the not too distant past, a college education was seen as inherently good for the individual and good for society. The individual benefited from developing the mental tools needed to read critically, think analytically, and write clearly and precisely. Society benefited from the development of an informed citizenry capable of making prudent democratic decisions. No one thought to put a price tag on those benefits.
Now the operative phrase is “return on investment.” That’s a huge problem because looked at from a strictly financial standpoint, the return on investment for most college majors is not at all impressive. The job market for new college graduates hasn’t been this bad since the Great Depression, and to make matters worse while wages are down and jobs are scarce, tuition is rising ever more sharply.
Looked at in that light, it probably makes sense that families are questioning the wisdom of going into serious debt to send their high school graduates on to college. My guess is that in the next ten years, on-line education will become more and more popular because of the savings in time, tuition, transportation, and room and board. Eventually, I see it spreading to the high schools as a cost savings feature.
I have already predicted that because of the aggressiveness of the San Jose LIS school to go 100% online that the traditional face to face LIS programs will fall by the wayside. There is no compelling reason why this will not happen to most undergraduate programs of study especially in the liberal arts. The colleges that go most aggressively into the on-line marketplace will have a much better chance of surviving the triple whammy of declining enrollments, rising tuitions, and diminishing governmental subsidies. Ditto for high school districts.
Like it or not, and I like some aspects and not others, we are becoming an online society. I see this when my retirement program stops sending monthly statements in the mail, when the utility company gives a price break with on-line payments, and when many of the books I want to purchase are now only available to me on-line. The litany of basic services that have gone from snail mail or person to person to online is growing every week.
What does all this bode for libraries? I have predicted that a generation of librarians trained in on-line LIS programs will be more predisposed to offering services on-line, but what about students? What will on-line students in high schools and colleges demand in the way of services from their school, public, and academic libraries?
The revolution in education is just beginning. Are libraries prepared? What say you, Unwinders?