Mark Twain said, "Cauliflower is just cabbage with a college education."
In Twain's day, going to college usually meant packing your bags and heading off to a four-year institution of higher learning. Turning cabbage into cauliflower required lots of time away from home.
Going to College...
without leaving home
All of that is changing now, thanks to the internet. Now, "going to college" has a whole new meaning. The "going" is gone and the college is in cyberspace. There are whole new online universities being built like castles in the air. A student can get a college degree without even backing out of the driveway.
Home correspondence courses have been around ever since the Pony Express, but the internet has raised the game to an Olympic level.
Would you like a master's degree to qualify you for a higher position? It's available online. Need a nursing degree? You can get it through your keyboard.. Always wanted an MBA? It's just a series of mouse clicks away.
In an effort to raise Indiana's sagging college graduation rate, a few years ago Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels partnered the state with Western Governor's University. Describing itself as an "online competency-based university," WGU offers 50 bachelor's and master's programs. Virtually every course can be taken through a home computer. Imagine getting your entire college education without changing out of your pajamas.
Many other schools offer similar programs.
Goodbye to ivy-covered Gothic towers, so long to fraternities and sororities, farewell to pep rallies and cokes at the campus club. A student conducting a college search today may discover that there's no place like home.
Internet college courses are convenient, economical, and good for the environment. Think of all the gasoline saved by students not required to drive to campus to fight for parking spaces. Imagine all of the energy preserved by not heating and cooling classroom spaces. Consider the wonderful accessibility of it all. The internet college is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. No longer must students juggle work schedules to match course times. They can go to class at 3:00 am just as easily as 3:00 pm.
If it sounds almost too good to be true, perhaps it is. The rapid growth of internet education has its share of critics. Some are calling it the "fast foodization" of higher education. They say colleges are shrinking requirements to fit neatly into the bandwidth of a fiber optics cable. They accuse the schools of issuing "drive-by diplomas."
The critics raise valid points. In the pursuit of speed and convenience, are we losing something? Is a college education simply the accumulation of credit hours? Is taking a college class just a matter of getting a ticket punched and moving on?
What is the college experience supposed to be, anyway?
In an alumni newsletter, former Butler University President Bobby Fong talked about the "value-added" aspects of a college education. He endorsed the campus life, saying that "making friends, especially with those who come from different viewpoints and cultural backgrounds, is crucial to what it means to grow into tolerance, generosity and hospitality, to become an expansive human being."
Many will argue that a college degree should represent values expressed over a century ago by William DeWitt Hyde, the president of Bowdoin College: "To be at home in all lands and ages; To count Nature a familiar acquaintance, and art an intimate friend; To gain a standard for the appreciation of others' work, and the criticism of your own; To carry the keys of the world's library in your pocket, and feel its resources behind you in whatever task you undertake; To make hosts of friends who are leaders in all walks of life; To lose yourself in generous enthusiasms and cooperate with others for the common end. This is the offer of the college for the best four years of your life."
One might wonder how much of this "offer" is available to a student flying solo in cyberspace. Without other people in the equation, without their conversation, without their diversity, without their witness of one's own learning, a college degree is printed on pretty thin paper.
Make no mistake. There is a place for the convenience and accessibility of internet classes. However, for a complete education, let's not totally take the "go" out of going to college.