Two of the most visible and important trends in higher education today are its exploding costs and the rapid expansion of online learning. Could the growth in online courses slow the rising cost of college and help solve the crisis of affordability? In this short and incisive book, William G. Bowen, one of the foremost experts on the intersection of education and economics, explains why, despite his earlier skepticism, he now believes technology has the potential to help rein in costs without negatively affecting student learning. As a former president of Princeton University, an economist, and author of many books on education, including the acclaimed bestseller The Shape of the River, Bowen speaks with unique expertise on the subject.
Surveying the dizzying array of new technology-based teaching and learning initiatives, including the highly publicized emergence of “massive open online courses” (MOOCs), Bowen argues that such technologies could transform traditional higher education—allowing it at last to curb rising costs by increasing productivity, while preserving quality and protecting core values. But the challenges, which are organizational and philosophical as much as technological, are daunting. They include providing hard evidence of whether online education is cost-effective in various settings, rethinking the governance and decision-making structures of higher education, and developing customizable technological platforms. Yet, Bowen remains optimistic that the potential payoff is great.
Based on the 2012 Tanner Lectures on Human Values, delivered at Stanford University, the book includes responses from Stanford president John Hennessy, Harvard University psychologist Howard Gardner, Columbia University literature professor Andrew Delbanco, and Coursera cofounder Daphne Koller.
Awards and Recognition
- One of The Times Higher Education Supplement’s Books of the Year 2014, chosen by Steven Schwartz
"Higher Education in the Digital Age, frames the current and coming debates instead of answering questions about the future of online learning. . . . Bowen worries online learning will leave students behind or that the solutions dreamed up at elite institutions will not work in a country with a higher education system that bears no great resemblance to the classes in Cambridge. . . . Bowen also predicts coming debates about faculty governance and intellectual property as faculty members team up to teach courses or use an online course from another institution to aid them in their own classrooms."—Ry Rivard, Inside Higher Ed
"Higher Education in the Digital Age is an elegant exposition of old-fashioned, gentlemanly and humane views and values, couched in concerns about the value of new educational technologies and their pedagogical and economic potential. It is worth reading for its beautiful prose and for its clear commitment to the continuing importance of teaching and pedagogy in higher education."—Miriam E. David, Times Higher Education
"[Bowen] describes approaches to online learning, distinguishes the difference between useful and unnecessary educational practices, and encourages an evidence-based introduction to technology. Critical of unfounded attacks on digital learning, Bowen urges practitioners and critics to preserve the broad goals of education: developing values and upholding personal responsibility. This thoughtful analysis is complemented and expanded upon by responses from authoritative educators; extensive notes provide further exploration and valuable references. . . . Highly recommended to educators and all who care about preserving the best characteristics of our higher education system."—Elizabeth Hayford, Library Journal
"Bowen's thought provoking book should be required reading for anyone having a stake in our educational future."—Rich Lewine, NACADA Journal
"Higher Education in the Digital Age is peppered with research findings and data and is a timely examination of a problem and its possible solution from a highly regarded educator and economist who has served on the front lines."—Ray Bert, Civil Engineering
"This is a blessedly measured book. . . . After sifting the 'literally thousands' of studies on online learning, including his own, here's Bowen's takeaway: true across socio-economic lines. MOOCs don't transform education. But they don't harm it either."—Katharine Whittemore, Boston Globe
"[A]s an introduction to the assumptions that underwrite many of the decisions that shape higher education today, this is an important book. . . . Higher Education in the Digital Age makes visible a perspective that all of us with investments in the societal value of education need to grapple with, a language we need to understand in order to engage in the contemporary conversation about the future of higher education."—Bonnie Stewart, British Journal of Educational Technology
"Bowen presents the content logically and creates easy-to-follow metaphors to explain the economic principles addressed."—Viktoria Phillips, NACAC Review
"Bowen supports his key points with much detail and many citations. . . . Overall, this book is well-organized, with engaging arguments on a variety of points."—Susan Zvacek, Teacher Scholar
"Higher Education in the Digital Age remains an engaging and informative text, one that is well worth reading, if for nothing else than the wealth of resources it provides on technology's penetration of higher education."—Derek Briton, CAUT Bulletin
"One of the few places where the information revolution has not improved productivity or reduced costs is higher education, but that is all about to change with the rise of online learning. The former president of Princeton explains how education will and should change in the face of these huge technological wins. Conversational in tone and full of wisdom, this is a great book."—Fareed Zakaria GPS Book of the Week
"William G. Bowen shows once again in this book why he is one of our nation's most astute sages of higher education. His insights on the 'cost disease' facing higher education and how online education and massive open online courses (MOOCs) can contribute to a solution are fascinating, prescient, and transformative."—Michael Schill, dean of University of Chicago Law School
"This book has been of great value to me. It offers a comprehensive and visionary perspective on the important issue of technology in higher education, and it stands above everything else written on the topic. Major change is coming and it would be a grave mistake for us to assume that elite liberal arts colleges can be bystanders in this revolution. William G. Bowen continues to be a wonderful teacher."—Dan Weiss, president of Lafayette College and president-elect of Haverford College
"This is a timely and extremely important contribution to the discussion of rising college costs and the expansion of online learning. No one is better qualified than William G. Bowen to discuss these developments, as he is a recognized expert on the cost of higher education and he has devoted considerable time in recent years to studying the pedagogical and economic potential of highly interactive online learning. Substantive yet accessible, this book should generate great interest, not just within the higher education community but also among policymakers. Few writers on education, if any, can match Bowen's engaging prose and insightful analysis."—William E. Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland
"Ours is a time of excitement sometimes bordering on hysteria about the two central topics of William G. Bowen's book: the cost and productivity of higher education. To these issues, Bowen brings deep experience, strong convictions, and considerable optimism about the future. These are, to say the least, difficult subjects for universities, but real solutions require frank and open discussion. Bowen's clarity and directness provide just the tone that is needed. This book should prove highly influential and give rise to a great deal of discussion and no doubt some controversy. It's hard to imagine a better framework for introducing the discussion to a broader audience than the one Bowen provides here."—Michael McPherson, president of the Spencer Foundation and former president of Macalester College
"A slim and highly readable volumne. . . . The collection of voices provides a thoughtful and provocative discussion of the emergence of online education."—Richard D. Kahlenberg