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
William G. Bowen is president emeritus of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and Princeton University and founding chairman of ITHAKA, a nonprofit dedicated to sustainably integrating technology into scholarly research and teaching. He is the author or coauthor of many books, including the acclaimed best seller The Shape of the River, Crossing the Finish Line, and Lessons Learned (all Princeton). Kevin M. Guthrie is president of ITHAKA.
"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