Throwing Students to the Corporations

These days, it seems like we can do anything online — we can shop, socialize and even date via the Internet. Not to be outdone, higher education has also hopped aboard the information superhighway. Blackboard, an educational software company, and K12, a company that allows students to attend kindergarten through high school online, have announced that, starting next year they’ll design remedial online courses taught by K12 instructors and will be sold to community colleges. And while many accredited online universities like Kaplan and the University of Phoenix have found massive success in offering online education and fulfill a certain niche, it’s dangerous to blur the line between them and public community colleges. Outsourcing tech-support might cut corporations’ costs, but the only thing that will be cut when outsourcing college courses to corporations will be the quality of education. This is the first time a private educational company will attempt to package and sell an entire course, instead of just the facilitating software.

Blackboard and K12 decided to create these classes to help students “catch up,” basing their curriculum off the assumption that community college professors “are not there to teach high school English and math.” But these reasons are exactly why community colleges shouldn’t reach out to the private sector. If students are struggling with remedial English and math, according to King’s College School of Education, a sole reliance on online education is “seriously flawed in principle because [it does] not encompass a consideration of learning issues.”

It’s true that Blackboard and K12’s new class system could eliminate some of the stress community colleges face with remedial students. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 42 percent of students at community colleges must take at least one remedial class; with such a large percentage of community college students taking remedial courses, it’s not hard to see why a community college would want to take the stress of designing curriculum and providing such classes off the table. It’d save the colleges both time and money to outsource their remedial students to the Blackboard’s open arms, but it’s not as straightforward as outsourcing tech-support to India. We’re dealing with higher education. When creating systems for something as valuable as education, our community colleges shouldn’t pass the buck to private companies for the sake of convenience.

The students signing up for remedial courses are the students that need more personalized attention than the run-of-the-mill college co-ed. They’re not taking remedial classes because they want to impress with “relevant coursework” — they’re taking it because they need extra help. By eliminating personalized instruction and ignoring different learning styles, Blackboard and K12 are creating a one-size-fits-all solution for a problem that comes in infinite shapes and sizes. By outsourcing their remedial classes to Blackboard and K12, community colleges are eliminating the individual attention, office hours and varied explanations that only a human can provide.

Another glaring problem our community colleges must take into consideration is that Blackboard and K12 are private companies, and as such, their primary motivation is their own pocketbooks. It’s a conflict of interest for Blackboard and K12 to be selling both an education and the course texts. When a college puts an entire course in the hands of a private company, the private company has a complete monopoly on the materials the students need to buy. Instead of perusing various used bookstores and www.Half.com for the cheapest textbooks, students could be forced to buy books that are only distributed by the company, at any price the company chooses.

When assessing whether community colleges should join forces with Blackboard and K12, they need to remember their end goal: to give the highest possible quality education to every student that passes through their doors. While it might be more convenient in the short run to ship students off to money-hungry private corporations, in the long run, the priorities must lie in ensuring the best education they can provide — by any means necessary.

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