Artificial Intelligence, Artificial Savings

Education reformers often point to technology as a way to reduce college costs. Last year Bill Gates, for instance, said that “college, except for the parties, needs to be less place-based.” Technology and web-based instruction could make college a lot cheaper, he promised.

Well it turns out college is becoming less “place-based,” but it’s not getting any cheaper. Some schools are really eager to use that fancy new technology, but they don’t use it to reduce college costs. According to an article by Steve Kolowich in Inside Higher Ed:

Online education has enabled many colleges to transition into the prevailing modern medium while adding new sources of revenue in times of scarcity, according to the Ithaka report, [“Barriers to Adoption of Online Learning Systems in U.S. Higher Education,” was co-written by Lawrence S. Bacow and William G. Bowen]. However, these innovative colleges have shown less interest in using the novel medium to curb tuition charges and measure learning outcomes.

Their objective was to assess the potential roadblocks that might prevent these traditional institutions from adopting sophisticated, “machine guided” learning tools into their curriculums. Technology designed to usher students through new material is thought likely to play a significant role in the future of higher education, although critics have worried that relying too heavily on such technology could harm learning.

Bacow and Bowen predict that many colleges will begin to use artificial intelligence programs to teach students in coming years, but there’s not much indication that’s going to cause prices to fall.

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They come to this conclusion based on academic institutions’ use of current technology like online education. Sure they use it, but they use it mostly as a way to “generate new revenue streams.”

“Very few,” Bacow and Bowen write, “are using either savings from online education or the net incremental revenue to reduce the price of education to students.”

Right, colleges eagerly embrace the new cost saving technology and then, rather than pass the savings to students, they just pocket the difference. And students get less interaction with real professors, but pay the same high prices. [Image via Shutterstock]

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer