When American educators can say, "A degree in X means a graduate has mastered the following things," then it shouldn't matter how a person got a degree or where. That will make it possible for many more people to earn degrees, especially online.
The worth of a college degree is often challenged. The latest examples? "The Social Network" biopic about college dropout and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and the offer of PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel to give $100,000 to young "geniuses" not to go to college.
But one look at the unemployment rate for college graduates versus that for people with only a high school degree tells a different story.
College may be a waste of time and money for the one-in-a-million genius, but for everyone else, a college degree has never been more necessary – and more difficult to achieve.
American higher education is failing the country. It produces far too few college graduates (only about a third of young Americans go to college; even fewer graduate). That feeds a worrisome gap in income equality, and creates an ever-growing underclass – and jobless class – that is unprepared for an economy that demands postsecondary education.
One solution: Educators can make today's colleges and universities more productive and accessible if they think of them as a connected whole. On a small scale, for example, agreeing on even basic learning outcomes for majors and courses can cut down on "wasted" credits from transfers, save students millions of dollars, and bring more timely graduation.