While watching the annual Gates Postsecondary Education Convening from afar via twitter, I am struck by the apparent absence of discussion about several core underlying issues keeping more students from succeeding in earning college degrees.
We cannot increase the success of undergraduates from disadvantaged backgrounds without ensuring that they are safe, healthy, and ready to learn. Food insecurity is a growing problem in higher education, as revealed by institutional surveys, and hopefully soon tracked by national data (I'm working on it).
Idea #1: Institute a free/reduced price breakfast and lunch program at all public colleges and universities where at least 1 in 3 students receives a Pell Grant.
Far too many of today's faculty are ill-equipped to teach the students of tomorrow. The focus on research has trumped the emphasis on high-quality teaching even at institutions with no research mission.
Idea #2: Make teaching a priority in public higher education.
a. Require that all new hires have teaching experience of some kind.
b. Require a pedagogical talk in the hiring process.
c. Require bi-annual professional development credits.
There is a well-known and very basic resource problem in higher education. The fewest dollars flow to the neediest students. Per student spending of about $6000 in community colleges is a travesty.
Idea #3: Focus funding where it can do the most good. Require that all states receiving any Title IV financial aid maintain adequate per-student spending at their community colleges. Based this on appropriate adequacy funding studies done by state.
None of these answers involve technology, I know. None speak to "quality" because I do not think the evidence on declining quality is solid-- the demographic changes in higher education have collided with the redefining process, and thus it is far from clear that reformers are saying anything more than "these students" aren't as good as yesterday's.
Without three these reforms in place, I don't think the technological solutions constitute anything more than tinkering towards utopia, and any efforts to cut costs could do more harm than good.