Colleges will have to fully embrace online education to keep up with students’ changing tastes or be left behind, the head of the LSU System told the Press Club of Baton Rouge on Monday.
Interim System President William Jenkins also said the university’s hospital system is in the uncomfortable position of having to court private partners to stay afloat at a time when state funding for uninsured care has been slashed.
The LSU System includes the $3.5 billion network of four university campuses, a law school, two medical schools, 10 hospitals and dozens of outpatient medical clinics across Louisiana. Roughly 70 percent of Louisiana’s doctors were trained in the LSU system.
“We have to provide the medical skills to medical students, but we need a hospital to do it. The question is do we have to manage the hospital,” Jenkins asked. “It’s not an easy process to close one.”
Jenkins said it is unlikely any hospitals would be closed, but he didn’t completely rule closures out should LSU have trouble finding private partners.
The university needs to cut between $40 million and $50 million as part of Jindal’s plans to close an $859 million hole in the state Medicaid budget prompted by declines in federal support.
“How are we going to care for uninsured patients?” Jenkins asked. “We’ve got to find a source of dollars to do that.”
State health chief Bruce Greenstein characterized the state’s hospital woes as a debate over whether to expand Medicaid, the federal government’s health care program for the poor.
“Expanding Medicaid to cover half the state’s population is not a recipe for success,” Greenstein said later in the day.
LSU should find ways to operate more efficiently, added Greenstein, secretary of the state Department of Health and Hospitals.
Bobby Yarborough, a member of the LSU Board of Supervisors, agreed that LSU needs to modernize.
“We’re taking steps to bring in a consultant to bring us to a 21st-century model,” Yarborough said Monday night.
On higher education, Jenkins said the familiar model of students sitting in classrooms several days per week and spending four or five years on campus before graduating will become a rarity because of the growing influence of online education. There will be an “absolute tectonic shift in higher education as you and I knew it because technology is going to play such a major role,” Jenkins said.
Students in the near future may “attend” four or five universities in pursuit of one degree as their options to take online courses increase, he said.
LSU, which offers about 270 online courses, will have to expand those offerings in order to compete for students, he said, especially as a number of high-profile schools have launched Internet-based classes.
Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have collaborated on Edx, a free nonprofit learning platform, while two Stanford computer scientists created Coursera, a for-profit company offering hundreds of online courses.
Coursera has partnered with more than a dozen schools including Princeton University, the University of Michigan, Duke University and Johns Hopkins University.
A 2011 Sloan Foundation survey found that the number of college students taking one or more online courses has exceeded 6 million and nearly one-third of all higher education students are taking at least one online course.
Students are going to demand the convenience of online education and will judge individual institutions on online course availability and how easily those credits can be transferred between schools, Jenkins said.
One drawback to the increase in online courses, Jenkins predicted, will be the loss of personal relationships among students.
“I’m very worried about students losing the ability to develop interpersonal skills, being able to read nonverbal signals and the ability to work well in groups,” Jenkins said.
In the near future, LSU and other large research institutions will fare better than smaller schools because of their reputations, endowments and larger pools of private donors, Jenkins said.
But declining state funds means attracting students will continue to be a concern for Baton Rouge administrators, he said, noting that LSU has 12 recruiters, including two in Houston and one in Dallas, while the University of Alabama has 42 recruiters working in 15 states “who are ruthless and relentless as is their football coach,” Jenkins said.
Since 2008, Gov. Bobby Jindal and the state Legislature have cut more than $420 million from higher education — including $66 million this year — to balance the state budget.