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President Obama is looking for ways to control higher education costs

Some educators see an opportunity to change the way education is being delivered. (AP Photo)

The president is on a bus tour looking for ways to control tuition costs.

One of his ideas is to publish an objective rating system for colleges and basically shame those schools that don’t deliver value for money.

“Bottom line is higher education cannot be a luxury. It’s an economic imperative. Every American family should be able to afford to get it,” says President Obama.

The numbers are pretty scary. For the first time, there are kids entering college whose parents still haven’t paid off their own college debt.

College finances are so bad it’s estimated that within 50 years, half the colleges and universities in the United States will have to close.

That’s where some educators see an opportunity to change the way education is being delivered. People like Stanford professor Daphne Koller, who likes to quote Mark Twain.

“He said that college is a place where professors lecture notes go straight to students lecture notes without passing through the brains of either.”

Daphne Koller is the co-founder of Coursera, a website that provides courses from Stanford and other major universities. Lectures and tests are delivered to thousands of students at once. If you get confused, help is available 24/7.

There might be 100,000 students taking the same course with you so when you post a question, chances are someone out there will be awake and know the answer.

“So in many of our courses, the median response time was 22 minutes,” says co-founder Koller.

It’s all free and these are real courses. I’ve taken them.

She and other educators are finding that you don’t need a majestic campus for students to learn. You need good teachers and encouragement. These can both be delivered online.

Big tuition payments are buying the degree and the prestige that goes with it, not the education.

People like Daphne Koller see a day when that won’t matter.

“If we could offer a top quality education to everyone around the world for free, what would that do?” asks Koller.

We’re about to find out.

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