G'day Jeff, great contribution. I agree that there is a need to change the student experience. Although I was a 17-21 year old while I completed my undergraduate degree in Sydney in the mid-2000's, I worked full time and studied at night to get a head start in my career and to fund my living expenses. I fully support the virtual classroom and agree that there is huge potential to use technology to democratise education.
In addition to this, I also believe traditional class design can go some way to meet the needs of the diverse student population, if more universities scheduled classes after work hours. In Australia, classes tend to be in four to eight hour blocks during the day, which can make full time work impossible. Given the high cost of living and impenetrable housing market, many people depend on a full time income and don't have the luxury of being supported by their parents. It seems to me that greater flexibility in class design could benefit a lot of people and even help students to enrich their learning experience by learning on the job while completing a degree.
I love your perspective on education, Norma. There are so many different ways to achieve an education beyond the traditional trajectory of high school, then university, then employment. Having followed that path myself, I know that I could have achieved an undergraduate degree and post graduate degree more efficiently, but I wasn't aware of my options at the time. There should be more information available about alternative pathways through university (or college) and industry support for alternative learning experiences.
Thanks for sharing, Derek. I am fortunate to be an Australian citizen studying in Australia where the Higher Education Loan Program (HECS-HELP) enables me to defer my university fees until such time as I am able to pay them. Both of my parents earn minimum wage and at the time of my undergraduate degree were supporting my twin brother and sister, so my family would not have been able to financially support my education if this loan program didn't exist. The cost of providing three children with a tertiary education would have crippled my parents, although it is more likely that my siblings and I would have forgone a tertiary education until much later in life. The long term effects of this burden on families could impact generations of people. Your friend's story has helped me to better understand the struggles of families in countries where university education is a private commodity and market-driven product, available to a select few who can afford it, rather than a public good.