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An Explosion in Demand for Higher Education
"Over the next decade, 50 million more people around the world will want access to higher education," says Matt Evans, a Vice President in corporate finance and strategy at Pearson.
"There's no way existing infrastructure will be able to handle these numbers," he says. "There are not enough university buildings or faculty to meet the demand."
It's a significant supply and demand imbalance.
Unlocking Access to Learning
Americans have wide-ranging access to thousands of schools of higher education.
It's a unique resource.
"So while academic ability is evenly distributed around the world, opportunity for high-quality education is not," says Paul Gleason, a Vice President of Strategic Planning at Pearson.
"We intend to help bridge that gap," he says. "Our big idea is to bring our vast array of online and on-ground resources, partners, and global reach to provide that opportunity to millions of deserving students."
"We're looking for more ways to unlock that access to learning across the globe," Paul says.
A New Pathway Project in China
Traditionally, international students have sought learning experiences in the U.S. and the U.K., often times to overcome limited access to higher learning in their own communities.
Matt says roughly one million international students study in the U.S. each year.
"China alone makes up about thirty percent of those students," he says.
So Matt, Paul and their colleagues are exploring new, more affordable learning pathways for Chinese students.
Saving a Student's Money, Improving Access to Higher Education
It's a twist on the old models.
Academic programs for foreign nationals in need of English preparation and cultural immersion often begin with a first year of study "on the ground" followed by on-campus matriculation inside a college or university.
"We're exploring a new idea," Matt says. "What if that freshman year was in the home country instead, with all of the same personalized support and progression path to the U.S. or the U.K.?"
"Something like this could save students in places like China upwards of $30,000," he says, "and the on-campus immersion would happen during the last three years of their education."
Pearson is already helping teach English to tens of thousands of students in China at hundreds of learning centers across the country. These same facilities could be used for the idea Matt and Paul are working on.
"Our local facilities can help students get a jumpstart to prepare them for study in the U.S. and the U.K.," he says.
A Complementary Partnership
Under this new pathway model, Pearson would provide the facilities as well as its expertise in student recruitment, local personalized support, and digital courseware.
"Our academic partners and their faculty would make all admissions decisions, provide academic control and delivery, as well as oversee progression of students to their on-campus experience where they will earn their degree," Matt says.
"We envision this new pathway as a blended offering," he says. "It would be a mix of on-the-ground interaction with facilitators and other local students as well as substantive connection with U.S. faculty members online."
Decreasing Cost and Improving Access, But Not Limiting Quality
"We're taking on some really significant issues in higher education," Paul says.
"For years, the challenge of solving what is referred to as the 'iron triangle' with its three-fold constraints of access, quality, and cost, has limited opportunities in higher education," he says. "We have struggled with how to dramatically impact one of these, specifically access, without reducing quality or exploding costs."
So how can the 'iron triangle' be broken?
"This experiment might mean we're able to improve access for those in China to excellent, high-touch higher education in the U.S.—without having to lower quality or increase cost," Paul says.
Fundamental Indicator of Well-Being
This initiative is one of several being conducted around the world.
"So many of us believe that education is the great driver of progress within people's lives everywhere," Paul says.
"Education is central to improving lives," he says. "It's the most significant indicator for personal health, economic outcomes, and a variety of other things fundamental to well-being."
Opening a Door to Learners Who Might Have Been Left Out
This new pathway project in China is slated to launch pilots in January 2017.
"This could really change the category of international higher education," Paul says, "and improve access to higher education for many, many students who might have been left out due to high costs and limited support."
Paul and Matt plan to travel to Beijing and other cities in China next month to continue research on this project—and start setting the framework for January's pilots.