From the land of the Green Mountain boys comes a virtual shot soon to be heard around the world. Middlebury College has announced it is creating online foreign language courses for high school students. Capitalizing on its historic standing as one of the country’s premier centers of foreign language learning, the college will create foreign language courses for folks in their tender years when language acquisition comes most readily.
Middlebury’s actions serve both its own and the country’s interests. Private colleges are finding it ever more difficult to find talented students able to pay the high tuition necessary to cover the endlessly rising costs of a college education. By offering language courses in such a way that they can be accessed on line from anywhere in the world, Middlebury is finding a new, potentially powerful way to both add to its bottom line as and market the Middlebury brand.
The benefits to Middlebury are trivial as compared to the potential rewards that may redound to the United States as a whole. Public school language courses are rapidly disappearing as school boards acquiesce in misguided efforts to save money by narrowing the curriculum. Middlebury is now offering a low cost alternative. To keep the prestigious Middlebury brand intact, the college has every incentive to make sure that alternative is of high quality.
Other colleges and universities are undoubtedly watching Middlebury closely. How long will it be before for-profit firms market a plethora of fabulous, college-produced courses that give high school students a choice of the best in such subjects as geometry, physics, calculus and Russian literature? How long will it take before state laws require districts to give students high school credit for those courses? When will colleges and universities be compensated for every middle and high school student who successfully completes the online course?
If this happens quickly, we will soon move toward an integrated high school-college experience, place some of our most treasured institutions of higher learning on a sounder financial basis, cut the cost of secondary education, and lift the performance of the college-bound high schooler.
Vermont has invented something even better than Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.