A recent post by Christopher Guizlo discussed the staggering debt that many students leave college with and questioned whether the educational community was really doing enough to educate students not just in their field of study, but in the real cost of their education.

Unfortunately, Mr. Guizlo is absolutely right. But the problem is not just that students leave school with a debt load that they probably never really understood. The real problem is that today’s higher education institutions aren’t structured for the 21st century.

Let me explain why. The typical college today is a brick and mortar center where students generally go full time, study a variety of subjects and mount an increasing load of debt. Of course, some higher education institutions, especially junior colleges or urban universities, have many part-time students. But the norm is full-time attendance.

We’ve chosen a different model at Upper Iowa University and offer four modes of study.

There is the traditional campus, with all the dormitories, athletic facilities and student centers that you would expect. Then there are UIU educational centers located throughout the Midwest and South. Thirdly, there is the ability to take all courses of study online. And finally, UIU has international locations in Asia for foreign study.

A student can take any of the four modes of study, or mix and match. They all obtain the same diploma.

What this structure does is enable students to choose the mode of education that works best for them. If they need to work while in school, they may choose online study or educational centers part time. They may want to go to our traditional campus in Fayette for part of their time, and use other modes of education at other times.

As to the point of educating students about the real costs of education, colleges need to do a better job with setting up a student’s grant and loan structure. A student should clearly understand what their eventual debt load will be and how to mitigate it. We take great pains to work with students on this, and the result is that our students leave school with substantially less debt than at similar institutions.

To avoid Occupy Wall Street becoming Occupy Higher Education, we must adapt to the needs of today’s economy and today’s students. Structures of higher education have to change, and more attention focused on keeping the costs of education in check.

On these things, Mr. Guizlo and I can agree.

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