Are electric cars, home solar, and low-cost online graduate programs the same thing?
Consider this quote from an article in electrek about the potential growth of home solar and electric vehicles.
I’d expect the adoption of PV [Photovoltaics] roofs to be similar to electric vehicles. Ten years ago, the EV [electric vehicle] market was basically nonexistent. Now, it’s at about 2% of car sales and growing exponentially. If EVs double their market share every two years, that’s 16% market share in 2025, and 64% in 2029.
Martin DeBono, president of GAF Energy.
Can we imagine a scenario where low-cost online graduate programs get on a similar exponential growth trajectory as electric cars and home solar?
Should it be any less of a goal to enable more working adults to get a master’s degree without the burden of debt, then it is to move to renewable energy and zero-emission vehicles?
Two-thirds of all master’s degrees online and low-cost by 2029? Could happen. (But only if we decide together to make that dream a reality).
There are entire industries devoted to the goals of renewable energy transition and electrification. These goals are intertwined, as solar-generated electricity could power electric vehicles.
The commercial PV/EV sector is built on ideas as much as economics. Eventually, home solar and electric cars will be as cheap and as effective as grid power and gas vehicles. Today, however, it is still true that the decision to invest in rooftop solar panels or an electric car is partially a non-economic choice.
The payback times for rooftop solar are at least 10 years, and in many cases, closer to 20. As far as I can tell, the solar payback calculations do generally not include what a buyer would have earned if they invested those same dollars over that same period. Electric cars also have numerous advantages, from lower maintenance and operating costs (electricity being cheaper than gas). Still, the combination of range limitations and charging times for car batteries represents a real trade-off compared to gas-powered vehicles.
Still, many of us – maybe you – are putting solar panels on our roofs and choosing to buy electric cars. We (well, not me, yet) are doing so because we know that solar is the right thing to do, and electric cars are the future.
We also like the reliable home electricity costs that solar brings and the redundancy from grid power. (Especially if solar is combined with home batteries). For electric cars, almost all trips are shorter than 200 miles – so charging overnight at home is not an issue.
Like electric cars as home solar, low-cost online graduate programs may be both the future and the right thing to do.
Colleges and universities might decide to invest in low-cost online degrees not because they are a better economic play than existing high-cost graduate programs for the institution but because doing so is better for students.
These ideas do not mean that every master’s program should be online and low-cost. Some students want the immersive experience of a full-time and fully-residential learning experience. Other students want the flexibility around work and family that an online or low-residency program provides.
There is plenty of room for high-priced, high-intensity, high-input, and high-selective graduate programs in higher education, just as there is plenty of room for a $75K (or $145 Plaid+) Tesla Model S in the electric car market. As for me, I’m more excited about the $25K Tesla – whenever that arrives.
The question is, should high-priced master’s programs (either online or residential or blended) be the norm?
Or is it the case that most students need master’s programs that provide some combination of verified knowledge and skill development, structure and encouragement, and a credential?
I’m unconvinced that every master’s student needs to have an intensive, immersive, and transformational learning experience. Nor am I convinced that faculty subject matter expertise, course facilitation, and learner coaching all need to exist in the same educator.
Those jobs, I think, can be disaggregated – enabling better scaling of degree programs and substantial savings for students.
Premium graduate degrees should have premium price tags.
Not every student, however, wants or needs a premium master’s degree. For the vast majority of graduate students, a low-cost online program – one that provides the right combination of verified skills/knowledge and coaching and a credential – is likely the best fit.
Electric cars and home solar is as much a social movement as a technological advance. Perhaps low-cost online degrees should be thought about in the same way.