Cable shapes campus to come

September 29, 1995

The Mind Extension University is a United States cable television network run from Colorado, a channel for people "who want to be smarter, richer and more successful". It relays courses from important universities to some 50,000 active students, Tim Cornwell writes.

But this year MEU staff helped set up the International University College, launched in April. While it has no physical campus and broadcasts courses by satellite and video, the college is on track to winning university accreditation. The first course it offers is a masters in business communication.

The target market, says communications manager Tracy Hollingsworth, "is people who for some reason can't get to campus, don't want to get to campus, people with a job, a family, other time commitments. As things get more competitive it is probably going to be the fastest growing market you've got to see."

IUC is just one more sign of the new vogue for lifelong learning - or continuing education, as it is more generally known in the US. Its champions are flourishing new figures to suggest that the traditional, on campus, one -time college education for 18 to 24-year-olds is obsolete.

Washington's economic gurus have been beating the drum for human capital as the key to international competition. Writings on "knowledge workers" and a new "over class" of the technically informed emphasise the role of continuous retraining.

Demographics point to a dwindling supply of young students, prompting some colleges to look at selling their services to an older age group or their employers.

A recent survey run from Washington State University, which retrained loggers from the shrinking timber industry of the Pacific NorthWest, shows most adults regard further education or training as a key to their careers.

More than half those polled assert they will "probably or definitely" take a college course in the next three years. In the past two decades, the number of part-time students in higher education in the US has more than doubled.

Now the expanding use of the Internet and associated computer networks is building the notion of working and studying from home into the culture, its advocates say.

At WSU, for example, long-distance degree courses reach into remote areas of Washington state with 800 phone lines that students can call at any time, two-way video conferencing, and university advisers who go out on the road three times a year.

On the other side of the US the research University of Vermont has gone into business with corporations.

It won a $6 million contact from a local IBM plant to run education and training for its employees, ranging from safety at work to laser etching for microchips, and produced a video training course for a Texas hospital chain.

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