Business has regularly sought to rationalize aspects of higher education. To many business professionals, higher education is illogical, inefficient and in dire need of transformation. In 1997 (the former) Coopers and Lybrand suggested that a limited set of online courses could be used across most institutions, saving the system tens of millions (more?) and, notably, allowing for sufficient investment in each of the courses (as a result of the economies of scale).
The much-discussed community college initiative of the Obama administration appears to be following this line of thought. For more information.
The government initiative is preceded by the work of entrepreneurs. For example, Straighterline (a division of SmartThinking), also provides a general set of online courses to a variety of institutional partners. In fact, the description of the government initiative found on the CMU web site sounds like the Straighterline business model.
Carnegie Mellon University, in collaboration with state agencies and national affinity groups, will establish a consortium of community colleges that will enact a large scale, systems-change process that increases efficiency in the way instruction is developed, delivered, evaluated, and continuously improved. The overarching goal is to demonstrate a 25% higher rate of course completion for students from vulnerable populations, with a focus on gatekeeper courses critical to graduation success. Within three years, the Community College Opening Learning Initiative (CC-OLI) will scale to 40 community college partners and will reach an additional 50-100 classrooms.
It will be very interesting to see how the government initiative is received. Straighterline, and other similar ventures, have faced considerable resistance from pockets of the academic community.