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Data analystIn theological education, it seems that educational technology has reached a tipping point. Small seminaries that never thought they could offer online education or other web-based services now have access to relatively inexpensive, scalable, and road-tested technologies to help them reach modest goals. Going online -- with classes, student services, and even board committee meetings -- isn't as daunting as it used to be.

For many schools, however, the motivation to embrace certain educational technologies has been to decrease the institution's costs and increase billable tuition hours. But a recent blog post over at Inside Higher Ed offers a startling new perspective on the technology question. The author reminds us that the cost of higher education continues to outpace the cost of living, getting more and more expensive every year.

How can seminaries expect to thrive when both student costs and institutional costs continue to climb? And what role can technology play in making theological education more viable, both for institutions and students? 

For boards, it's pretty easy to keep focused on the balance sheet. That's why they often have an inward rather than outward focus. Boards want to know how to reduce institutional costs and increase institutional revenue.

But what if the question were flipped? How can technology help reduce the students' costs and increase the students' potential for personal revenue?

In our new "plug and play" marketplace, where students can shop for the online courses they need from a long list of schools, seminaries must now ask how they can offer their classes and other services in ways that give students added value and advantages in the marketplace. Just as they ask how technology can benefit the institution, boards should ask how new technology might benefit churches and stakeholders. But especially they should take time to look at how technology affects students.

As seminaries compete in the new educational marketplace, they must be quick to determine what students need and what they want. Sometimes, adapting to student needs is a tough sell for faculty and others who may be required to do things differently. But in the end, a student-focused approach to decisions about technology will make theological schools more competitive in a new market that is driven by students' needs, desires, and expectations.

Read the blog post at Inside Higher Ed here.


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