Essential Pittsburgh
3:26 pm
Mon August 4, 2014

Meeting the Higher-Education Needs of the Global Middle Class

La Roche professor Jeff Ritter recently returned to Pittsburgh from teaching in Rwanda.

The economies of the developing world are in the midst of a major economic transformation. In 2010 the Brookings Institution estimated that the 1.8 billion people in the global middle class will grow to 3.2 billion by the end of the decade. This includes developing nations such as Rwanda, which is experiencing unprecedented middle class growth.

Increased prosperity means young people are clamoring for a college education. But what if traditional college lecture halls, labs and campuses are not economically feasible right now?

Media contributor Jeff Ritter, department chair of communications, media and technology at La Roche College, recently spent time in Rwanda teaching a media studies course. In his time in the country, Ritter found out there is a possibility that educators will use online learning with face-to-face instruction to create low-cost college-level learning for the masses.

“It’s a relatively new development in online education," Ritter said. "It means that a school, a professor, an organization … can create a course once online with videos, with exercises, with tests, with writing assignments, a whole year or semester-long course, all created once. And after that it can run unlimited times for unlimited students.

“You can think, it might cost a lot to develop, but you can run it so many times with so many students, it’ll be very cost effective, or even free for a student to take that class.”

Kepler University, where Ritter taught, differs. In addition to the online course work, the university acknowledges that these students do need a professor to meet with at least once a week to talk about their experiences and what they’ve learned.

Could this approach be used in the United States? Could it be used in Pittsburgh? Ritter believes so and has high expectations for online education expanding in America. In addition to his knowledge of technology, Ritter brings his experiences from multiple trips to Rwanda and other African countries back with him. Ritter explains to his colleagues that online education can be used domestically as well.

“Then I can bring to my students here and say, ‘These students oversees aren’t just sitting around doing nothing.’ They’re moving quickly to gain education," Ritter said. "Look for your partners, look for opportunities. We have students from developing countries at La Roche now. I want my American students to look to them as partners, potential growth partners for businesses and opportunities of all kinds.”