Evolving with the Times: Middlebury Announces Plans for Online Language Instruction
An email from President Liebowitz to the college community and an article in The New York Times this morning revealed Middlebury’s plans to enter into a partnership with the technology-based education company K12 to develop an online language program. According to the College’s press release:
Building on Middlebury’s long history of leadership in language teaching and K12′s expertise in online education, the new company will create and distribute online language learning courses. It will also expand the Middlebury-Monterey Language Academy, a language immersion summer program for middle and high school students. The new venture will be called Middlebury Interactive Languages.
Middlebury will invest $4 million upfront to obtain a 40% stake in the venture, according to the NYT. To start, the program, which will be Middlebury curriculum distributed on K12′s software, will be available in beginning French and Spanish to high school students starting this summer. The program is expected to expand into charter schools and public schools across the United States and will work in conjunction with the Middlebury-Monterey Language Academy and the C.V. Starr Schools Abroad.
The announcement marks the fruition of a plan Liebowitz formally announced to faculty, staff and students back in February at an address about the college Finances. Middlebury was not left unscathed by the financial crisis and is in need of another revenue stream to support the liberal arts way of life as we know it. The NYT quotes Liebowitz as saying “finding potential new sources of revenue is not a bad thing,” and Middlebury’s comparative advantage in language instruction in higher education makes this a logical business venture.
Because it is a business venture, however, it is not without criticism. Philip Altbach, a professor at Boston College, told the NYT, “I have problems with the whole thing, particularly for a place like Middlebury, which has a reputation as one of the best liberal-arts colleges in the country, and for doing a very good job with languages. They should protect that brand.” Liebowtiz, however, is of a different opinion. “The partnership between Middlebury and K12 will expand access to high-quality language learning at a critical juncture,” he said in this morning’s press release. “At a time when foreign language opportunities for primary and secondary school students in this country are declining, the need and demand for high-quality language learning is growing exponentially.”
The immediate implications of this venture are straight-forward: Middlebury is now a brand and a business as much as it is an education. The shape of education in America is changing at a rapid pace and perhaps a more mobile, more interactive and more service oriented approach to education will help keep schools like Middlebury moving forward.