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Access: The Importance of Online Education in a Changing World

Devon Cancilla, Vice Provost, Online Learning

Devon Cancilla, Vice Provost, Online Learning

I am a child of immigrants, a first generation American. No, my parents were not refugees, nor did they come here illegally. Some would argue that coming from Canada to the United States is like moving from Kansas to Missouri, but I would argue otherwise. Canadian beliefs and culture about issues like guns, national health care, immigration, and many others are fundamentally different from those in the United States. Canada is a country with two official languages, and its government is a parliamentary democracy. Just watch the question period from the House of Commons, where members of the House can directly question the Prime Minster. Can you imagine that kind of discussion occurring between the President of the United States and the Senate?

So no, my parents were not refugees or fleeing persecution. They chose to leave their home and native land, visas in hand, for educational opportunities which, at that time, were unavailable to them in Canada. They came with the full intention of returning to Canada. They ended up staying. Both of my parents have contributed significantly over their careers to their adopted country. My mother was a nurse, a volunteer, and a mother to our family and to the many kids in the neighborhood who needed a place to hang out. My father was an internationally recognized expert on diseases of the brain and nervous system and became the Chair of Pathology at a prestigious American medical school.

All of this was made possible through an open immigration system that provided access to education. While Canada has an outstanding educational system, the types and breadth of educational opportunities that the U.S. made available to my parents did not exist. Although large in area, Canada is small in population. In my father’s case, advanced study on the human nervous system had to take place at an American university. Because of these opportunities, education has always been an important theme in my family. My parents were the first in their generation to graduate from college. In my generation, half of us completed our degrees. In my children’s generation, all my parent’s grandchildren have degrees.

Why am I writing about my parents’ choices in this blog about online education? I am concerned that we Americans will be poorer if we close a door on people who need access to the opportunities that education provides. Potential immigrants to the U.S. may not have the same access to the opportunities available to my parents’ generation when they crossed borders to pursue their educational goals. Preventing smart, motivated people from adding to this country’s brainpower doesn’t make sense.

This is why online education is so very, very important. Online courses represent access to an education that is not bound by location. Online education is about anytime/anyplace access to the educational resources all people need to enhance their lives and better understand the world around them. People who work full time, stay at home parents, people with disabilities, and people who live in areas where the educational resources they need simply cannot be found within close range should not be restricted from reaching their full potential. If you believe as I do that education is a basic human right, then we have a moral obligation to provide access to education to all people and through all means possible. Online education defeats borders of all types. We have distinguished faculty in all fields who are inspired to lead the civil and thoughtful discussion we need to have in order to address the complex challenges we face as diverse citizens of the world. Online education can bring their voices, their insights, and their inspiration to students everywhere. Believe me, there are students who want to hear them, all they need is access.