Pioneers making higher education affordable

A salute to four people who have made extraordinary efforts to improve access to a college education.

  • Advocate for free online education

    Dick K.P. Yue, 58, MIT professor of engineerin<strong>g

    Why he’s a hero: A decade ago Yue pushed academia to take its most valuable asset—teaching—and give it away. As chair of an MIT committee exploring Internet strategy, the ocean engineering professor proposed a radical idea: Put lectures and other classroom materials online for free. Starting with 50 courses in 2002, MIT OpenCourseWare now offers 2,100 and has reached over 125 million people. The school’s next step: free online interactive courses—for credit.

    His current passion: Enabling a billion people to study online over the next 10 years. Says Yue: “Content, learning, credentialing—making all three broadly available and affordable is the holy grail.

    Quote: “One day someone will be able to take online courses from the 10 top universities cheaply or for free, and an employer will recognize that. I don’t know when that will happen, but when it does, I will be very happy.

  • Making life easier for student borrowers

    Robert Shireman, 51

    On a crusade since: 1991

    Day job: Director of California Competes, a project to improve higher education

    Achievement: Making loans less burdensome for college students

    Why he’s a hero: In 1991, as a Senate staffer, Shireman sold Congress on federal direct loans, which eliminated middlemen and led to lower rates. Years later the Californian came back to D.C. to fight for an income-based repayment system that cut many students’ monthly loan costs. And parents can also thank him for simplifying financial aid by getting the IRS to prefill applications from tax forms.

    Quote: “If we can get better at judging education quality, our money will be better spent.”

  • Shining a spotlight on college costs

    Jane Wellman, 62

    On a crusade since: Early 1980s

    Day job: Executive director of NASH, an association of public university leaders

    Achievement: Focused attention on how colleges spend their money

    Why she’s a hero: A longtime education financial analyst in California, Wellman toppled conventional wisdom about the roots of tuition inflation—and showed the way to possible fixes. The Delta Cost Project, which she launched in 2006, mined data to reveal that the biggest problem wasn’t fat salaries for professors, but benefits, particularly health care, for all employees.

    Quote: “If benefits aren’t reined in, costs will keep rising, and not a dime will go to education.”

  • Irving Fradkin, 91

    On a crusade since: 1958

    Day job: Retired optometrist, president emeritus of Scholarship America

    Achievement: Founded grass-roots education-funding organization

    Why he’s a hero: Disturbed that so many of his teenage patients told him they couldn’t afford college, Fradkin decided the problem could be solved if everyone in Fall River, his Massachusetts city, put a dollar into a tuition fund. The idea took off, and in 1961 it went national. Over five decades, Scholarship America has awarded more than $2.7 billion through 1,042 chapters in 38 states.

    Quote: “People give because the money stays in the community. It changes the community.”

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