Nathan Harden, a leading voice for a new generation of young conservatives, predicts The End of the University as We Know It
In fifty years, if not much sooner, half of the roughly 4,500 colleges and universities now operating in the United States will have ceased to exist. The technology driving this change is already at work, and nothing can stop it. The future looks like this: Access to college-level education will be free for everyone; the residential college campus will become largely obsolete; tens of thousands of professors will lose their jobs; the bachelor’s degree will become increasingly irrelevant; and ten years from now Harvard will enroll ten million students.
… The most important part of the college bubble story—the one we will soon be hearing much more about—concerns the impending financial collapse of numerous private colleges and universities and the likely shrinkage of many public ones. And when that bubble bursts, it will end a system of higher education that, for all of its history, has been steeped in a culture of exclusivity. Then we’ll see the birth of something entirely new as we accept one central and unavoidable fact: The college classroom is about to go virtual.
The shift of power to consumers should appeal to many worried parents and students in the college application process.
… Power is shifting away from selective university admissions officers into the hands of educational consumers, who will soon have their choice of attending virtually any university in the world online….
Blended learning holds the greatest promise for leading the way.
One of the biggest barriers to the mainstreaming of online education is the common assumption that students don’t learn as well with computer-based instruction as they do with in-person instruction. There’s nothing like the personal touch of being in a classroom with an actual professor, says the conventional wisdom, and that’s true to some extent. Clearly, online education can’t be superior in all respects to the in-person experience. Nor is there any point pretending that information is the same as knowledge, and that access to information is the same as the teaching function instrumental to turning the former into the latter. But researchers at Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learning Initiative, who’ve been experimenting with computer-based learning for years, have found that when machine-guided learning is combined with traditional classroom instruction, students can learn material in half the time. Researchers at Ithaka S+R studied two groups of students—one group that received all instruction in person, and another group that received a mixture of traditional and computer-based instruction. The two groups did equally well on tests, but those who received the computer instruction were able to learn the same amount of material in 25 percent less time.
Even though we may be sad because of what is being lost, is college as it now exists really worth preserving?
… At its best, traditional classroom education offers the chance for intelligent and enthusiastic students to engage a professor and one another in debate and dialogue. But typical American college education rarely lives up to this ideal. Deep engagement with texts and passionate learning aren’t the prevailing characteristics of most college classrooms today anyway. More common are grade inflation, poor student discipline, and apathetic teachers rubber-stamping students just to keep them paying tuition for one more term.
Prestigious institutions will be winners while second-rate colleges and universities will be losers in the new paradigm. Fewer professors will be needed.
Prestigious private institutions and flagship public universities will thrive in the open-source market, where students will be drawn to the schools with bigger names. This means, paradoxically, that prestigious universities, which will have the easiest time holding on to the old residential model, also have the most to gain under the new model. Elite universities that are among the first to offer robust academic programs online, with real credentials behind them, will be the winners in the coming higher-ed revolution….
The open-source educational marketplace will give everyone access to the best universities in the world. This will inevitably spell disaster for colleges and universities that are perceived as second rate. Likewise, the most popular professors will enjoy massive influence as they teach vast global courses with registrants numbering in the hundreds of thousands (even though “most popular” may well equate to most entertaining rather than to most rigorous). Meanwhile, professors who are less popular, even if they are better but more demanding instructors, will be squeezed out. Fair or not, a reduction in the number of faculty needed to teach the world’s students will result….