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College Free, Connections Costly?

News Herald – Juliann Talkington


In the End of the University As We Know It, Nathan Harden asserts that access to a college-level education will be free and available to everyone on the planet; the bachelor’s degree will become increasingly irrelevant; the residential college experience will all but disappear; ten of thousands of professors will lose their jobs; and well-known and and respected universities like MIT, Stanford, and Harvard will enroll ten of millions of students.


Are Harden’s forecasts likely?


Technology has removed the geographic and time barriers to education. Students can listen to lectures real-time or save them for later viewing. Textbooks are available in electronic format. Groups can meet electronically for academic exchanges. Exams can be given electronically and will become accurate assessments of student proficiency as security issues are resolved.


Universities can and are extending their reach to students around the world at a fraction of the cost of what it takes to bring professors and students together on a physical college campus. A free college education is unlikely, but a very low cost college alternative is almost a certainty.


Technology has rendered many bachelor’s degrees useless. Rather than no bachelor’s degree, the degree will probably change form and name to note a broader, more well rounded education (advanced technical, humanities blend). The narrowing bachelor’s degree requirements will mean many students will opt for specialized, job specific, course-by-course certifications rather than a bachelor’s degree.


Technology has and will continue to change the classroom model. Professors can effectively lecture to millions of students at one time. This means only a small number of the best teaching professionals will be employed. In this new environment, prestige will be important. Top schools like MIT and Stanford will have millions of students and many lesser known schools will be forced to close.


Research at top universities will probably continue. The professors that had to endure teaching assignments to conduct cutting edge research will be able to spend all their time in the lab.


It is unlikely that the residential college experience will completely vanish. However, it will probably be limited to high profile universities and be embraced by a small segment of the population that is willing to pay a premium for contacts and networking.


With the radical changes coming to post secondary education, parents should think carefully about where their children attend college. In addition, parents may want to avoid prepaid college programs and allocate funds to high-quality primary and secondary education.


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