Friday, June 27, 2014

The Future of Higher Education

Previously, I have written about making MOOCs more effective and online v. in-person classes.  Today, I am writing about MOOCs, online classes in general, and the future of education. This will be a relatively short post because, of course, I don’t know what the future holds. But, after the break, I will take a few guesses based on what we are already seeing.

Cost/Tuition Pressure.  As online education expands and improves, the pressure on traditional universities to cut costs and tuition will increase. Salaries and various frills will come under increasing scrutiny. I assume we will see many more announcements like Brooklyn Law's 15% tuition decrease in the coming years. Recently, I opened a 529 account for our one year old, but I don't know how much I should save because I have no idea what tuition will look like in 17 years. It won't surprise me if tuition at most schools decreases significantly (in inflation adjusted numbers). 

Additional Revenue Streams.  As tuition decreases, schools will be looking for (and are already looking for) additional revenue streams. I don’t think massive numbers of schools with go under quickly (as some are predicting), but many schools will need to reinvent themselves. Some additional revenue streams include offering piecemeal continuing education, commercializing more research (though I worry about the conflicts and the disciplines that may be left mostly behind), expanding to foreign markets, and even selling beer at college sporting events. (College sports may look very different in 17 years as well; we may get a glimpse soon with the O’Bannon case.)

Hybrid Offerings.  I doubt we will see a complete abandonment of in-person classes at most schools, but we may see a significant decrease in in-person classroom hours. Courses may be done largely online with periodic in-person meetings. Of course, this is already happening at some places, though I imagine it will become more widespread. 

Undergraduate v. Graduate.  I teach both undergraduate and graduate classes, but I have more faith that the undergraduate courses will stay in-person than the graduate classes.  College is about a good bit more than just the classes.  Sure, there are less expensive ways to develop socially, but if  schools start to address the cost issue, I think most 18-year olds would much prefer to move away from home and experience college on-campus.  At the graduate level, case studies and the Socratic Method would be difficult to do entirely online, but I think more people will be willing to do graduate school (at least mostly) online once they have already had the college experience.  That said, there is some very valuable networking and learning that takes place in-person  in some graduate programs, so schools may keep at least some in-person classes going forward; I just expect more and more use of online tools.    

The Economist has more thoughts on these issues here.

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