Will Higher Ed Fall Into Same Fate as Newspaper Industry?

What will happen to higher education as universities make courses more readily available online? Harvard and M.I.T. announced edX this past spring, which will offer free online courses with a certificate of completion and other edtech startups, like Coursera and Udacity, are also providing more access to educational material for students worldwide.

As it becomes easier to find university-level courses online for free, many are questioning how this will affect the value of a college degree. With student debt at an all-time high, it may become more appealing for students to take a cheaper, online route instead of shelling out dough for a traditional on-campus, brick-and-mortar experience. William Tierney, a higher education expert at the University of Southern California, was quoted in the Washington Post for comparing this shift to recent consolidation in the newspaper industry:

People think that what happened to the newspaper industry is not going to happen to academia.

The introduction of massive open online courses (dubbed “MOOCs”) could potentially alter the typical day of professors to be even more research-oriented and less about teaching. One benefit of this model is that the most talented teachers could reach a much wider audience of eager students. Coursera co-founder, Andrew Ng has said that instead of teaching a few hundred students at Stanford, he could instead teach a class online with 100,000 students. The time it would normally take him to reach that many students? 250 years.

Andrew Ng, cofounder of Coursera

Some still argue that the networking, relationship-building and life skills learned on campus are still vital. But it is possible that this battle will shake out in a similar way to publishing where only the strong survive. Select higher ed institutions that are the most innovative or have already built a strong brand and network will continue to attract students while the rest struggle to stay afloat.


  • perspective2

    Tuition now excludes Californians from University of California. University of California is not to hurt to heal, but serious
    questions remain. Cal. Chancellor Birgeneau, Provost George W Breslauer: recruit affluent born
    abroad foreign and affluent out of state applicants who displace Californians; pay
    ex-politician $300,000 for lectures; double instate tuition – Cal. is the most
    expensive public university, more expensive than Harvard; spend tens of
    millions (prominent East Coast
    university accomplishes same 0 cost) for OE consultants but stop
    analysis of inefficiencies in Chancellor, Provost operations; Cal. tuition to
    return on investment falls below top 10. Chancellor Birgeneau, Provost
    Breslauer senior management is wasteful.

    Birgeneau would like to blame the politicians, since they stopped giving them every
    dollar demanded, & the state legislators do share some responsibility for
    the financial crisis.  But not in the
    sense B and B mean. Every year Birgeneau ($450,000) and Provost Breslauer
    ($306,000) would request a budget increase, the timid UC Regents would agree to
    it, and the Calif. Senate, Assembly would provide. The hard questions were
    avoided, and inefficiencies piled up to $150 million +.

    Cal’s senior management is
    either incompetent or culpable. It’s not that B and B were unaware that waste
    and inefficiencies were accumulating. Faculty & staff raised issues however,
    when they failed to see relevant action taken, they stopped.  Finally, the Provost and Chancellor engaged expensive
    OE consultants to tell them what they should have known or been able to find out
    from their bright, engaged faculty, staff.

    are sympathetic to the running of higher education with declining state money. However,
     the Chancellor, Provost leadership is
    badly damaging Cal. Good people are loosing their jobs. You never want a crisis
    to go to waste. Increasing Cal’s
    budget is no solution. Birgeneau’s resignation is welcome. Honorably retire
    clueless Provost George W Breslauer. Opinions to UC Board of Regents   marsha.kelman@ucop.edu
     (The author has 35 years’ consulting
    experience, has taught at University of California Berkeley where he observed
    the way Cal. senior management work)