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.
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.