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Winter for Higher-Ed
School’s Out Forever

It’s the end of college as we know it. The Washington Post has an excerpt from a new book on the future of higher ed by Kevin Carey, the director of The New America Foundation’s Education Policy Program, which asserts that what we now call MOOCs will become the dominant mode of education in the future, with “millions of people simultaneously enrolled in a course of study.” Carey predicts that small physical colleges with buildings and faculty will still exist, but not everyone will make use of them—and they will look different and much less expensive than colleges today:

Colleges won’t need to hire hundreds of professors and build scores of pricey buildings to house their offices, libraries and lecture halls. […]

Imagine a small group of buildings or spaces run by people with a particular educational philosophy and open to anyone who’s interested in learning. The educators there focus on mentoring students and helping them form relationships with one another. There are places for people to work person-to-person, or to engage electronically with peers in other cities, states and countries. Some of the students live nearby and spend hours there every day, learning full-time. Others come in from their families and homes.

It sounds kind of like a liberal arts or community college, except these buildings don’t have traditional classrooms, lecture halls, libraries or academic departments. The educators work within and alongside digital learning environments, but they do not design them alone. Words like “semester” and “credit hour” have no meaning. The organization won’t control the evidence of what students learn. It isn’t in the business of granting degrees with the institution’s name in bold type. Having a PhD or an MA or even a BA won’t be a job requirement.

Read the whole thing. Futurism is a fraught enterprise. Many great minds in the past have tried, and failed, to correctly predict what the word would like look down the line. We don’t know if everything in Carey’s piece will come to pass, but much of it is a reasonable extrapolation from current trends. MOOCs are poised to radically change the logic of how education gets delivered to students—and if it’s not MOOCS, something else is likely to force the higher ed system to evolve eventually. We are not talking here about simply cutting the budget of the system or making other minor changes along the margins; the institution itself will have to evolve in radically new, and at least partially unexpected, ways.

Higher ed as it currently function is a 20th-century relic. It cannot survive indefinitely: it is too costly, too inefficient, and too monolithic for the era of digital personalization. Whether Carey’s vision will replace it or not, something very new is coming.

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  • Anthony

    A perspective regarding Kevin Carey’s thought from someone of college age or front end of Millennial generation would be a welcome contribution as it is they who must engage.

  • FriendlyGoat

    “Having a PhD or an MA or even a BA won’t be a job requirement”.

    Perhaps, but not until a substantial credentialing tool is developed to empirically measure what people have in knowledge and experience. Consider the burden now on hiring managers, governmental entities and the various boards of people with the responsibility to choose the “best” hires and justify their hiring decisions. They are going to be looking at traditional degrees until something else is so accepted that the decision makers are automatically excused from criticism if they use it.

    I predict that the new alternative credentialing will be developed by an entrepreneur.

  • Anthony

    As Foucault said, “power is not possessed, it is exercised.” So, the future of moocs depends on how employers perceive the value of the education and credentials conferred by these new institutions. If they accept them as valid, the vision that professor Mead is describing will happen. If these online degrees are perceived as a dodgy substitute for the real thing, the status quo will have more staying power.

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