Students starting school this year may be part of the last generation for which “going to college” means packing up, getting a dorm room and listening to tenured professors. Undergraduate education is on the verge of a radical reordering. Colleges, like newspapers, will be torn apart by new ways of sharing information enabled by the Internet. The business model that sustained private U.S. colleges cannot survive.
The real force for change is the market: Online classes are just cheaper to produce. Community colleges and for-profit education entrepreneurs are already experimenting with dorm-free, commute-free options. Distance-learning technology will keep improving. Innovators have yet to tap the potential of the aggregator to change the way students earn a degree, making the education business today look like the news biz circa 1999. And as major universities offer some core courses online, we’ll see a cultural shift toward acceptance of what is still, in some circles, a “University of Phoenix” joke.
This doesn’t just mean a different way of learning: The funding of academic research, the culture of the academy and the institution of tenure are all threatened.
K-12 spending will not continue to increase at the rate it has over the past twenty years (5.25% annually in the case of the Madison School District). Online education provides many useful learning opportunities for our students. While it is certainly not the “be all and end all”, virtual learning can be used to supplement and provide more opportunities for all students. Staff can be redeployed where most effective (The budget pinch, flat enrollment despite a growing metropolitan area along with emerging learning opportunities are two major reasons that the Madison School District must review current programs for their academic and financial efficiency. Reading recovery and reform math are two useful examples).
Related: K-12 Tax & Spending Climate, the coming reset in state government spending and the Madison School District’s planned property tax increase. TJ Mertz on the local budget and communications.
Jeff Jarvis has more.