After the coronavirus upended American life, millions of college students made the transition from sitting in campus lecture halls to live-streaming seminars at their kitchen tables. Do students think their pricey degrees are worth the cost when delivered remotely?
The Wall Street Journal asked that question in April, and one student responded with this zinger: “Would you pay $75,000 for front-row seats to a Beyoncé concert and be satisfied with a livestream instead?” Another compared higher education to premium cable—an annoyingly expensive bundle with more options than most people need. “Give me the basic package,” he said.
As a parent of a college-age child, I’m sympathetic to these concerns. But as a college professor, I find them terrifying. And invigorating.
Why terrifying? Because I study how new technologies cause power shifts in industries, and I fear that the changes in store for higher education are going to look a lot like the painful changes we’ve seen in retail, travel, news, and entertainment.
The example of the entertainment industry, which I’ve written about extensively, is instructive. Throughout the 20th century, the industry remained remarkably stable, despite technological innovations that regularly altered the ways movies, television, music, and books were created, distributed, and consumed. That stability, however, bred overconfidence, overpricing, and an overreliance on business models tailored to a physical world.