Saturday, January 12, 2013

The End of the University as We Know It. From The American Interest.

In fifty years, if not much sooner, half of the roughly 4,500 colleges and universities now operating in the United States will have ceased to exist. The technology driving this change is already at work, and nothing can stop it. The future looks like this: Access to college-level education will be free for everyone; the residential college campus will become largely obsolete; tens of thousands of professors will lose their jobs; the bachelor’s degree will become increasingly irrelevant; and ten years from now Harvard will enroll ten million students.

We’ve all heard plenty about the “college bubble” in recent years. Student loan debt is at an all-time high—an average of more than $23,000 per graduate by some counts—and tuition costs continue to rise at a rate far outpacing inflation, as they have for decades. Credential inflation is devaluing the college degree, making graduate degrees, and the greater debt required to pay for them, increasingly necessary for many people to maintain the standard of living they experienced growing up in their parents’ homes. Students are defaulting on their loans at an unprecedented rate, too, partly a function of an economy short on entry-level professional positions. Yet, as with all bubbles, there’s a persistent public belief in the value of something, and that faith in the college degree has kept demand high.

More.

22 comments:

  1. If all this futurist babble is true, then this is what is going to happen: business will begin to distinguish between the people who were taught in real classrooms, and the people who did everything online. You will begin seeing little "o"s and "r" on transcripts after classes switch over to mostly online, and the sort of "humans in a room" education will become the stuff of the wealthy.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Strel, that may happen but many schools currently don't distinguish between the online, hybrid and fully in-person courses.

    The article makes a big deal of MOOCs and EdX but notes that better education is gained through a mixed presentation, not a fully online version. Therefore, we'll still need lots of faculty.

    ReplyDelete
  3. If technology advances to the point where 90% or more of college professors are obsolete, then something similar will likely be happening to most of the other white collar/middle class professions. So the online colleges will be preparing countless millions for jobs that barely or no loner exist. At this point the snake will be eating itself in earnest...

    This article reminds me of all the columns written by Thomas Friedman et al. ("Average is Over" etc.) that look forward with unabashed eagerness to some kind of technological and social Singularity in which the vast majority of us mere mortals will become spare parts. It's the equivalent of writing a piece about "Hot Damn! The polar icecaps will be totally melted in 20 years, three-quarters of humanity will perish and I. AM. FUCKING. STOKED."

    ReplyDelete
  4. Knowledge may be free. But teaching is not.

    And grading is pretty damned expensive.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not if you make all the assignments multiple-choice and short answer questions graded by a computer program. Not the most pedagogically sound method for most disciplines, but it's painfully obvious that the people advocating for these solutions are not looking for quality.

      Delete
    2. @Curmudgeon,

      I have a niece in a community college who admitted that her geography professor isn't even allowed to design his own quizzes and exams. It's all designed by the college and the students have to go online to do it so it goes through various software that grades them. If that's the way things are going, colleges will start to question why they even need professors. What you have described, I fear, is already happening. :(

      Delete
  5. This is so DUMB. If content delivery were all that was needed for an education, then libraries would have made college professors obsolete from the get-go.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree, but there's no shortage of university administrators who don't realize this, and of course very, very much want it to happen, at least to the extent that they can get rid of faculty while covering their own hindquarters. We faculty therefore may well be facing many years of having to fight this. It may get fierce 5-10 years from now, when the dip in the birth rate arrives after the Baby Boomers' kids turn 22. Just great.

      Good to see you back, F&T.

      Delete
    2. "This is so DUMB." - Frog and Toad

      Dumb is normal in futurism, you should've read "Wired" magazine during the "New Economy" boom; they were either promising the Jetsons meets Mad Max, or an all stock-market economy with robot maids.

      I still want my flying car.

      Delete
    3. "Why do we need librarians when we have the Internet and Google?"

      That's what people are arguing. Librarians and professors are in the same boat. :(

      Delete
    4. @neilhimself (Neil Gaiman) on Twitter, not too long ago: “Google can bring you back a hundred thousand answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one.”

      So, yep, we're in the same boat. Could you become an expert on modern art without a professor's help? Maybe, if you read the right books. But how would you know which were the right ones?

      Boggles the mind.

      Delete
  6. Well, there go my dreams of meeting an efficient housewife

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5W4SkJjA_FQ

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Notice the Golliwog doll in the back at 1:35.

      Delete
  7. This is going to sound cynical, but I've been saying this same thing for about four years, ever since I got my first online teaching gig.

    Online teaching can be really terrible. It can be phoned in and ignored and people can fail to learn anything at all.

    But on occasion, online teaching can be more effective than a classroom teaching situation. Lecture is so easy to fly over people's heads; but using assignments to "open" the next module? If done properly, that can do a great deal to enhance retention of content and personal growth.

    My prediction: more and more universities will adopt online classes until there is a glut in the market. A crisis in college financials will ensure, with some universities going out of business. But then legislation will pass requiring new oversight of online interaction. This will bar financial aid from online courses that fail to measure student success adequately while rewarding institutions that grade and interact substantially.

    And the consequences will be online teaching, where professors can teach from the archives, some face-to-face interactions especially for junior and senior classes, and a reduction in tuition.

    The current model of expensive playthings, drunken dorm college experiences, and requiring 5 publications to land an interview will also be swept away: teaching will be a $20,000/year job with minimal training.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "teaching will be a $20,000/year job with minimal training" - okay, so teaching will be done by grad students then, or the equivalent. But everyone who can get a better job somewhere else will do so, and the result will be that you won't have anyone around capable of actually designing or running courses that produce and measure student success; because all those people will be earning more money elsewhere.

      But there will still be a demand for post-secondary training. So someone, somewhere, is going to have to pay people who can deliver it more than $20,000.

      Delete
    2. That's the big thing I can't figure out: research has to be separated from teaching somehow, because teaching will no longer be able to support research but without research we're all lost.

      Delete
  8. If the article didn't recognize that there are too many administrators (it gets a few things, e.g. that and overspending on buildings and other peripheral infrastructure, right), I'd say that this sounds like some administrator's wet dream.

    Although the article gives lip service to information delivery vs. actual teaching, it doesn't seem to recognize the actual difference, or how hard many students find it to work on their own (even to complete homework, let alone function in the sort of reasonably rigorous online environment Monkey describes). As F&T pointed out, there have been relatively cheap methods of mass information delivery available for centuries (well, at least 1.5-2 centuries, if you're talking about really cheap mass-produced books).

    Can we just put the MOOCs-will-revolutionize-everything and the retention-via-maximum-handholding people in a room together and let them fight it out, or spontaneously combust, or whatever? That would take care of at least part of the problem, by eliminating a bunch of the least useful administrators.

    A more realistic solution: as long as accreditors retain some sort of realistic standard for how many students an instructor of record can serve at one time, and/or for how much that instructor has to interact with said students (or whatever TAs or other assistants are involved), there is some hope. I really think we're close to the point where people just aren't going to go to grad school, or at least aren't going to take adjunct jobs, if employment prospects don't improve. Any improvement in the rest of the economy (and any resulting demand for other sorts of work smart people can do) is likely to hasten the trend. So is the trend toward decreased autonomy for most professors; honestly, at this point, I'm thinking that that as much as my low salary might drive me out of the profession. Even the worst adjunct gig 5-10 years ago offered some room for autonomy and creativity, and most offered considerable such room. That's becoming less and less true, and the sort of people who get Ph.D.s are attracted by autonomy and room for creativity as much as anything.

    Did I manage to end up sounding hopeful? I'm sure there's a flaw in my logic somewhere, there (probably long around the "it can't get worse" part). Time for bed.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Can we just put the MOOCs-will-revolutionize-everything and the retention-via-maximum-handholding people in a room together and let them fight it out, or spontaneously combust, or whatever? That would take care of at least part of the problem, by eliminating a bunch of the least useful administrators.

      This image made my morning. I think I'm going to quote it at our next curriculum/planning/edubabblewankery meeting.

      Delete
    2. I'm on the planning committee for our spring curriculum/planning/edubabblewankery meeting and I am totally going to try to use this phrase in some way.

      Delete
  9. Or maybe it's not a college bubble, but a MOOC bubble. The online thing maybe works for certification (as opposed to learning), or for very elementary material. But pretty soon people will realize that to actually learn slightly more advanced (upper division) stuff you need labs, face contact with experts, etc. Face time with people who know what they're doing will be at a premium, and students who want to be creating something new (the only way to claim a real income) will pay for it.

    Or make the state pay for it. What's broken is not the traditional model of learning from personal contact with an expert, so much as the American model of financing (or not financing) higher education by the state. Europe (or at least Germany, the case I know well) is thousands of kilometers ahead of the USA in that regard.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Competence without comprehension. This is the way the natural universe works, so why should it be any different in the classroom? How likely is it that software such as ALEKS will be able to teach an entire 4 year plan on Math? Certainly not within 10 years, but what about 50?

    ReplyDelete