Is The Internet Killing Colleges?


The end of higher education? And yes, I mean that as a play on words—sorry, it's April Fool's day so I had to do something to make myself look like, well, a fool.

Via Brad DeLong I read a great little excerpt from a Kevin Carey piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education, which you and I can't read unless we dish out a 10-spot for the web pass (not gonna happen), about how the internet should kill off colleges the same way it's killing off the printed newspaper:

"Some people will argue that the best traditional college courses are superior to any online offering, and they're often right. There is no substitute for a live teacher and student, meeting minds. But remember, that's far from the experience of the lower-division undergraduate.... All she's getting is a live version of what iTunes University offers.... She's also increasingly paying through the nose for the privilege.... Perhaps the higher-education fuse is 25 years long, perhaps 40. But it ends someday, in our lifetimes. There's still time for higher-education institutions to use technology to their advantage, to move to a more-sustainable cost structure, and to win customers with a combination of superior service and reasonable price. If they don't, then someday, sooner than we think, we're going to be reading about the demise of once-great universities — not in the newspaper, but in whatever comes next..."

In some ways I would love to see that happen. The four years we spend at college really are a waste of time, at least from the standpoint of education and productivity. We don't learn anything we couldn't learn by buying a few books, and we're totally unproductive.

Bad for society.

On the other hand, it's great for students. The four years we're supposed to spend in College are four years where we basically get to screw around, do a little homework, and in the end emerge with a piece of paper that lets us earn higher wages than if we hadn't gone.

The internet certainly should kill colleges and universities from an educational standpoint. But that's assuming they're about education, and you know what they say about assumptions. I doubt going to school was ever about learning, and if it was, that certainly stopped the moment Gutenberg got that whole movable type thing figured out. For young people, it's about the credentials, stupid.

As long as we, as a culture, continue to believe that a bachelor's degree is a sine qua non for getting a white-collar job, people will keep getting them. Plus it gives us valuable time to hide from the real world, something some people choose to do permanently by becoming academics.

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