There’s no question that higher education is changing. Many other industries, including music, have felt the impact of technology and the internet, and their experiences have shown us that change is inevitable. Students can now take online courses and earn a comparable degree and qualifications for little to no cost, making it increasingly difficult for universities and colleges to command such high prices for tuition. Institutions that cannot provide value beyond that of the online and free courses will ultimately disappear in the coming decades.
New Technology and the internet also remove many of the costs that once served as a barrier of entry into the higher education world. Today, anyone can write a course and put it up online, and more educational entrepreneurs can afford to experiment with the educational model. As a result, the long tail in education will become much more viable as the internet opens up the opportunity to reach a niche student base all over the world. As some traditional institutions disappear from failing to adapt and provide value, thousands of new, small, and innovative universities will pop up. Because these small, long tail universities are not tied to a large institutions like higher education today, they will be able to innovate quickly, allowing the higher education industry to evolve as is necessary to keep up with the changing society.
This interview is with Richard DeMillo. He is the director of the Center for 21st Century Universities at Georgia Tech University and a professor at the College of Computing.
1. When it comes to institutional survival in the next 50 years, what are going to be the biggest factors that determine whether a particular institution will remain viable or not?
Well, for me, it always boils down to value. People misunderstand this as assigning value based on salaries or employability, but I mean value in the larger sense. You have to have a reason to ask students to pay more than the marginal costs of delivering education. And with all these revolutions in technology for course delivery, that marginal cost is going to zero very, very quickly. So, every institution that’s going to survive, I think, over the next 50 years, is going to have to make that case. Why is it that tuition at this institution is justified?
The interesting thing about this is it’s going to be accelerated because the old bureaucracies, the old institutional models… are crumbling. At least, their boundaries are crumbling. Let me tell you what I mean by that.
The accrediting agencies, which I think traditionally have had — at least for the last 120 years or so—an institutional focus, are now shifting their focus to students; to competencies, to demonstrations of what students know. And that really starts to cut against institutional entitlement.
I think the conclusion of all this is that, as it becomes harder and harder for… a “Me-Too Institution” to argue for a marginal increase in price, the amount of money that those institutions are going to have available to them to spend on anything but core mission for students is also going to go to zero. So, this is kind of a virtuous cycle; … institutions that are unable to make the value proposition will find themselves more and more strapped for discretionary funds in order to move themselves into a different space. And that’s an ending that’s not very good for most institutions.
2. What will happen to the more traditional, serve-all institutions?
Well, most of them will disappear.
The inevitability of this is that over the next 25, 30, 40 years … what I call the “Me-Too institutions,” I think, will disappear. The brand-name institutions that can command higher tuitions will get larger and more diversified in the student populations that they serve. And you’ll find that you move to a long-tail world in which many, many more institutions that don’t exist today, or only exist in their current form, will spring up because the current cost of starting a new institution is becoming very small.
To read the full interview, and learn more about DeMillo’s predictions for the future or education, go to Evolllution.com.