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I am writing as an alum, an employee at Lincoln Laboratory, and as a parent with 5 children--all of whom hope to afford college.
The information age has been defined by technology improving the ability to communicate and understand information. Moore's Law is but one example both driving and being driven by that trend. So it makes sense that education--the process of communicating and understanding information--should also be greatly transformed.
The current model of higher education is unsustainable. The cost growth is outrageous--not only for tuition, but also in the expectations on research scientists to bring in ever growing amounts of funding. And even with these two sources growing ever higher, the letters go out to alum asking for ever more donations. Why is education so expensive?
People point to the costs of scientific and research equipment. At MIT, they are worried about the capital required to refurbish all the buildings older than 50 years.
Some also point to the subsidization of student loans--that as long as the government makes it possible to pay limitless amounts of money, colleges will find a way to charge limitless prices.
But what about the growth in administrative personnel? What about ever more expensive student centers and sporting facilities?
At some point, especially if tuition subsidies (in the form of government-regulated student loans) go away, this model WILL be disrupted (as in the model of "Disruptive Innovation" by Clayton Christensen).
People will find a way to use technology to teach students marketable skills. They will do it far more cheaply. And they may even do it better than the lauded halls of the research institutions.
Online perhaps. Very different classrooms/class experiences. Perhaps they will outsource residences. Perhaps they will not provide all the non-essentials. Ah, sports help our students be healthy and more well-rounded, you may say. I was on the rowing team, and firmly believe it was one of the best things I did in my college years--but this does not mean it had to have been through the University. Perhaps I find my own room, my own sports club--in a free market these services would grow up around a college/innovation center naturally. Maybe the University does not do these things.
What about the university as a research environment for the faculty? Perhaps research schools all become laboratories more like Lincoln, and the schools become just places of teaching. Very frequently the best researchers are not the best teachers, and vice-versa, no matter how much we try to delude ourselves.
I envision a world where you still have colleges. The classes watch online lectures by the best teachers in the world. TAs (who are the primary paid staff) then run collaborative exercises, help with homework, run hands-on laboratories, and lead discussion groups. The students go back to their privately-rented apartments. They join private club sports, and enjoy a social sphere that is not officially funded or organized by the college. Research is conducted in laboratories whose sole mission is research, and are self-funding. They may choose to locate in areas close to a "college", so that they can hire students for part or full time employment. But it becomes solely a business relationship.
Students still have a great life-changing experience. But it is through the informal social networks that they do private non-university sponsored activities. The college has classrooms and labs, with the ability to show lots of videos. And that is it. The residences move off, the sports facilities, even student centers, move off. Research moves off. None of these things move very far, but they will be driven by free markets, rather than by University overhead.
That's my vision, good or bad, of where disrupted college education is headed.