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Clayton Christensen: Half of U.S. colleges will be bankrupt in 10 to 15 years (cnbc.com)
149 points by uptown on Sept 4, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 151 comments



I'm of two minds on this. One the one hand, nothing can replicate the college experience of:

- Living in a building with a bunch of other 18-22 year olds

- Living in a town that is mostly populated by 18-22 year olds

- Having to figure out how to take care of the laundry and dishes while having time to study and go to parties with said 18-22 year olds.

That being said, I'm currently doing YCs startup school, which is run very similarly to the large lectures I had in college. There is a main weekly lecture or two that is viewable online, and then there is a small group discussion with 15 or so others, led by a "TA". The discussion happens online but is live at a scheduled time (conveniently for me at 7pm).

As a 41 year old with kids, this system has a lot of advantages for me. I can watch the lectures at night after they go to bed, I can watch them in double speed so that I can done quicker and my mind doesn't get bored and wander, and I can do the discussion section from pretty much anywhere with internet.

So I think overall this system is better for me now, but if I were 18, I don't think I'd prefer it.


Agreed - college is such a unique social experience and I don't think there's much that can replicate that on a mass scale. There's value in the fact that, for many, you find your best adult friends or partner or cofounder in college. I think the loneliness epidemic we are already facing as a society would really be amplified if we all just went to MOOCs for 2-4 years.

That being said, everyone's situation is different, and not everyone values the social aspects of college the same way, and I think it is important to figure out from an employment perspective how people who choose to take an alternative route to education can get the same opportunities as those who choose the traditional route.


FWIW, the loneliness epidemic has taken place while college enrollment has increased. Which kind of implies that the college experience isn't really an antidote.


There's also: - Living near people who are taking the same classes as you.

18-22 year olds often do not have the drive or study skills to stay focused and engaged with remote learning. My most educational experiences at college were studying with groups in-person. I don't know how well that can be replicated online, especially with youth.

I saw multiple students fail out of college because they skipped classes and didn't learn because they were faffing around. How much more common will that be when you're just sitting at home on a computer, without being in an environment that pushes you to participate in school?


But why does this learning need to happen at 18-22. I wen't to college at 18, and I very much wish that I hadn't. I would have been much better off getting a job for a few years first.


In the UK and Europe it is quite normal for students to take a gap year before starting university. Work, travel, apprentice, and save before buckling down for university studies. In the US this is not done at all. It's a pipeline of financial aid and rankings. Colleges don't like when you defer after accepting, that messes up your FAFSA and financial aid package (for reasons I don't comprehend). They'll allow you to defer up to one semester but anymore than that starts the application over.

If you don't apply right out of high school they silo you into the non-traditional student stack. Your ranking is lowered and you lose out on all sorts of financial aid scholarships. You have to take out students loans or fund it through the GI Bill (because you enlisted, right?).

Self-discovery and learning is something they'd rather you pay them for, not backpacking through the outback.


Europe also has countries where national service is still a thing making university deferment an actual necessity.


I went back to university after working for just a couple of years.

It's definitely a totally different experience going back with a wife, daughter and mortgage, than living in a student room with other people at 18.


> the same classes as you.

And different classes for that matter. You learn a lot from just hanging out with people in different majors.


Nothing? Ever heard of the US DOD (Department of Defense)? It has many branches, each of which is full of 18-22 year old volunteers, who are getting paid to do exactly the 3 bullets you mentioned. The key difference is they are getting paid vs. having to pay...and, they get that experience in numerous cities/towns over the course of 4 years. Some branches are more like the college life than others (USAF, from my experience).

Granted it's not an apples to apples comparison here, but there are less expensive and more efficient ways (Peace Corp as well) of getting that experience. Universities are (should be) for those that enjoy learning or must have that 4 year certificate for the field there interested in working in.


The main difference there being subject to persistent and total authority vs a high degree of freedom requiring personal initiative.


You've got the wrong idea regarding western militaries, there is a very big focus on individual initiative. Contrary to the popular belief on this site, people in the military aren't brainless drones who only joined because they had no prospects after high school. A common saying I heard in the USMC was "Tell your Marines what to do, not how to do it. They'll suprise you with their creativity." Yes, you ultimately don't have any say in what task has to be done, but leaders who don't let their subordinates take initiative and figure out the best way to achieve that task are considered poor leaders. I've seen multiple articles about military hacker spaces opening up for junior enlisted to get creative with new solutions to problems. 3D printing is also starting to become more popular with enlisted personnel since it allows to them to make temporary replacements for easily broken parts instead of potentially having to wait weeks for an official replacement to arrive. Examples I can remember are the fan in the air intake of an M1A1 Abrahms, and switches on the control panel of their cargo planes.


In the military, you probably don't get to change your mind and do something different on a whim. And there's the whole killing/being killed thing.


i suspect that you've taken more from their statement than was intended.


> persistent and total authority

Yep, universities can be rather petty ...


As someone in a university right now, albeit in Russia, I do feel a full unbridled ability to say what I want, learn and research what I want, and think what I want. And, I don't say this as someone who has super mainstream opinions; in fact, I can be fairly young and radical at times ;-)

I can't imagine American universities are too too different. Maybe I'm wrong. But, it seems like there is a weird anti-higher education culture right now that I don't fully understand.

I really do respect my university a lot for the freedom they give me. The authority here is pretty lax. As long as you get the job done and don't smoke in the dorm, they don't care.


Would your unbridled ability to say what you want extend to protesting against the Putin administration if you chose to do so?


I would say so, yeah. Criticisms against the federal government are very common amongst young students.

I regularly say things in public and in public spaces on the internet where my full name and details are attached (e.g., Facebook, VK, etc) that I think to myself "you know, maybe I am pushing this a bit too far". But, as a foreign student, that seems to be more of an irrational fear instilled in me based on the perception we have of Russia back home.

Realistically, unless you're siding with some sort of terrorist organisation, you're generally ok when it comes to the federal government. If you've very blatant about your anti-regime opinions, you might get some attention, but it isn't like you're ever going to get declined a visa renewal or deported or something like that; the most they'll do is watch you more closely.

And, don't get me wrong as well, it would have to be genuine terrorist ties to get you deported. For example, I regularly criticise Russia over their treatment of Oleg Sentsov who is, in my opinion, mislabeled as a terrorist and being treated, honestly, pretty abhorrently. My "terrorist" sympathies and criticism over human rights, however, is not enough to upset the federal migration services.

At the university level, though, I am also very proud of my institution and their commitment to their students. They and the regional government of Tomsk have regularly shown the fact that they're willing to stick up to the federal government in order to protect the students.


I think some form of public service should be compulsory at 18, peace corp or military.


Yeah, basic training is totally like college semester. And deployment is totally like field trip in the forrest. Wtf. And depending on where soldiers go, in most places they don't get civilian experience. They get soldier experience which is, again, much different.


Theres 1.4 million active duty military, that's a lot of different deployments, not all of which are stereotypical "soldier experiences".

That's like saying the Air Force is full of pilots when in reality only 1% of those in the USAF are pilots.


> those that enjoy learning

That was a couple of centuries ago. Now universities are mostly for youth storage.

(And room at the DOD facilities is comparatively very limited.)


That's a very cynical opinion.

Personally, I went to Uni and majored physics specifically because of my love for the subject and a desire to learn more. I minored in CS so I could learn to program, and worked a few Web dev jobs after graduating. I also developed a real passion for topics like programming language theory, type theory, mathematical concept formation, etc. and have since managed to get a position as a research student to work in that field.


I learned a lot at college and enjoyed learning. I did party occasionally, but not that much. I was neither lonely or isolated or only one who liked to talk about subjects - there were many people like that.


If we determined college wasn't necessary for my child to succeed in life. I think it would still be worth the one year tuition fee of having them experience freshmen year. It's just something like you said, that can not be replicated. It builds a skillset I think that is invaluable. Oh, and fun.


I think you’re conflating an education (what you’re getting now) with a life experience (what you’re describing someone going to college is receiving).

I would rather pay for my kids to travel the world for a year after high school, and then educate them separately (similar to the education you’re receiving now, internships, etc), so they can have a richer life experience and hopefully a better education.

Disclaimer: Started working at 17, did not attend college.


You're right, I am. However, that life experience is derived from the common experience of "being in college", so I think the two are necessarily intertwined. I don't think you'd get the same experience traveling the world (you'd get great experience, just not anything similar) or just living near other 18-22 year olds without the common goal of graduation.


Fair point. Having not gone to college, I can only speculate as to whether it's an experience worth having. Having traveled around the world and meeting people more diverse than I could've ever hoped for within my home state, I can say it's an experience worth replicating.

There are many paths to teaching young adults self-sufficiency, resilience, and how to adapt and overcome. I have a hunch the college track is a bit more expensive and inefficient vs other tracks; it's still a viable path, but suboptimal IMHO.


As someone who went to three different colleges to end up with one unused degree, I have pretty mixed feelings on the worth-it factor. Financially, I don't think it really opened the door through which I now make money, and I think this is increasingly true, that the debt from college is a barrier to entrepreneurship more than the knowledge opens doors.

In terms of development and fulfillment, it's harder to say. But I don't think the social time I got was quality social time. Instead of just being around a bunch of 18-22 year olds, I think I would have gotten a lot more out of traveling the world and meeting people from diverse backgrounds and of diverse ages. College culture just modeled how to be stressed, procrastinate and abuse alcohol.

That being said, what I did study there (music), I would have had a very hard time pursuing to the degree I did without that environment, so depending on what one studies it may be worth it. All in all, I'm leery of the college experience and how heavily it is sold as a cure-all for a person's future. Kind of a sneaky debt-engine if you ask me.


I really appreciate your comment. I've put five figures away for each of my kids already in investment accounts, and I get hassled by family with questions like, "What about college? Why didn't you put it in a 529 plan?" I respond with, "What if they want to start a business?" which always gets me a blank stare, like it's Frodo taking the ring to Mordor.

Maybe college improves in the future. Maybe taxes go up a bit and college becomes free in the US (or we live somewhere developed like Europe where college costs are minimal). With that said, I have to plan for a future where college isn't the only path to success for my children.


I too have saved a bunch of money for my kids and none of it is in a 529. For the exact same reason. Maybe they won’t want to go to college.


I applaud your foresight.


> I can watch them in double speed so that I can done quicker and my mind doesn't get bored and wander

Such an incredible time saver. I can't watch vids at normal speed anymore.

Also, the ability to pause and rewatch all or parts of the online lecture is another added bonus. Live lectures are horrible because if you don't understand one part, you might not understand the rest of the lecture. And it sucks having to stop the lecture and ask the prof/TA to go over something they already covered.


I'm also doing Startup School and I like the approach so far. It'll be interesting to see how they handle the scale of the current number of companies. Lectures are easy to post online, and homework/exercises are easy to distribute, but personal feedback requires individual attention, and that's not easy to recreate. The 'office hours' with groups and the vote-based-forums are a good idea to recreate some of that missing personal interaction so it'll be interesting to see how Startup School evolves.


There's nothing special about the 18 – 22 year age range. I attended a boarding high school and had to learn that stuff when I was 4 years younger. So what.


It's probably even more effective an experience if you're younger, but that's unlikely to be something that most people are ever going to have open to them.


can’t anyone rent an apartment in any college town and accomplish living near 18-22 year olds ? In fact if you are 18-22 yourself, it wouldn’t even be weird. You don’t need to pay college tuition to do this.


You'd probably be outcast as soon as people found out that you weren't attending. Which would probably come up pretty quickly when someone asks what your major is or who you have this semester.

You wouldn't be part of the shared experience.


I didn’t say pretend to attend classes. You could just tell the truth, you have a job or doing whatever you are really doing.


Funny, you could probably say the same about joining the military as well..


The standard criticism of Christensen's work on disruption is that it applies better to products sold to business than those sold to consumers. The perennial failure of Apple to die as per his predictions is a case in point.

He seems to have jumped into the "online resources will cause the traditional university to fail" bandwagon a bit late. I haven't heard that much hype about MOOCs lately, presumably because the dire completion rates have cleared out the hype circa 2013.

It wouldn't surprise me if he's right, but not for the right reasons. Half of US colleges could go bankrupt in 10-15 years simply because they don't really provide a good education. They won't be replaced by a disruptor, they will just no longer be able to crank out mediocre educational product to people who now realize that a Bachelor of Something Or Other from Podunk U isn't actually a ticket to the middle class.


> They won't be replaced by a disruptor, they will just no longer be able to crank out mediocre educational product to people who now realize that a Bachelor of Something Or Other from Podunk U isn't actually a ticket to the middle class.

A lot of people say this, but a College Education has an excellent ROI when you look at median earnings of college graduates vs median earnings of high school graduates.

Some majors such as accounting and engineering offer even better ROIs. Some entire industries, such as Education, are almost entirely blocked to someone without a college degree. Lifelong earning numbers are correlation and not causation. We've all meet great engineers that did not complete college. Still, as long as college graduates are out earning high school graduates by significant amounts colleges will not have to worry about attracting new students.


You mention correlation and causation here already, but perhaps you should take it further? A typical college graduate has considerably more factors in their favor to the typical high-school-only graduate even before accounting for the effect of an education.

The big question is, given a particular student, will they do better with a college education? I think the answer is probably 'yes' if they are able enough to go to a decent (not necessarily stellar) school. However, there is a vast educational hinterland offering terrible courses to weak students. These are propped up by subsidies and the idea that "any college education is better than none".


> The big question is, given a particular student, will they do better with a college education?

Maybe, it's really hard to measure. I suspect a good not great college is a very good way to improve a particular person's life, but not the absolute optimal use of four years and about $30,000.

While this question is really important for individuals to ask, I don't think this question is going to destroy institutions of higher learning. I think a lot of people will still take the relatively safe path of completing a four year degree.


I absolutely agree with you about "good not great" colleges probably working out pretty well for people. I would imagine that these will survive. It's the bottom half/third/quarter (not sure how far it will hit) that will have problems, in my opinion.


Most bottom performing companies will have problems, especially on industry downsides.


One crucial thing I think colleges often offer that helps, on top of the education of course, is the college connections with the business community... which for the student may gain you access to things like employment internships and post-graduation job opportunities. As people in college are often just starting out in their career path, I feel that these college features often give a person quite the leg up in forming your career experience / business network / etc.

Of course, some colleges don't really have a good placement rate or other connections with the business community. I wouldn't be surprised if you are right, and colleges of this sort, that provide poor quality, eventually do go bankrupt.


One interesting question is how many of those higher earners might have been happy to earn less if they didn't have that debt. Earnings might not be the only important variable, like how GDP is not necessarily a measure of happiness.


That last paragraph was what I was expecting this article to be about. Anecdotal, but I've seen fewer and fewer really intelligent kids going to college right after highschool. The ones that are able to pick up coding early just don't bother. They get hired through their family's network and leverage those jobs to learn what they actually need to know in less time. With the largest corporations ditching degree requirements, I only see that trend continuing. I'd love to see data on Google employee's education levels over time.


> The ones that are able to pick up coding early just don't bother. They get hired through their family's network

Heh. Indeed. Only an idiot would be born into a family without a strong professional network ;-)

Less sardonically, I did have this option after high school (although not through a family network). Fortunately, I took full advantage before finishing school and did a ton of freelancing plus an internship. I noticed, before it was too late, that the sort of software engineering work available without a degree was not going to keep me happy for 30+ years.

This is the advice I give bright young students (as opposed to those who merely have family connections): make certain that you're not going to become unbelievably bored by your late 20s.

If you can get a job doing web dev out of high school, you can land a job doing something super fun like self-driving after college and you can write your own job description with a phd.

Your advice is good for kinda dumb kids from well-networked families, but IMO terrible advice for actually really intelligent kids. They will become super bored with the sort of software development that's available without spending a few years getting a good university-level grounding in mathematics and natural sciences. You can do that without going to college but it's still a four-year full time job...

> I'd love to see data on Google employee's education levels over time.

I think you'd be disappointed; Google hires a ton of Ph.Ds and recruits heavily from tippy-top universities.


I was born on the west side of Chicago, grew up in Englewood. I got my first job at 14 at the grocery store my mother worked at as a clerk. I worked there for two years before I convinced the owner to let me look at their inventory system. I didn't even get paid extra for that job, he led me to another job where I got to do some web design and got paid right around the minimum wage. And if I hadn't taken that job? No funds for college, no idea that I was actually smart enough to go, etc.

You don't need a "strong professional network" to have your family help you find work, and I take offense to the implication that only affluent people have the means to support each other. There's no one stopping "bright young students" from getting their shoes dirty and finding someone who needs real work done. God knows there are enough kids already pushed away from programming by the elitist attitude you're displaying here. Most people can't afford to worry about what's "boring", they're focused on making sure they can survive. A degree is an expense that can be delayed until it's necessary.


> Most people can't afford to worry about what's "boring", they're focused on making sure they can survive

Isn't the point that kids (transitioning to adults) who can get the good jobs without college are going to be out of the "just trying to survive" category? They'll make enough money that they have time, and they are bright enough and motivated to learn enough that they are likely to get bored.

A better response would be that autodidacts are more likely to keep learning on their own, and therefore have less need of a college degree to develop the skills for self-driving car work or whatever else.


Yeah, more or less what I was getting at but I bit the throwaway bait. Live and learn. Thanks for clarifying.


I'm glad you got lucky.

> You don't need a "strong professional network" to have your family help you find work

No, but it certainly helps. Especially software development work.

Regarding the rest, your original comment singles out "really intelligent kids". I was largely replying to that description.

In general, advising people who fit that model to prematurely optimize so early in life is doing them a huge disservice.

A "really intelligent kid" can get college mostly paid for through scholarships and have the world at their feet after graduating.

The urge to take that dev job after high school is strong (been there), but it's generally a huge net loss for someone who is actually "really intelligent".

> Most people can't afford to worry about what's "boring"

I'm very concerned by your attitude that folks from modest means aren't capable of boredom, aren't capable of burnout.

I'm also saddened by the fact that you seem to take offense toward encouraging "really intelligent kids" to actually use that raw intellect just because they happen to come from a modest background.


I don't think there is a big trend at Google or Facebook or wherever to hire younger and younger people; in fact, if you look at core infrastructure at these companies, it's filled with people with more than an undergraduate degree and lots of experience. Sure, there are the occasional brilliant kids whom you can hire early, but many people benefit from formal, structured schooling.


> It wouldn't surprise me if he's right, but not for the right reasons. Half of US colleges could go bankrupt in 10-15 years simply because they don't really provide a good education.

Another reason (probably several) is that at the moment school education in the US is pretty bad. Private and even average US universities are usually decent at filling those gaps. Even mediocre universities (as long as they are inexpensive), can provide some benefits because they have to compete and convince parents that their money is not going to be completely wasted.

Improve schools so most graduating kids have a decent general education and experience in 2-3 STEM technologies of choice (which I bet we could achieve during 13 years of school) and suddenly the number of people who want to spend another 4 years at Podunk U shrinks a lot more. My 2c.


> He seems to have jumped into the "online resources will cause the traditional university to fail" bandwagon a bit late.

This consulting firm advertisement is a very useful mental model, and I think MOOCs are probably on their way up and out of the trough of disappointment into the plateau of productivity: https://blogs.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/files/2017/08/E...

> They won't be replaced by a disruptor, they will just no longer be able to crank out mediocre educational product to people who now realize that a Bachelor of Something Or Other from Podunk U isn't actually a ticket to the middle class.

This seems likely. My model for predicting college bankruptcy has exactly one input, which is this dataset: https://ifap.ed.gov/DefaultManagement/DefaultManagement.html


> This seems likely. My model for predicting college bankruptcy has exactly one input, which is this dataset: https://ifap.ed.gov/DefaultManagement/DefaultManagement.html

This is a good dataset. It's important to remember that while the top 100 schools dominate the conversation around college, many many students go to smaller or non-selective schools that have a very different setup.


The only way I see that happening is if Harvard, or a school of similar class/reputation figures out a way to open up their classes to everybody who could get a degree regardless of where they live. Nobody would get a Uof[STATE] degree if for the same price they could get a degree from MIT or Harvard without leaving their home town. Both of these are important - it doesn't matter how much lecture hall space Harvard magically builds this summer (magic - there is not enough physical space on their campus without magic) as going to classes in Massachusetts is not an option for some people. Likewise, cost is sometimes a factor keeping students to a different university.

Online learning has made great strides, but it doesn't seem like it is at that level.


But why Harvard would do that? The whole point of Harvard degree is that not everybody can get it, actual education value is not as important.


The flaw is, imho, in the fact that we are talking about business models.

If you look at thriving universities in Europe, in thriving countries (like Finland, Sweden and Norway) you might see that they are basically run at loss: this is because education is an investment, not an expense.

Education is supposed to be an investment for nations, not individuals (or, more realistically, parents of individuals).


In the US, enrollment has been declining at smaller liberal arts colleges. These are private schools that rely primarily on high tuition costs and alumni donations to operate. Public universities have had steady enrollment, receive government funding, and are in no danger of shutting down.


>In the US, enrollment has been declining at smaller liberal arts colleges. These are private schools that rely primarily on high tuition costs and alumni donations to operate.

Does that surprise anyone? As an EU citizen I'm just dumbfounded that people have to pay so much money to get some minor that is totally worthless to the marketplace in order to get a more worthwhile major. Especially in liberal arts, like who in the world thinks getting a gender studies minor in order to enroll to some kind of teaching major is a sound idea, especially given the current wages of teachers? I understand the allure for lawyers though.


In the U.S. 4 year degrees revolve around a shared, core curriculum. This is the case at both small, liberal arts colleges and large universities. A biology major has to take multiple writing classes; a gender studies major has to take multiple math classes. Both will take core classes in history, economics, sociology or psychology, etc.

Moreover, the way students are taught and graded can be different, especially compared to say, a German university. An American education emphasizes the process and discipline of learning. Seminars or seminar-style classes are common, even in the first two years. Basic facts and formulas can be learned on your own. If you don't care much for the process travel to Germany, sign up for the exams, and get a degree in a semester.

It's a different, more traditional, approach. Whether its better or worse depends on your metrics and goals.

Also, I've never heard of a minor being required. According to Google it's a thing, but also appears to be an exception rather than the norm. Anyhow, once you get past the distinctions between liberal arts, science, and engineering programs, employers couldn't care less about majors and minors, precisely because the primary indicator of a degree is that you've persevered through the core curriculum. You may hate writing/arithmetic but if you've made it through 3 college-level writing/math classes that says something about your discipline and follow-through, regardless of whether the material is relevant to a particular job position. Esoteric majors and minors is mostly a way for colleges to distinguish themselves; it's a sales strategy.

I think the U.S. would do well to adopt European models of higher-education. But I don't think such schools would ever replace a traditional 4-year degree for the upper-middle class or wealthy, for both substantive and cultural reasons. I also don't think it will ever happen, period, because the European model of education goes hand-in-hand with government policy, corporate culture, and union structures. The U.S. is unlikely to mimic the latter three, so the more generalist educational model will dominate.


The assumption being that it's the government's job to invest in individuals. I'm not here to argue either way, but at least half the country would disagree that it is.


> The assumption being that it's the government's job to invest in individuals. I'm not here to argue either way, but at least half the country would disagree that it is.

Why is the government involved in teaching children how to read, write, do arithmetic, and sit in a chair for 8 hours a day, then?

Absolute ideological opposition to government involvement in education - period - is a fringe opinion, that is at best, shared by ~5% of the country - not 50%. (Much of the 50% disagrees about the curriculum, but that's another story.)


We're obviously talking about higher education here. We all agree basic functioning citizens need 12 years of education. Educational attainment beyond that varies depending on occupation requirements and personal interest.


Given the problems that people without post-secondary degrees face, I don't think it's a stretch to say that productive, functioning citizens need 12 + ??? years of education.

For every example you give of a successful college dropout, I can give an example of a successful person who only forced themselves to slog through 12 years of schooling for the sake of social signaling, and not running afoul of truancy laws.


The other half treats education as investing in society.


I wonder if there some other services that colleges provide that he misses out:

1. Space just to get away and think

2. meeting other people

3. meeting people to date

4. Physical scheduled deadlines to ensure that you complete the task

When the online system provides those, I think it'll be game over.

I can see a hybrid though: my underused hotel turns into a dorm with high bandwidth connection to Stanford's curriculum and the local professor will give coaching when necessary.


Let's not forget where big public universities have really been spending their (and their donors') money lately:

5. Luxury student dorms.

6. High-end gym facilities.

7. Junior professional sports (Bonus: pay and benefits for the athletes is peanuts.)

The things I don't like about universities are the hardest to replace.


>5. Luxury student dorms.

Having slept in many of those dorms, I would not call them luxurious.


Dorms are interesting because the colleges really do have to compete with the outside real estate market (including, in some schools more than others, the student's room at their parent's house) and with each other. We've all heard stories of crumbling dorms in decades past, but it wasn't too long ago that boarding houses and cold water flats (i.e., apartments with no hot water) were reasonably common.

If potential students come to visit a college and the dorms notably look bad, they might get a bad impression of the school, even subconsciously and end up going somewhere else. And if too many students decide to live off campus, it messes with student activities and general sense of school pride (which also messes with future alumni donations) and with the school's bottom line.


> Junior professional sports (Bonus: pay and benefits for the athletes is peanuts.)

While they don't get money, the athletes at top schools do get compensated in plenty of ways, including tuition, access to world class facilities, and individualized attention from coaches and staff.


Until they get hurt, when they're cast aside like yesterday's trash.



Luxury dorms? Which schools have that?


Some may not use the word luxury, but there are a few nicer ones out there.

https://www.housebeautiful.com/promotions/g21086931/best-col...


I went to WashU (#1 on that list) and while the dorms were nice I wouldn't say they were "nicer than your apartment" or "luxury". The benefits that you would find that you wouldn't find at most other places are personal bathrooms (sort of... you're still sharing with other students but just not a full hall of them), tempurpedic mattresses (only in the older dorms when I was there), and maybe carpeted floors. Beyond that it's not like we got anything crazy. We had a common room that was basically a table and a few chairs to study at, one in the basement that had a few couches and a TV, and one tiny kitchen for the entire building.

Just a little bit of context as far as "luxury dorms" go since I see WashU at the top of almost every list. Maybe luxury means your plumbing doesn't break when it gets cold and you don't get athlete's foot from the showers in the shared bathroom.



I didn't read his opinion as challenging the value of a true college experience, just suggesting that the cost savings of online education will make it a much more attractive option for a lot of people.

Your points made me curious, though - it'll be interesting to see if there's a shift to favor a certain type of individual who thrives in an online education system vs traditional, as well as what implications that has for workplace performance.


The savings from the cost of traditional college helps very much if a MOOC student manages to find a way to network with people via Meetups or other ways - and with the money saved one no longer has to be stingy over paying membership fees for some organizations


I dropped out after my sophomore year after I got an offer to move from an intern position to a JR developer position. I enjoyed my time greatly, but also do not regret my decision to leave partway through (yet).

Would a 2-year, highly internship and industry focused program be able to offer the same social benefits while reducing cost?


I did something similar after one year, I dropped out to start an app development business that was growing for me pretty steadily, the business didn't do well long term and I took a job in the industry. I Haven't regretted it yet and I'm far ahead of my peers in just the debt load alone, that doesn't even include my higher salary, better resume and more years of experience. I'm not too upset that I missed a few years of binge drinking myself to death to get a head start on my life.


Just removing responsibility for accreditation from universities would be a start.


That's an interesting idea. Could you explain your reasoning a bit?


At the moment you can't really compare the results from one university to another. This makes it a market for Lemons[1]. If they are all teaching to a common standard then it would open up some real competition.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Market_for_Lemons


Why are the deadlines at an online school any less real than those at a physical school?


> Why are the deadlines at an online school any less real than those at a physical school?

I'm not in education atm but have a lot of experience working with students.

This is a real psychological effect even if it's maybe hard for tech types to understand. I think it has to do with the fact that social pressure is avoidable online (you don't have to show up and face the teacher whose work you didn't do). That perception has a strong effect on students; they feel shame for not doing their work even when teachers don't really give a damn about whether they did their homework/project.

Maybe not impossible to overcome, but a real problem. Education disruptors ignore these sorts of strong psychological effects around education at their own peril...


It's the anonymity of a large university classroom that makes it possible to feel like it's acceptable to stop attending - my best attended classes were those where the professor knew my name. I imagine there would be worse absenteeism in online courses.


The deadlines are just as real, but the adherence to those deadlines is quite different.

From my personal experience the difference is night and day. And not just for college courses vs online courses, but even for casual offline courses vs online courses.

The data apparently reflects my personal experience. I can't find any of the (numerous) studies I had seen before, but this link alludes to them:

https://www.usnews.com/education/online-education/articles/2...


It's not real until you're sprinting through the dark basement of an old building trying to find the right door to slip your essay under by the 7am cutoff. But seriously I agree, almost everything is handed in electronically now anyway.


Let me see if I can give this a shot:

1. Nature...have you tried it?

2. Meetups and other social gatherings around various interests and trades

3. OkCupid, Tinder, etc.

4. ...a job? Jira? One of a number of existing mechanisms for accountability?

There you go! I found game over for you!

As someone who didn't go to college until their late 20s, I would've foregone the whole thing if I could've done it online. I think people overvalue the "go to college after high school" thing just because it's become such an accepted practice, but it's a normality fallacy.


There's a difference between "going to college" to take classes, and dedicating oneself to a subject in an environment with capable peers and professors.

Here's what the latter looks like: http://cds.cern.ch/record/548966/files/0204295.pdf

Unfortunately, the great majority of young people only gets to experience the only former, and they are being cheated and don't even know it.


It is dramatically harder to meet someone on OkCupid or Tinder than it is in real life, unless you're either (1) a woman, or (2) a significantly more attractive than average man.


He's been saying this since 2013, sticking the 15 year horizon (which would now leave 10 years): "Fifteen years from now more than half of the universities will be in bankruptcy, including the state schools. In the end, I am excited to see that happen." (source: https://www.bizjournals.com/sanjose/news/2013/02/07/disrupti...)

Even if he is directionally correct, he could be way off on the timing.


This doesn't really surprise me. There are so many terrible, and sometimes predatory for-profit tradeschool/colleges out there. State tuition scholarships are only getting worse over time, MOOC's are only getting better, and branching out into larger fields. Many for-profit colleges/tradeschools are using lynda.com and other partnerships with MOOCs anyhow.

Grad schools are now offering online equivalents that are treated seriously (e.g. Georgia Tech especially) at affordable rates.

Even when I had courses in university, sometimes there was an online version of every class. Why spend the effort of going to class, getting ready, when you can just watch everything at 2x playback speed?

There are some classes that require hands on learning. But these are far and inbetween, and mostly are STEM related anyhow. You can't replace the collaborative experience, social connections of a college campus. And wisdom from an instructor, or those connections. But you don't need to go through that twice (grad school - unless for research) and tuition costs for online grad degrees are only lowering down for these


MOOCs aren't the competition for colleges: higher education largely sells credentials, not skills.

The risk is a mix of a decline in credentialism (eg, no longer wanting a college degree for babysitting or firefighting jobs) and a rise in an independent credentialing bodies (like what actuaries have).


Georgia tech is one of the best comp sci universities out there, and their online masters program is not only accredited, it's indistinguishable from the on site masters program. The peice of paper does not diffirentiate between the two.

So the credentials are there for Georgia tech, I do not know about the others though.


> Fortunately, Christensen says that there is one thing that online education will not be able to replace. In his research, he found that most of the successful alumni who gave generous donations to their alma maters did so because a specific professor or coach inspired them.

This is still my argument for in-person lectures. Online classes are okay, but the insights gained from the unexplainable passion presented through oration provides unparalleled value to one's motivation and internal framework.


Lectures from professors who are supremely skilled at pedagogy are great. Lucky students will have only a handful of those in their academic careers. These can, however, be recorded. It might not be as electrifying as the real thing, but the real thing is so rare.

There are other activities that simply can't be done alone, however: laboratory classes, recitations and interactions where the students engage at a personal level with professors, TA's and other students. This is how students develop relationships that they carry with them past their time in academia.

There is room, I think, for a hybrid approach. A combination of online learning with some kind of periodic on-site and in-person practicum. This drastically lowers the cost of the education, but still engages students on a personal level.


One of my CS professors used the "flipped classroom" technique. He would assign the readings and expect them to be done by the time of the scheduled class. Then we would jointly do exercises and collaborate on the topics that were touched upon in the readings. He was ruthless if it was obvious you hadn't done the reading. It was effective.

I think one or two days a week for 2 hours is the perfect amount of lab/in-person collaboration time. Combined with an online forum for questions and video lectures, that would be an ideal course of instruction for me.


I'd love to see a teacher apply how modern influencers approach media. Gary Vaynerchuk is an extreme example. Create a lecture, put it online. Then create 5x10 second soundbites of the most meaningful parts. Then create meme+quotes to be shared. Then create some GIFs of you being animated with caption text. Then read all the comments and create a second round of media if people are resonating with any other pieces.

They would need to think through the recording setup and cant just put a wide angle on the powerpoint and call it a day.


That sounds like a technology problem. As in, as the technology gets better, you’d be able to have that same experience online.


I'm currently a senior in college. The number of lecturers I would consider "good" (or better) at lecturing is small. I've had probably ~30 lecturers at this point. Of those, <=5 are >=good.


And I don't know what your experience has been, but the majority of the good/excellent lecturers I had in college were actually TAs & low end adjunct or associate professors, not the preeminent tenured research professors.


One thing I don't get about online schools and courses is their lack of laboratory facilities. How is a student supposed to do engineering or natural sciences without labs? When I was doing engineering we used to spend so much time in labs doing experiments on expensive machines (electron microscope, X-ray diffractor etc.) that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. For me the real learning happened in the lab. How do MOOC and online courses plan to fill this gap?


A primary draw of the engineering school at my university was an overabundance of hardware, especially in the CS program. I only had one class where there was a waiting list for hardware and that class was almost entirely grad students.


99% of course work students do doesn't actually involve labs.

I could see dedicated lab facilities being provided to students taking a MOOC or some other class.


Apparently even good universities like UT Austin don't care about labs anymore. They offer an online grad degree in Mechanical Engineering with no lab work! Imagine calling yourself a mechanical engineer without having set a foot in the lab.

https://executive.engr.utexas.edu/pme/msme.php


I am a PhD student at UT Austin in mechanical engineering right now. The MS does not require a lab class in either case. In my division, thermal/fluid systems, you can take either a class on experimental methods or a class on numerical methods (or both if you want) for a MS. Both are required for a PhD.

http://www.me.utexas.edu/graduate/areas/tfs/courses

Multiple lab courses are required for a BS in mechanical engineering at UT.


The interesting thing about the marketplace disruption model is how difficult it can be to distinguish disruptive from sustaining innovations in their early phases.

Take electric cars, an example that Christensen has talked about in his books. He viewed electric cars as a disruptive innovation.

However, few of the predictions about the electric car market from this perspective have held up. Tesla, the upstart, attacked the market from the top end, not the bottom end with luxury cars. The company now has formidable competitors in major auto makers including Mercades, and GM. Electric cars are still pricy and appeal to an upmarket customer base willing to sacrifice range for other factors.

Christensen's blueprint for the electric car industry was attack from the bottom. Focus on markets where inexpensive, short range vehicles are an advantage. He offers parents buying a first car for their kids as an example.

But that's not how things have played out. It turns out that replacing a combustion-based powertrain with an electric one allows established players to continue using the same business model that got them where they are. Petroleum companies may be disrupted in the changeover to EVs, but that has little to do with automakers who at the end of the day make a bug hunk of metal and plastic for moving people around and sell it on credit.

It's tempting to think of online universities in much the same way as Christensen thought about electric cars: as a disruptive innovation.

What if online universities are instead sustaining innovations that will allow incumbents to preserve their existing business models (selling prestige and a credential to families with college-age children) while proving hostile to startups hoping to break in?


  However, few of the predictions about the electric car market from this perspective have held up
Clayton Christensen making predictions throws me through a loop. I feel like he misunderstood his own thesis. My take away from Innovator's Dilemma was that (1) at every step of the game the most economically rational, profit maximizing strategy is to ride your successful business model all the way to the cliff and (2) you cannot predict what will become disruptive because success is context dependent, path dependent, and highly dynamic. If you could foresee all those interdependencies you could make a fortune in the stock market over night; but you can't. Something appears disruptive only in retrospect; beforehand it's just one among several competing alternatives, most or all of which will be forgotten.

His big solution at the end of the Innovator's Dilemma was GE-style conglomerates that spun off small ventures to test new ideas free from parent companies' economic calculus. But look at where GE and similar corporations mentioned in the book are now. That strategy does nothing to overcome the fundamental impediments to perpetual business success. Failure is inevitable, period. The only real "solution" is a financial market that can quickly reallocate capital to the manifest winners. The more efficient that capital and labor markets become, the less of an advantage large conglomerates will enjoy. But it all comes down to allocation of resources subsequent to the emergence of identifiable market trends.

I never bothered to read his other books because what was the point? He was right in the first-half of the Innovator's Dilemma; everything he wrote after that was a contradiction.


Meh. So far, on-line education hasn't disrupted that much.

Just this year the University of London has launched a fully on-line BSc in CS, but the MOOC movement has started in 2011 that is seven or eight years ago.

So far, the MOOC movement has basically failed to truly deliver.

In the end Udacity is selling something called "micro-masters" which is a nicer term to indicate "industrial certifications".

If this is how it proceeds, my opinion is that in ten years most universities will still be where they now are, safe and sound.


People here seem to think Christensen is saying higher ed is dying, but I don't think that is the point he is making. Flagship state schools and the Stanfords, MITs and Princetons of the world will be just fine, but there are many small, private, liberal arts colleges (often with a religious affiliation) that are in a big trouble financially. Many of these schools are fairly expensive at 30k a year or more and they are having a really hard time attracting students. This article has a lot more details about this trend:

https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/11/13/spate-recent-...

Something like 30% of the colleges in the US have less than 1,000 students and those are the schools that are in trouble, a drop in enrollment for a school that size is a death knell:

https://www.chronicle.com/article/The-Real-Reason-Small-Coll...

Many of these schools haven't changed their curriculum in decades, in fact they can't even give a reasonable definition to the term "Liberal Arts" and with costs so high parents and students are expecting a little bit more to justify the investment.

https://hechingerreport.org/with-enrollment-sliding-liberal-...

Personally I think the way we handle higher education in the US is totally backwards; get the degree and then try to figure out what to do for the rest of your life? What the heck kind of plan is that? If someone came to you with a business plan written like some of these kid's plans for the future would you invest $200,000 in their business? And yet somehow we loan kids money to pursue this plan and/or parents spend the money to fund it. It is absolutely insane that this has gone on as long as it has. Imagine if these kids had to submit a 10-20 year plan before they could take a out a student loan?


  Imagine if these kids had to submit a 10-20 year plan before they could take a out a student loan?
Imagine if you had to pick a major when you were 6 years old. That would be insane. (Insane is a poor choice of words because this is effectively the case in many countries for cultural reasons, but in the context of U.S. culture would be considered imprudent and impractical.)

In a society like the United States where employees are expendable and life-time employment will involve numerous different companies and positions, there's something to be said for a generalist education. If the U.S. had an industrial policy like Germany than a German-style educational model would make much more sense. But the U.S. has consistently rejected those policies, despite decades of economists of all stripes advising politicians to do so. (The same is true to a lesser extent in the rest of the Anglosphere, which not coincidentally also have higher education models more similar to the U.S. than continental Europe and much of the rest of the world.) Therefore, employers will value the more generalist approach. In the U.S. a 4-year biology degree matters not because of what it says about your knowledge in biology, but largely because it shows you persevered through 2+ years of writing, history, etc. In other words, you had the discipline to take up other subjects you didn't explicitly choose; not only pass their exams but to go to the classes (i.e. show-up!) and do the coursework (obey orders). And, ideally, it would show that you can integrate and apply those disciplines and methodologies to various tasks. (This is more aspirational.)


How does this make sense given the astronomical year-to-year increases in college costs with no end in sight? Where is all the money going? I assume ballooning administrations.


I assume the logic is that eventually there will not be enough students willing to pay those higher prices, in part because they'll have online education as a (much cheaper) alternative.


> How does this make sense given the astronomical year-to-year increases in college costs with no end in sight?

Do you have a citation for the above increases? There have been big increases at state schools as state governments have reduced funding, but that's mostly over (there's much less state funding to cut now.) Nameplate cost at private institutions has gone up, but net cost to students (actual amounts paid by students after grants and financial aid) has not gone up that much.


https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/paying-for-co...

>net cost to students (actual amounts paid by students after grants and financial aid) has not gone up that much.

I'm skeptical of that claim and would request a citation as well. College Board says the opposite (tuition and fees increasing faster than aid): https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/10/25/tuition-and-f...

And another important set of expenses to track are non-tuition related expenses; it costs more than ever to rent an apartment and pay for other such expenses today.


So the US News graphs don't adjust for inflation (as they note). If you perform that adjustment, it's a 50% increase over 20 years, which is something, but not astronomical. That pretty much matches this inflation-adjusted data: https://trends.collegeboard.org/college-pricing/figures-tabl...

Here's the net cost data, showing that the net real cost is only up about 10% over 5 years. Some sub-numbers are even lower. Net tuition for private non-profit schools is _flat_ across the last 15 years ($14,560 in 02-03, $14,540 in 17-18): https://trends.collegeboard.org/college-pricing/figures-tabl...

My argument is that college prices are up, but largely because of disinvestment by state legislatures, pushing up the perceived cost of college, which allows the private schools to increase their nameplate costs significantly, while using financial aid to keep the actual increases to students in-line with the increases in actual costs for state students.

Another way of looking at it is this: If colleges have been raising tuition astronomically, what have they been doing with the additional money? Additional expenditures on students or facilities are not much changed over the past 10 years. Real expenses per-student are largely flat: https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d16/tables/dt16_334.10.a...

If colleges were jacking prices through the roof to spend way more on unnecessary luxuries or administrators (as the common wisdom would have it), that would show up in the expenditures data, and it's just not there.

I do agree that non-tuition related expenses are an issue, but that's not the university's fault, other than not building dorms fast enough (and dorms are usually pretty expensive, so it's just as likely that the issue is zoning and building restrictions by university town government, rather than university administrators).


Just wait and see what happens when they cut off federal student loans. That’d pull the rug out from under the higher ed house of cards much faster than 10-15 years.


The title is clickbait. Enough third tier schools will in fact fail to give it the aura of plausibility. And if the US becomes more hostile and closed to foreign students, we could totally screw this up.

But rising economies around the world will produce a lot more high quality students than their home countries' elite universities can absorb, and that will provide enough customers for good quality universities in the US. There will also be a market for children of wealthy families who can't make it into very selective schools. Probably for 30 years+. Beyond that, US schools will face more competition, but a global middle class will continue to grow.


I don't have any sources at my fingertips, but the US has some of the most lenient college admissions for "adult" students of any country on the planet. In some countries, if you haven't decided on a college track by, say, middle school, then you are going to a trade school, not college. And it's tough in many countries to get into school at all later if you didn't get all your ducks in a row for college right out of high school.

In contrast, the US makes it easier to go back to school past a certain age. So a lot of foreigners go to school here because you basically need enough money to pull it off. There are a lot of fewer things that automatically slam the door shut in your face because you didn't do a thing at age 13 or whatever.

Disclaimer: I haven't read the article. I'm just replying to what is in this comment and agreeing that the US will likely continue to educate the world for the foreseeable future.


Charlie Munger quotes--

“There’s a lot wrong [with American universities]. I’d remove 3/4 of the faculty — everything but the hard sciences. But nobody’s going to do that, so we’ll have to live with the defects. It’s amazing how wrongheaded [the teaching is]. There is fatal disconnectedness. You have these squirrelly people in each department who don’t see the big picture.”

“I think liberal art faculties at major universities have views that are not very sound, at least on public policy issues — they may know a lot of French [however].”

"Teaching people formulas that don’t really work in real life is a disaster for the world.”


In my opinion moocs have a long way to go to be comparable to an in person experience. First of all the execution of the pre-recorded lectures is not nearly as good as in person. Writing on the board vs seeing slides and hearing a voice vs seeing someone talk in person is very different. The pacing of the pre-recorded lectures is very mechanical as I'm sure it's tough teaching a camera, whereas in person it is pretty natural. The ability to ask questions in class really helps too. Not meeting with other students/tas/professors in person really has a bad outcome on learning.


Education + colleges have been my full-time area of research and work for the past 12 months:

- The funnel of how we access learning has changed, and colleges are further down on the bottom of the funnel. Many are already losing money each year.

- Traditional education seems simply not able to keep up with the rate of change in society.

- How the majority of people today learn something, or acquire knowledge/skill/competency seems to be distinctly changing:

1) Find something on Google/Youtube. Failing that,

2) Find a small e-course. Failing that,

3) Find a larger e-course. Failing that,

4) If there's a lot of courses we discover we need, we look for perhaps a micro-credential or small course. Failing that,

5) If our need is beyond what a micro-course can provide, we may look at a program in a community college, polytechnic, etc.

- Academically speaking, the future of education is not solely online, or offline, or blended. These are dated academic concepts that don't cover the 70% of learning that is informal and occurs outside of the classroom. People just find a way to learn now, or share knowledge.

- We can't replace instructors, or instruction, we need to better support the instructors who are willing to learn digital skills. Many refuse. We have a lot of educators trying to use technology but not competent with it's capabilities or possibilities.

- The future of education is about creating better digital learning interactions that can evolve and update with the rate of change of best pracice in a domain. That domain will be digitally supported, whether it's digital classrooms, digital textbooks (of sorts), or digital learning, all powered through human connection.

- Education can't keep up with speed. Lots of topics are emerging and changing faster than ever before. A 2000 year old model of higher education will need to evolve, because knowledge and how to apply it is evolving quicker than traditional education can.

- Traditional colleges, while still very relevant, will have a diminished role in the most emergent or changing educational topics.

This isn't new, but I think the change will come not from the top or the bottom of the pyramid, but from the side at all levels. There are many good pockets of activity occurring, and while they don't make a suit quite yet...


Bankruptcy isn't a bad idea for universities. They're not supposed to be for-profit corporations, although many have run them as such. Bankruptcy could help schools restructure their operations, but that requires that boards of directors haven't been captured by financial interests.


> Bankruptcy isn't a bad idea for universities.

It's important to note that the way university finances / endowments are structured, as well as the demands of alumni make it so that bankruptcy isn't really that simple in higher ed. [0]

> They're not supposed to be for-profit corporations

I suspect that you don't totally grasp the non-profit vs for-profit distinction. The essential difference between a for-profit and a non-profit is simply that non-profits re-invest their profits into the organization rather than distributing those profits to shareholders. The original intent of this structure was to facilitate philanthropic endeavors (which have pretty much always been self-serving in some subtle way), but just because a non-profit corporation isn't associated with some obvious social benefit doesn't make it any less of a non-profit if it doesn't have shareholders.

It's not always obvious, but Rolex and Ikea are both structured as non-profits (with some for-profit subsidiaries iirc).

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweet_Briar_College#2015_closu...


> The essential difference between a for-profit and a non-profit is simply that non-profits re-invest their profits into the organization rather than distributing those profits to shareholders

They can't distribute to shareholders, but they aren't required to reinvest. What exactly they can do, with profits or more generally, depends on the specific class of nonprofit they are.


Didn't know that, but admittedly even my notions of how non-profits are structured is only slightly deeper than the popular notion of what non-profits are supposed to be. I mostly just wish we'd all disabuse ourselves of the notion that non-profits are always meant to promote some greater social cause. Firsthand experience tells me that the statement "non-profit == good, for-profit == evil" doesn't always hold up.


> I mostly just wish we'd all disabuse ourselves of the notion that non-profits are always meant to promote some greater social cause.

There are classes of nonprofits for which this is not true (the NFL, for instance, is one example of a nonprofit for which that is not true), sure, but most of the cases where this comes up about US nonprofits the focus is usually on specifically 501(c)3 charities for which this is specifically, by law, true, as they must be organized and operated for some combination of a specific enumerated list of purposes deemed socially desirable, which is the whole reason that not only are the organizations themselves tax exempt, but donations to them are tax deductible. Relevant to this conversation, that's absolutely the norm for nonprofit institutions of higher education.


I'll admit my ignorance about the details, but I do stand by my belief that non-profits are not always necessarily beneficial for society- I don't think that's particularly controversial. In many cases, there's a substantial gap between "deemed beneficial" and actually beneficial that most people don't grasp because they've been indoctrinated to believe that non-profits can do no wrong. More discerning folks will pore over 990s and ratings on Charity Navigator.


> I do stand by my belief that non-profits are not always necessarily beneficial for society

That's a fairly non-controversial claim (even regarding specifically 501c3 orgs), but something being actually “beneficial to society” is not the same thing as it being “meant to promote some greater social cause.”


Yes, non profit, not for profit, profit, it’s all just useful for tax evasion and obscuring information.


In practice, this is an extraordinarily delicate and dangerous process.

Suppose you are a CS professor at the sort of no-name university that this article is talking about.

Odds are, you're more than qualified for a lot of industry roles (and have former students who would hire you on without blinking). Also, those industry roles have much higher salaries than your teaching gig. However, you stay at No-Name U. because it's a pleasant life and you enjoy teaching.

Then admin comes along and chops half your tenured colleagues. Suddenly, No Name U. is a hellish place to work. Time to leave.

Now multiply that across all of the faculties that have private sector options.

Now notice that those are exactly the majors that are difficult to recruit faculty for in the first place [1] and, moreover, are exactly majors that students are interested in these days.

That's the risk. At universities, cutting back means firing people. And firing people means low morale. And low morale means losing exactly the people who were going to power your turn-around story.

[1] https://cra.org/articles-addressing-shortage-of-cs-professor...


> They're not supposed to be for-profit corporations, although many have run them as such.

Can you explain a bit about why you believe that? I could imagine different parties having different goals for the same institution.


Excellent. Couldn't happen to a more deserving bunch.


If we unbundle the courses and/or make MOOCS minimally OK - what's to stop students hiring their own TA to help them through. So long as you pair this up with a nationally recognised micro-credential framework you could see the development of a "faculty" led small-school revival. Add in some sort of matchmaker service at critical mass, some sort of pedagogy credential (how to teach well, not what to teach) and education becomes a nice small business opportunity for PhD holders.


This is a pretty information light article. If we assume that college prices are unsustainably high, and online courses achieve results comparable with a large swath of universities, it's not clear whether he assumes theses schools are unwilling or unable to respond to the changing environment.

He may well be right, but it would be foolish to think that these schools don't see the same data he does, and that they're not going to at least try to address it.


Premise makes sense and I want this to happen but have to keep in mind we are easily swayed by extrapolations that forecast doom. Probably won't be to the extent he predicts


I think Christensen is generally right here.

Colleges exist as physical institutions for largely obsolete reasons:

1. Libraries - pre-internet/digitization, a massive amount of human knowledge lived solely in university libraries. The size and contents of a given university's library was a very real driver of its value as an educational institution. That may be marginally true today, especially in the case of rare manuscripts and whatnot, but the competitive advantage of having an expansive library is basically gone.

2. Recruiting - Companies try to recruit new employees at universities for several reasons. First, they're outsourcing basic candidate diligence to admissions committees. Second, they see efficiency in putting the mouth of the candidate funnel where there are lots of smart motivated young people in one place. Third, alumni loyalty to alma mater is often very strong. However, technology (electronic background checks, being able to look at a candidate's repo, etc) has seriously degraded the AdCom's relative value in filtering for people who are smart, not criminals, and can get authority figures to say nice things about them. Similarly, technology has reduced to near-zero the necessity of having face-to-face interaction during the initial stages of the hiring process (employers will always want to do in-person final rounds, but the need for in-person funnel-mouth events like career fairs / company informational presentations / etc no longer exists as it did pre-internet). Alumni loyalty will be far more sticky, but its importance will diminish over time.

3. Professors - just as the competitive moat provided by libraries was largely destroyed by the internet, so too is professor access. You can talk shop with many big-name academics on Twitter; you can watch their lectures on Youtube; they will email you their papers if you email them to ask; etc. Is a Twitter argument the same as visiting someone during their office hours? No, but it's a big improvement on the previous status quo.

I think it's going to be a very, very hard landing for colleges over the next couple decades as young people start making different decisions based on the options available to them.


Respectfully, I think analyses like this (there are many going back to the 90's at least) miss the -1st and 0th assets offered by elite universities: signaling power of the institution itself, and the opportunity to live among---and interact nearly continuously with--other full-time learners of diverse backgrounds but of generally similar ability. Elite universities do not exist to impart technical knowledge and skills (both can be obtained via many other routes), but to propagate and modulate the class system by 1) sorting individuals, 2) putting them in a warm fuzzy place where they can acculturate, form new relationships, and figure out how they (and w/e domain they choose to specialize in) relates to the broader array of institutions, and 3) providing a succinct, society-wide signaling mechanism (not that it's good/fair/accurate, just that it is widely accepted).

So far as I am aware, these deeper assets of universities are not under threat. In my experience, people with strong technical skills from non-elite educational routes end up working for people with weak technical skills from elite universities, for a broad variety of reasons (esp. access to capital, comfort in managerial positions). That said, I think we are at risk of seeing the higher education system become increasingly bifurcated: winner-takes-all dynamics gradually centralize power in a tiny number of elite universities (there's a lot of work on this, that 2nd and 3rd tier colleges are under the most financial stress) and a larger 'commodity' higher education system focused on imparting skills (basically extended job training).


> I think we are at risk of seeing the higher education system become increasingly bifurcated: winner-takes-all dynamics gradually centralize power in a tiny number of elite universities (there's a lot of work on this, that 2nd and 3rd tier colleges are under the most financial stress) and a larger 'commodity' higher education system focused on imparting skills (basically extended job training).

This is a pretty good analysis. Here in California, we have the community college system, which I think fits the description of your 'commodity' system quite well. We also have the Cal state schools, which I think don't, as much, but CA does have a unique system compared to a lot of other states.


> Professors - just as the competitive moat provided by libraries was largely destroyed by the internet, so too is professor access. You can talk shop with many big-name academics on Twitter; you can watch their lectures on Youtube; they will email you their papers if you email them to ask; etc. Is a Twitter argument the same as visiting someone during their office hours? No, but it's a big improvement on the previous status quo.

I spent a lot of time chatting with professors in college, to the point where they would recognize me and we could have long, multi-session discussions we could intermittently return to.

Having a smaller number of "big-name academics" (as judged by what, popularity among their students?) teaching over the internet can't reproduce that, purely because they will be stretched too thin. It can be a different experience, perhaps a better experience in terms of the lecture itself, but the student-professor relationship would definitely be harmed.


Colleges will remain in business as long as businesses will use college degrees as a meaningful qualification to hire talent.

Data has shown that companies have continued to use degrees beyond their relation to actual tasks for the job they're hiring for. We've seen decades of evidence that degree inflation is on the rise, signalled by vacancies requiring a bachelor degree while the tasks are high school level. You can see this either by doing a qualitative analysis, e.g. running surveys among employees and categorising their job complexity and linking it to an educational level. Here you find e.g. many administrative jobs which an 18 year old with 2 weeks of on the job training can do, require one to finish a 3 year bachelor in just about anything, first. But the more common methodology is a quantitative one that's a little less accurate, but easier to perform. Survey existing employees at a large firm about their educational credentials, then survey vacancies for people in similar positions at such firms. You'll find various occupations where 60% of vacancies require a certain credential that only 20% of the employees have, indicating that many companies require credentials that are apparently not necessary. And this is on the rise.

Then you can wonder why, and the answer is because they can. If you can choose between a large pool of people who meet minimum qualifications, you have the luxury to select overqualified people.

And that tendency by human resource managers isn't going to change anytime soon, especially not when there's no significant salary premium companies have to pay to get a person with a college graduate to do highschool level work, over hiring a high school graduate. And I don't see that changing anytime soon with increasing competitive pressure from technological advancement and globalisation.

In the end, a college degree is moving more towards a signalling device that shows socioeconomic background and interpersonal aspects such as grit, stability, delayed gratification, and is less and less about signalling subject matter knowledge, academic competencies etc. HR focuses more and more on the former and not on the latter, when requiring a college degree.

As online education is more accessible and easier (i.e., less financially straining, less psychologically straining, less socially challenging, but rather at-your-own-pace learning behind your computer from anywhere), it's typically viewed as not signalling the former aspects I just mentioned (grit, delayed gratification) but mostly signalling the latter (knowledge etc).

That's why I don't necessarily think that online education is going to supplant colleges from the outside as fast as we think. Of course it'll take over eventually, but I think it'll be slow and will happen more from the inside, by existing colleges, not just through disruption of new startups which will bankrupt existing colleges.

Precisely because of a growing number of companies which have stopped using college-degree requirements to hire for knowledge, and have started to require college degrees to select for 'the type of person who has the background and personal traits to be able to survive and complete college', which online education doesn't signal as well.


MOOCs have a staggering drop-out rate though, which I think makes predictions about their disruption less clear cut.

https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/sci/dcs/people/research/csrmaj/dan...


well educational institutions are getting close to extracting most of their ROI from education. if education costs a million dollars, it might make sense for many to just invest the money, and skip the education and career, and go straight to retirement.


The same can be said to Boston housing market.


This is a bit of a strange article.

First, "in his recent book" refers to his 2011 book [1]. And Christensen has been prophesying this general bankruptcy "in the next decade" since that time. [2]

In any case it's interesting to think about the larger argument of the future of traditional higher education in general versus online education.

Bryan Caplan's thesis that (the state should cut funding for higher education because) higher education is mostly about signalling 3 things is a good tool. He argues that higher education signals a combination of intelligence, conscientiousness and conformity. The combination of the 3 is crucial for the model. [3]

Online education, and more generally self-education, fails on the conformity side. Companies do not want in general to risk such non-conformists, when they can hire from a stream of fresh graduates (smart, hard-working and relatively conformist).

Also, I think the socialization, friendships and networking that happen in the university are extremely valuable and not easily replaced by online education (where and with who can a smart, driven 18 year old hang out while studying and learning for 4 years on MOOCs and textbooks?)

And in addition, I hope, traditional universities are starting to improve their teaching methods (eg, flipped classroom, peer instruction) to multiply the pedagogical and motivational value they offer vs MOOCs.

For online education to replace traditional higher ed, it might require taking into account these factors. Could something like workspaces for freelancers or remote workers - but for studying - replace the traditional institution and the above benefits? Such that, for example, you would not be seen as an extreme non-conformist by not enrolling in a university?

Also, outside the US, tuition costs is often much lower. An online STEM degree, say a certified online masters in software engineering such as coursera or edx, could easily be more expensive than regular (or even the best) university.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Innovative-University-Changing-Higher...

[2] https://www.economist.com/international/2012/12/22/learning-...

[3] https://www.amazon.com/Case-against-Education-System-Waste/d...

(To be clear, he argues that from the individual's perspective, university is still net positive, if you have what it takes to finish the degree and don't get too much in debt. It's the state that should cut funding since it's inflating credentials.)


Teenage pregnancy has been in a nose-dive because the teenagers are online instead of hanging out these days (at least that is what I've read). If young adults went to school online instead of getting together at college... no more sex?

I'm reminded of some sci-fi stories I read in my youth about futuristic societies where nobody interacted in person and babies came from the lab. At the time the notion of people not having sex and babies anymore seemed far fetched. Now... maybe not so unlikely after all.




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