The Ivy League and top-tier universities are about to bankrupt private colleges all over the world. An educational revolution has begun.
Finally, the Ivy League has adopted my 1982 plan. It’s about time.
I first described this plan on November 11, 1982. I presented the idea to Pat Robertson at an evening meeting. He had invited me, Francis Schaeffer, and lawyer John Whitehead to offer ideas for his ministries. I chose educational reform. I told him how he could take over Christian higher education in America, and make money, too. I never heard from him again.
I published my strategy in a 1983 article, “Levers, Fulcrums, and Hornets.” You can read it here. It was my article on how Robertson could use his satellite TV network to transform college education. My plan was adopted by my friend Ron Godwin at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University to build the university’s “university without walls” program. He used videotapes instead of satellite TV. Today, it is the largest fundamentalist educational institution on earth: over 12,000 students on campus and 80,000 off campus.
Liberty was the first university to test my strategy. Now the Ivy League is testing it, among others.
I report this because some people still do not understand what YouTube and the PDF hath wrought.
It costs nothing to place a lecture-based course on YouTube. It costs nothing to view it. It costs nothing to embed a YouTube video on a Web page. It costs almost nothing to host the site.
It costs nothing to upload a PDF to Scribd. It costs nothing to download it.
Peter Drucker wrote that when a technology can be sold for one-tenth of the price of an old technology, the old technology is finished, except as an elitist affectation (e.g. Rolex watches vs. Casio watches).
What happens when the price is $15,000 vs. $250,000 (Ivy League)? The elitist affectations will survive. But woe unto the pseudo-affectations devoid of prestige (Podunk Private College).
Here is the issue, according to the Times article: “Already, a handful of companies are offering elite college-level instruction — once available to only a select few, on campus, at great cost — free, to anyone with an Internet connection.”
Moreover, these massive open online courses, or MOOCs, harness the power of their huge enrollments to teach in new ways, applying crowd-sourcing technology to discussion forums and grading and enabling professors to use online lectures and reserve on-campus class time for interaction with students.
Here is the threat:
The spread of MOOCs is likely to have wide fallout. Lower-tier colleges, already facing resistance over high tuition, may have trouble convincing students that their courses are worth the price.
They are not worth the price.
This new phenomenon is less than two years old. It began when Sebastian Thrun, a Stanford professor, offered a free artificial-intelligence course, attracting 160,000 students in 190 nations. “The resulting storm of publicity galvanized elite research universities across the country to begin to open higher education to everyone — with the hope of perhaps, eventually, making money doing so.”
This thing is spreading like the proverbial prairie fire.
The expansion has been dizzying. Millions of students are now enrolled in hundreds of online courses, including those offered by Udacity, Mr. Thrun’s spinoff company; edX, a joint venture of Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Coursera, a Stanford spinoff that is offering Professor Duneier’s course and 200 others.
These courses are international.
Top universities with courses like Professor Duneier’s stand to gain, both in prestige and in their ability to refine their pedagogy; few seem worried about diluting their brand-name appeal. The risks are greater for lesser colleges, which may be tempted to drop some of their own introductory courses — and some professors who teach them — and substitute cheaper online instruction from big-name professors.
“We’ve reached the tipping point where every major university is thinking about what they will do online,” said Peter McPherson, the president of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities. “In a way, the most important thing about these MOOCs from the top universities is that they provide cover, so other universities don’t need to apologize about putting courses online.”
Soon, high schools will follow suit. Then what will happen to classroom education? It will get worse. The parents who want top-flight education for their children will pull their children out. Schools will become little more than child care centers for children of part-time parents. The voters will stop voting for bond issues. The teachers union will be broken.
It’s full-scale competition at the college level.
In the rush to keep up, elite universities are lining up to join forces with a MOOC provider. Coursera, which began with Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, Stanford and the University of Michigan in April, currently leads the field with 33 university partners. But edX, too, is expanding rapidly — the University of California, Berkeley, has joined, and the University of Texas announced that it would use edX courses for credit. Already, students in one Udacity class can get credit through the Global Campus of Colorado State University. Most MOOC providers are making plans to offer credit — and charge fees for certificates and proctored exams.
The educational revolution is coming.
This crowd-sourced version of college is seeping into every corner of academia. While the earliest MOOCs were concentrated in computer science and engineering — subjects suited to computer grading — Professor Duneier is one of the pioneers offering humanities courses, in which the whole grading process, from essays to exams, is handled by the students using grading criteria designed by the professor.
The professors love it. Says a Princeton professor, “Within three weeks, I had more feedback on my sociological ideas than I’d had in my whole teaching career.”
It is great if you are in the elite. It’s the end of the road if you teach in an obscure private college that charges $25,000 a year. For what? For low-tech classroom education and an economically useless liberal arts degree.
The educational cartel worked because accreditation kept colleges from multiplying. Schools were limited from expanding too much by the costs of bricks and mortar. Today, there are no limits imposed by geography.
These new programs will kill the marginal schools. Even if these major schools do not get accreditation for their programs (which they will), students can learn from the big-name professors and use examinations to get their degrees from on-line accredited colleges for under $15,000 total.
I described this six years ago. (Note: I no longer give away this information. In January, I will open my new website to the public: www.ZeroDebtDegrees.com.)