The monopoly is tottering. Ten more universities have joined Coursera, the site that posts free college courses. This project began less than 36 months ago as a part-time venture.
The ten universities are tax-funded. This means that the wave of participants is about to grow like a tsunami. Any state university that refuses to participate will become a pariah. “What’s your problem? Are you embarrassed by the poor quality of your faculty?” Th answer is yes. That’s why the question is so threatening.
The institutions are the State University of New York, the University of Tennessee, the Tennessee Board of Regents (which oversees other public campuses in that state), University of Colorado system, University of Houston system, University of Kentucky, University of Nebraska, University of New Mexico, University System of Georgia and West University System.
Several University of California campuses already offer non-credit classes through the for-profit Coursera and through rival edX, a nonprofit based in Massachusetts. Some Cal State schools have for-credit courses through edX and Udacity, another for-profit online provider in Silicon Valley.
Why would a student want to spend time listening to lectures by unknown professors? No good reason. The vast majority of courses on Coursera will be marginal, as most everything in life is. What is significant is this: the stigma of giving away courses is lifting.
There is resistance. The philosophy department at the academically marginal San Jose State University is resisting. Their case is hopeless. Who cares what a few unknown professors of philosophy at a marginal institution care about Coursera? Only they do. When the story of your last-ditch stand makes it into the New York Times, you’re dead.
The World Wide Web is going to wipe out marginal, overpriced universities, which means most private universities. The faculty members will find that tenure does not protect you when your employer is run out of business.
A student can get access to courses at the world’s best universities. Then he can take CLEP exams for under $2,000 to quiz out of the first two years. Then he spends $10,000 on the last two years. At 18, he is a college graduate. If he wants great teachers, this costs him nothing.
What parents will pay $50,000 to $250,000 to pay for their child’s B.A. degree, when these liberal arts and humanities degrees are merely job-hunting licenses? Only not-too-bright parents.
When almost half of all students who begin college fail to graduate in six years, this is the highest-risk financial venture in the lives of their parents. All those canceled checks! So little to show for them!