Why Higher Education is Dead

stormyThe storm is coming and half of the higher education institutions in the United States will be dead in the next 15 years.

While it would be easy for me to pontificate about higher education and its failings, I’m not qualified other than I’m a father of a recent college graduate and have a second child who will be entering his second year in the fall. That is why I look to experts and watch trends in order to connect the dots, all while feeling anger toward the higher education “industry” who keep building structures and trying to out-compete each other for students.

My recent college grad in sociology is struggling to find a good job in human resources for a good company. She is now second-guessing the wisdom of investing in education in her field and is seriously wondering whether or not her sheepskin “was worth it.” I know several other twenty-somethings who feel exactly the same way (and two of them are living at home with their folks in order to save money and pay off student loans).

Though I’m not qualified as a higher ed industry expert, I don’t need a weatherman to tell me if the sun is shining outside (I can just look out a window). That said, it does take a much larger view and more data to be able to forecast coming storms in the next several days or week—which is what satellite imagery and sophisticated computer models perform and enable meteorologists to be fairly good at predicting what’s coming next.

The storm clouds are already overhead.

Three items about higher learning hit my radar last evening and this morning and to me, these are a few of the “higher education satellite imagery and data” which are pointing the way to the death of higher education:    

1) Fidelity investments report called, Cost-Conscious College Graduates: A Study of Recent College Graduates (PDF) which had these and other findings:

  • 70% of the class of 2013 is graduating with debt, averaging $35,200
  • 39% would have made different choices related to college planning had they understood the total cost of college
  • 59% report they chose a specific major in hopes of securing a higher paying job
  • One-half say paying off their student loan debt is the top financial goal 

Look again at that last bullet. Half say paying off their student loan debt is their #1 financial goal? Holy shit…when I was 24 years old mine was buying a house and getting in to the stock market. Some of these kids will carry these loans for decades, especially when the interest rates kick in or they default…since student loan debt cannot be wiped away, even with a bankruptcy.

Clayton Christensen

Clayton Christensen

2) Watched a video with Harvard ‘B’ school professor Clayton Christensen last night (author of these books too). As he and VC Mark Suster were talking about the disruption of education (Christensen is famous for driving a reengineering of the ‘B’ school) Christensen said this about how online learning would inevitably decimate bricks-n-mortar higher learning institutions:  

“Within the next 15 years, half the colleges and
universities—including State colleges—will go bankrupt.” 

Yikes. Here is the video (it’s 31 minutes so I didn’t embed it here).    

3) Then I saw this Fast Company article in my newsreader this morning and it reinforces what Christensen was saying: OPEN UNIVERSITY: COURSERA PARTNERS WITH 10 MAJOR STATE SCHOOLS  

“In the nine months since Fast Company profiled the launch of online learning platform Coursera, MOOCs–a.k.a. massively open online courses–have taken both the mainstream media and the world of higher education by storm. MOOCs typically consist of a series of short lecture videos interspersed with comprehension questions, assignments and discussion forums–sometimes with crowdsourced assessments. Many people are debating how MOOCs will, for better or worse, vaporize the university system as we know it.”  

No question in my mind that MOOCs will (and are) disrupting the business models of higher ed institutions. 

So what’s the answer? Undoubtedly, it will take a very long time for higher education to be disrupted. But like I wrote about in 2006 about what I saw clearly in the late 1990s (see my post: Death rattle for the printing industry?) it will happen…it’s just a matter of time.

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  1. Kevin Spanbauer on May 30, 2013 at 11:23 am

    Nice article, Steve. Having put one child through college with similar results, I can identify with your comments. We also know several other parents who have shared similar sentiments. It is time for disruptive new approaches to higher ed if we are going to remain globally competitive. Based upon my line of work, it is clear there is a very strong misalignment between the skills our universities are producing in our students and what the actual labor market requires.

  2. Steve Borsch on June 1, 2013 at 6:17 am

    On today’s Minnov8 Gang podcast we’re going to touch on this article: U of M jumps into MOOC trend with interactive class for 17,000. What I find interesting is that seemingly *every* major higher learning institution is at least dipping their toes in the water of MOOCs (MOOC = Massive Open Online Course)

    In prep for the podcast I read through this Wikipedia article on MOOCs that’s pretty enlightening, including this: “The New York Times dubbed 2012 ‘The Year of the MOOC,’ and it has since become one of the hottest topics in education. Time magazine said that free MOOCs open the door to the ‘Ivy League for the Masses.'”. This has been primarily due to the emergence of several well-financed providers, associated with top universities, including Udacity, Coursera, and edX.

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About Steve Borsch

Strategist. Learner. Idea Guy. Salesman. Connector of Dots. Friend. Husband & Dad. CEO. Janitor. More here.

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Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.