Academia is crumbling. The venerable business model of Ivy League education is struggling to adjust to the changing face of global education. The same as Steve Jobs revolutionized the music industry with iTunes, where customers no longer needed to purchase an entire album, a similar model is disrupting education.
The established model relies on exclusive access to elite professors. In a brick and mortar classroom you can seat a finite number of students. At Harvard the average class size is below 40 with half the courses offered hosting less than 10 students. It was this exclusive access that made the $250,000 price tag for a four-year, packaged degree so valuable.
The new model is destroying this value. Online universities and learning platforms are slowly breaking down the walls, using technology to provide the same information, delivered by the same professors to tens of thousands of students around the globe instead of only a few hundred.
The fundamental laws of supply and demand are quickly degrading the value of that $250,000 investment. As the new model takes over, employers are quickly moving from degree based hiring decisions to competency based. Instead of a packaged degree, those looking for a job are more than ever able to compete by demonstrating that they have customized knowledge that is a better fit for the employer. And they are able to acquire this education at a much cheaper price.
Imagine in a job interview an applicant that has learned all they know from a single institution in comparison to the applicant that discusses learning psychology from Dan Gilbert and linguistics from Noam Chomsky. Which is more impressive?
I realize this future is still a decade or more down the road, yet the $250,000 investment is already rapidly losing value. Online learning is exploding and the gap between those that have access to education and those that do not is quickly shrinking. Globally, from Colombia to India online platforms are being used to build resumes, seek out opportunities and compete. As more people have access, this is drastically impacting supply and demand equations, driving down the cost of education.
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Richard Feenstra is an educational psychologist, with a focus on judgment and decision making. He writes about the psychology behind problem solving, innovation, motivation and productivity.
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