If you think online degrees will remain just a niche, consider the time when Borders and E.F. Hutton were touting their superior in-person experiences.I noticed this writer first began to think about the higher education bubble when he started looking at colleges with his high school junior son. Yup, I know the feeling.
There's a market-disrupting force at play in higher education that isn't so prevalent in housing: information technology. Specifically, readily available, much-lower-cost, Web-based alternatives to the standard fare. The Web's potential to let customers bypass the bricks-and-mortar status quo applies just as much to higher education as it does to book selling or stock trading.
Yes, a big part of the college value proposition is the on-campus experience -- the social as well as academic engagement, frat parties as well as chemistry labs. But for those who just want the knowledge, skills, and diploma, it's only a matter of time before online and other unconventional learning tracks become the norm rather than the exception. If you think online degrees and courses will remain just a niche or are a passing fancy, consider the time when Borders and E.F. Hutton were touting their superior in-person experiences. College courses and degree programs delivered mostly online are cheaper, more convenient, and often more specialized than traditional programs, even if they don't (yet) bestow the same prestige.
Established universities are starting to step up. For example, a colleague of mine is now earning a master's degree in media management through the prestigious University of Missouri-Columbia school of journalism. The coursework, which spans about 36 semester hours, includes a discussion component analogous to class participation. Students do have to take a professional seminar on campus for three days, and they must defend their thesis in person, typically requiring a half-day on campus. Otherwise, it's all online. And she's doing it while holding down a full-time job.