This Mental Floss article explains why colleges are giving away education for free on the Internet, but what intrigues me most isn’t the financial aspect, it’s the future of education discussed at the end:
“Sebastian Thrun, a Stanford research professor who offers free online computer science classes, predicts that there will be only 10 higher-education institutions in the world in 50 years. ‘It’s pretty obvious that degrees will go away,’ he said. ‘The idea of a degree is that you spend a fixed time right after high school to educate yourself for the rest of your career. But careers change so much over a lifetime now that this model isn’t valid anymore.’ In the future, he says, people will return to college throughout their lives, updating what they know through online courses.”
If Thrun is right, a few decades from now a college transcript will be more important than a college degree. Students will be able to fine-tune their learning to the type of job (or maybe even the specific job) they want . They’ll be able to chose the time, pace, and location of their learning, and many (most?) won’t ever set foot on campus.
Once colleges start offering that kind of academic freedom, how much longer will it be before high schools are forced to go the same route? Many students already see little incentive in attending high school in the traditional sense. Older students find rules about punctuality and dress code onerous. They have jobs and pastimes that often conflict with school. Club sports and other programs already offer an alternative to high school athletics and fine arts. And thanks to technology students don’t need to co-inhabit a school building to stay connected socially. Will there be only 10 high schools in the world someday too?
But what will happen when high schools find themselves competing with colleges and universities for students? What’s the point of a high school AP program when advanced students can just earn credit directly from a prestigious university instead of working to pass an expensive test that might grant them an exemption? But it’s not just AP classes. What’s to prevent a college from offering their remedial classes directly to average high schoolers? Will there even be a need for high schools at all (online or otherwise) in 50 years? Or will students attend a real bricks-and-mortar school through ninth grade and then move online to knock-out the courses they need for their first real job?