[star]The American Mind[star]

September 21, 2003

The Future of College

Arnold Kling has a vision of the college of the future:

Colleges today are in a position to continue to increase tuition charges. They have successfully met the demand for the aesthetic qualities desired by parents and students. They have achieved market dominance by becoming highly attractive holding pens.

On the other hand, the ability of college to provide educational substance at reasonable cost is diminishing. To me, this suggests that in the future colleges will turn increasingly to outsourcing. Rather than rely on an internally-selected faculty, a college might turn to a specialized supplier. That supplier might provide instructional videos and software in addition to live professors. Rather than enjoy the privilege of institutional tenure, professors might sell their lecture time through agencies that book popular speakers.

In the information age, many manufacturing companies have become supply-chain integrators. You might hire consultants to design a product, go to China to manufacture it, hire a logistics specialist to ship it, and rely on a value-added reseller to market it. I could see colleges going down the same path. A generation from now, the most successful colleges may be the ones that provide the best aesthetics, while outsourcing the actual function of education.

But if colleges can continue to increase tuition without losing students, then where is the incentive to outsource? Does anyone imagine top schools like Harvard and Stanford outsourcing? I can imagine lower-tier schools outsourcing to Harvard but not the other way around.

If anything, the future of higher education (beyond high school) will be for-profit businesses providing specific training. Firms would hire the companies to train their employees to use some new piece of technology or individuals will get certified so they have better chances in the job market. As time goes on and businesses view college life as "holding pen" the value of a four-year degree will diminish.

"The World's Nicest Holding Pen"

Posted by Sean Hackbarth in Economics at 06:25 PM | Comments (0)