College Guide


April 17, 2013 11:48 AM The Real Future of College: Cheaper, But Not All Online

By Daniel Luzer

So much of the talk of higher education reformers lately concerns the coming of all online universities. Harder, Better, Faster, Cheaper, right? But colleges are about real people and real people often, well, don’t really want to spend college in front of a computer in their apartments. Students still want to go to real college.

And that’s why Vance Fried, professor of entrepreneurship at Oklahoma State University, explains that college is going to get radically cheaper in coming years, but not because everyone’s taking courses online. They’ll still be living and dorms and going to frat parties. As he writes in College 2020, his newest paper:

Overall, Online 2.0 provides higher quality, full flexibility, and drastically lower cost. However, the campus-based college will not disappear. Live discussion among students and faculty can be very useful to students in gaining an understanding of higher order concepts and their advanced applications. From both a quality and a cost standpoint, live discussion works best in a campus-based setting.
While most courses in the college of the future will be self-paced, some will be fully synchronous. Students will do self-paced online work focused on acquiring several different competencies and then take a synchronous class (or mini-class) aimed at integrating and applying multiple concepts through discussion or projects.

What this means, basically, is that college will potentially get cheaper and more adaptive due to technology but people are still going to go to real classes in real places. What’s going on here, the real change, is not Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), attractive as that fad may be; what matters is that colleges of the future may adopt online education to work with, and improve on, regular courses.

This would be a very different, and potentially much cheaper, form of college education, but from a large-scale perspective it won’t really look that much different. We’ll still have people living in dormitories and going to class; they might just have only one professor for 2,000 students across multiple schools.

Fried suggests that we could do the whole thing very cheaply, and by 2020 colleges could run entire (residential) academic program and charge under $8,000 a year in tuition.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer


  • DiTurno on April 17, 2013 2:52 PM:

    How could one professor teach 2000 students across multiple schools? The answer, obviously, is that she couldn't: there's no way to do anything other than lecture and run Scantron tests. Composition, lab courses, and any course requiring any amount of writing would not fit.

    The basic assumption in Edutopian fantasies such as this is that university education is a product that's really no different from MP3s: find a producer, digitize it, and send it over the web. That's a high tech version of the correspondence course.

  • mathguy on April 17, 2013 5:43 PM:

    Well, the first problem is the source: the Heritage Foundation, the fount of all dystopias. Second, the idea that 2000 students could be taught by one professor competently is absurd on its face. Even with technological help, the vast majority of students need time with a teacher to really learn the material.

    All of the nonsense I read about the changes in universities in the future reminds me of the dot com craze of the 90s: pet food on-line! Free stuff! Get rich quick! Teach a bazillion students simultaneously with no help! Bulltwaddle. I think the future will be a lot different than all of the "seers' like this Okie State bidness prof blather about. Why didn't all of these things happen when the printing press generated all of those textbooks. All the knowledge is there, so who needs a teacher? Certainly, there are efficiencies to be gained, but in the end the student and the teacher need to interact.