Colleges Cannot Transition Into Online Universities

Troy Buckholdt
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Colleges Cannot Transition Into Online Universities

Many people are assuming that colleges will be able to make the transition to teaching students online. This is how colleges will adapt post-COVID where students have gotten used to learning online and question why they have to pay so much money to attend a university.

The only problem is that colleges won’t be able to make that transition and many will have no other option but to declare bankruptcy. This is because college is fundamentally flawed when it comes to teaching online.

The 4-Year Model Is Outdated

One of the biggest fundamental flaws with the college system is that in an online learning environment, the 4 year model is a thing of the past.

Can you really expect students to stay at home learning for four years about subjects they know they won’t use? Students will want to go through the education as quickly as possible since there is no college experience compelling students to go through the motions in exchange for fun.

This desire for speed will lead students to want to cut out all of the education that isn’t necessary for them to start their careers. Required general education such as the humanities will be removed from an online curriculum in exchange for a more specialized career-focused education.

A new type of degree/certification will appear that’s an entirely career-focused program lasting months to a year. This will allow students to start their career very quickly in an entry-level position. Once in a company, students will combine their on the job training with online education to becoming a more well-rounded employee and advance their career.

Many people might think that these students aren’t well rounded since they didn’t take general education classes, but during this time they did learn how to learn online. This allows students to use their learning skills to become life long learners enabling them to learn any subjects they’re interested in. These online learning skills are why students won’t need to cram everything in four years since they will be life long learners.

An example of this new model for learning could be someone doing a one year certification in a specialized programming field. This allows them to get an entry-level job doing a relatively simple, yet valuable task at a company. From there, they are able to expand their programming skills with online education and on the job application to become a full-stack developer. During this time, they might also take up an interest in other subjects such as politics. They take a couple of online courses in it, join some online discussion groups like Reddit, and they are on their way to becoming a more well-rounded person.

This means that for colleges to even have a chance of adapting to online education, they will have to scrap everything they know about degrees.

Teachers Don’t Teach

Another fundamental flaw with colleges is that in an online learning environment, teachers are not the ones giving lectures and doing the majority of the teaching.

Currently, all college campuses are closed and have teachers getting on a zoom call with their 30-200 students to give a half-ass lecture. This is such a mess and every college student I’ve talked to has complained about the terrible learning environment.

The teachers have poorly thought out lectures, bad sound quality, and students don’t even ask questions since they don’t want to waste other students’ time.

The thing about online education is that the role of the teacher is not to give lectures, but instead to be a coach and guide students along. Lectures are better to be very well thought out and recorded than given live. There is absolutely no benefit to having each teacher give their own lectures when the smartest person in the world can spend weeks planning and recording each lecture to be taught in the best possible way.

These lectures can also be watched on the student’s time and re-watched as many times as it takes until they understand it. The best way to structure online education is to have very refined lectures recorded and have students do most of the learning on their own time. They then have time every week to have discussions with their peers and coach to answer any questions they weren’t able to figure out on their own.

What this means for colleges is that they won’t need nearly as many teachers since the majority of the learning will be done through recorded lectures. The number of coaches will also be substantially less than their current teacher base since each coach will be able to handle a vast number of students.

This means for colleges to teach effectively, they will have to restructure all of their education and let go of the majority of their teachers.

Low Fixed Costs

Another very important fundamental flaw with college is that in an online learning environment, students don’t care about the infrastructure, sports teams, or administration.

College campuses have huge infrastructure costs saddled in debt along with high maintenance costs. They also have piles of administrators that manage all of these different components. Colleges can only afford to do this when students are willing to pay vast amounts of money for their luxury college experience; however, online students don’t value any of this.

Colleges’ high fixed costs are why they are currently charging online students about the same, or in some cases more, than their in-person students. Online students don’t care how much overhead the college has due to its amazing campus. What they do care about is the cost.

This means that for colleges to be priced competitively in an online environment, they will have to somehow get rid of most of their infrastructure and administration.

Location Doesn’t Matter

You might be thinking that colleges can somehow make these changes thus adapting to online education. The only problem is that even if they do, they still won’t be able to compete.

The main thing college campuses have going for them right now is location. People pick these schools because they are close by or they are located where they want to live.

In an online learning environment, location isn’t a factor anymore. The company who has the highest quality of education along with the greatest network of students, alumni, and employers is going to take the whole market.

This is because economies of scale will dominate the education industry. The company with the most resources will be able to create the highest quality lectures, books, etc. This single company will have a much larger network that respects its education than all of the colleges combined thus making students more attractive to employers.

Colleges will begin to look like local brick and mortar stores competing online with Amazon. They simply don’t stand a chance.

The Future

I predict that in the near future, the majority of colleges will go bankrupt. There will be some that turn into zombie colleges that are able to cut costs enough to support a very small body of privileged students who can afford it. Others will turn into institutions based on sports or research that the government deems valuable.

There will also be a few colleges such as the Ivy Leagues that get by just fine from their strong brand and endowment. These colleges might even be able to capitalize on these changes and grow.

If you want to learn more about what the future of education will look like, then click here to read The Lean Career for free.

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