Shakespeare or Shakedown: How Digital May Undermine Higher Education

boyandstairsHigher education in America may be headed for a massive change—from quadrangle to desktop. And the cause may be rooted in student debt and a promise, too often broken, that education leads inevitably to high income and financial freedom.

Way back in 2013, the Washington Post was already saying that student debt was too high, and worse, that it was creating a drag on the economy. According to the article, average student debt topped $20K; and that high debt may have been the reason why fewer grads were taking out mortgages. Never mind buying cars, or washing machines, or getting into a mutual fund. And it hasn’t gotten any better since then. Instead the recent grad is more likely to be servicing a huge debt than exploring the world, defying convention or “trying to find themselves”—which was the birthright of every college generation before.

Digital may be in a position to change this, but in the process it might have to undermine the entire structure of higher education. What if the next generation of possible college entrants—having lived an entire life in a digital world—looks at the whole proposition quite differently?

It may be ironic that the baby-boom generation went from trashing the campus in the 1960s to insisting that college was the only way to ensure a happy future. It may be the brunt of that irony that they sold it too well—driving its price to a point where there was no longer a market. College-age men and women today may have a different historical perspective. Instead of Shakespeare, they may see a shakedown. They may figure an online course—often very cheap or even free—is not much different than most of their other digital interactions; and they may figure the whole “campus” thing is overrated and certainly overpriced.

They may be more interested in gaining targeted certifications on line—say in javascript or another coding language. Some might argue that these new digital skillsets are the next wave of high-income guarantees. And you can take that two-hundred-grand university diploma and put it somewhere.

As for the reading list? There’s an app for that.



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