Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Disrupting: Higher Education

Chris Dixon gave a phenomenal talk where, among other things, he discussed the concept of 'unbundling'.  Essentially, the disruption for an industry like newspapers doesn't happen as a whole with a single new platform, product, or service.  Instead, these entrenched institutions get disrupted when they are disassembled and their value proposition disappears bit by bit.

In the case of the newspaper industry, the web allowed authors to create their own brand and publish their work on a variety of platforms.  Communities like Facebook and Twitter, and tech like RSS feeds allowed users to easily discover quality content.  Sites like Craigslist and eBay replace the classifieds.  Brand name doesn't mean very much anymore.  If it did, WhatsApp wouldn't be worth ~10x the New York Times.

Brick and Mortar Higher Education needs to take a serious look in the mirror.  These well established institutions feel like they are moving with the winds of technology.  After all, practically every university has an online course management tool (typically BlackBoard), and has a mobile app (which is mostly static data that no one uses).

However, if the internet/mobile has truly disrupted the industry, why does the cost of college continue to increase faster than inflation.  The entire point of technology is to provide the same product or service for a lower cost.  Why isn't the cost going down?

News of 2U going public is the true momentum shift of this true disruption.  Myopic critics deep in the higher ed system will laugh and say MOOCS (or purely online courses in general) could never replace to the actual 'college experience.'  They are right, but that really isn't the point.  Higher ed is a bundle of services:

  • Coursework
  • Curriculum
  • Credentialing
  • Job Placement
  • Social outlet amongst pre-vetted, equally ambitious young kids of relatively equivalent intelligence
2U handles the coursework.  Udemy, Lynda.com, Coursera handle that along with the curriculum.  Programs like Dev Bootcamp, Avenues: The World School focus on credentialing and job placement.  The pre-vetted social circle is really all that's left.  And is that worth the crippling debt and chronic under-employment that most undergraduates are left with as they leave their 4-year college experience?

If higher ed institutions do not adapt - by lowering their cost structure by truly embracing the new wave of disruption to greater align with their value proposition - I don't see how they can avoid the same fate of the Washington Post.  Once proud institutions with loads of brand equity getting sold off for pieces to Silicon Valley tech billionaires as their latest toy.