College Isn't Going Anywhere.

Many have been predicting the disruption of college for several years now. It's not happening. They dream of new models and think they can displace colleges. These attempts miss much of what they actually do. It's more complicated than knowledge.

Colleges do three things:

  • Educate - learn things (including how to think and problem solve).
  • Socialization - learn how to play well with others and build a network
  • Filter - provide a "brand" that signals aptitude to the world

    New models of online education can do the education part. That's the easy one because of the internet. Examples here are things like Khan Academy, MOOCs, self-study, and even online universities. If you want to learn it, the knowledge is free now.

    Socialization is a bit harder to replicate. We still haven't cracked the code to build lifelong friendships and teach people how to cooperate well without co-locating people.

    We can replace these first two, but the Filter function provided by colleges isn't something easy to break. Harvard remains Harvard because the best and brightest all fight to get in. Employers pay a premium for Harvard graduates. People like me write about the Harvard brand. The Harvard education may not be that much different, but we have a fixed cycle locking Harvard into its place in the college pecking order. This exists in the spectrum of education from elite Ivy to the bottom.

    There may come a time when universities break their lock on our society. But, it's not coming anytime soon until a way is found to displace the filtering portion of what colleges do. In the meantime, everyone who is predicting the demise of college will keep trying to get their kids into Stanford.

  • Michael Girdley