Is it possible that at some point in the future traditional universities will begin to disappear? Have the tools for their demise been put in place – the Internet, personal computers, iPads and other tablet PCs, videoconferencing apps, online publishing and online libraries of very affordable and in many cases, free content. What else needs to happen? Visionary entrepreneurs perhaps backed by VC money enticing some of the best professorial talent to leave their current institutions for more lucrative income and profit participation in new online university ventures?
What are parents and students (and in some cases taxpayers) paying for today beyond the acquisition of a diploma? Administrative overhead? Athletic programs? Housing? Maintenance of buildings? Gardeners? Security? Contraception? Liability insurance? Legal counsel? Bail?
What of accreditation? If an online university boasted a more impressive faculty and curricula than say Stanford, Yale, Oxford, Cambridge, Berkeley, Harvard, then how important would traditional accreditation be? Is it possible that at some point a diploma from an online institution may even have more clout than an ivy-covered brick and mortar one?
Yes, all of the important socializing aspects of university life may disappear. Many students, of course, make lifelong friends on campus or find their spouses who may or may not be lifelong mates. University towns have thrived around the traditional university, to serve the needs of faculty, students and staff. So, if the traditional university disappears then by extension, university towns might disappear as well. On a positive note, the more radical hybrid of social/anti-social activities – like protests and riots either motivated by winning or losing a sports title or vandalizing school property because capitalism is of course, evil and unfair would also disappear…at least if the university campus is no longer used as an academic institution.
The extinction of the traditional university, if it occurs, may be a sad chapter in the long history of civilization since most would argue that the university shares a substantial portion of the credit for making us civilized in the first place.
But consider also that the easy availability of college coursework taught by the best professors in the world to those living in less affluent parts of the world who might never haven been able to afford to attend or be qualified for a traditional university may eventually result in another renaissance, enlightenment or technological revolution giving them the opportunity to learn and then create or do amazing things.
So, the question is, will technology, new developments on the horizon and the opportunity to be taught by the best professors in the world make the demise of the traditional university inevitable?