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Did you hear that? It was the sound of academia’s lifeless corpse thudding against the ground, having finally succumbed to COVID-19. Higher education had a preexisting condition, you see.
Bryan Caplan is known for his signaling theory of college education: A college education is valuable because of what it signals, and not because of the learning it involves. If this is true, it’s only part of the truth. A college degree may be valuable mainly as a credential, but college is more than just the degree. Why didn’t online education kill the four-year college? If the university is just a credentialing mechanism, won’t any credentialing mechanism do? Well, no. As it turns out, an online education isn’t a perfect substitute for the value provided by a conventional university education — or, at least, it wasn’t until coronavirus came along.