The age of flight has gone through a number of phases. One of my favorites is the 1940s. Check out this video of the “new” DC-6 airliner.
I love all the space you have in the cabin! Of course, things have changed a great deal since then. The whole experience has changed from something to enjoy to something to endure. And yet with all the comfort we have lost the cost has dropped dramatically. It used cost a great deal to take a flight. Since the deregulation of the airline industry in 1980, the cost has dropped over 50% in inflation adjusted dollars.
So have things improved? The service and frills have gone way down and yet the core function has become accessible for (nearly) everyone.
Can we see something like this happening in higher education? If so, is it a good thing? Another article in The Atlantic muses on this topic.
Under pressure to turn out more students, more quickly and for less money, and to tie graduates’ skills to workforce needs, higher-education institutions and policy makers have been busy reducing the number of required credits, giving credit for life experience, and cutting some courses, while putting others online.
There certainly is a lot of pressure now on the university system. Sure there’s an ocean of government money available for students to go to school but that will only happen if students think they are getting value for the debt they rack up. If employment remains flat, that won’t happen. Remember, we live in a world where an idea can reach a million people overnight. Everyone has a voice and can change public perceptions.
So what would a Walmart of public education look like? Well, if it follows the airline model it will be ugly, and very low frill. The dorms will be adequate but not fancy. The teachers will not be world renown and a lot of this will be done online anyway but in the end you can still learn something. That’s what’s so interesting about MOOCs; they are free and learning is your only reward.
I think there is room for everything. Not everyone has their own private jet today. The Ivy League will be fine for a long time I’m sure but the rest of the industry will have to adapt to changing expectations.