The Disappearing College Landscape

*from FlickrNothing puts fear and terror into the hearts of parents faster than two words:  “College” and “Tuition.”  Add to that the facts that 1) a huge percentage of college graduates fail at basic skills such as writing, arithmetic and reasoning, and 2) if the student takes on debt and then drops out of college, the debt burden is almost unmanageable.  Thus, the seeds of disruption are being sewn.

 Southern New Hampshire University (“SNHU”), under its College for America brand, is at the forefront of a new trend on awarding degrees for the “Mastering of Competencies.”  Tuition is $2,500 per year, there are no classes, instead there are ‘coaches’ and competency exams.     The litmus test will be if any four-year college, other than SNHU, accepts graduates with the two-year Associates degree from College for America into their four-year program.

America is at a crisis point when it is graduating students with more debt than their first year’s salaries.  Add to that the paucity of jobs, and people are bound to question the value of a four-year degree.

While Southern New Hampshire University is a non-profit institution, if it catches on, this type of program is bound to spur massive business opportunities in the generation of learning material, hands-on experience and certification/accreditation testing services.

Others, including Udacity, Coursera, and Khan Academy are also knocking on this door.  It’s difficult to imagine how one could get a degree in nursing, dietician, web programming, data analysis or dental hygienist from such an institution, but it’s possible if the infrastructure is put in place.  At a minimum, a portion of the student’s courses could be taken from the College for America’s.

Another way for students to avoid college and enter a promising a career is through an employer’s use of algorithms to uncover talent.  Gild is an 18-month-old startup that uses algorithms to identify talented programmers for hiring by industry.

The common wisdom is that the top tier colleges and universities will survive, but the lower tier will not.  We are seeing colleges being acquired by for-profit entities, such as Daniel Webster College‘s acquisition by ITT Educational Services.   What starts at the bottom tier is bound to work its way upwards and effect the state college and university systems and eventually the Ivy League

People are paying too much for an education relative to the earning power it generates.  And most young people don’t have the luxury of learning for learning’s sake.  Employment is a goal and a reality.

What will be the next logical step in this progression?  How fast will the metamorphous of education progress?  Will these programs fizzle or will they thrive?

*Mercedes Bates, OSU Special Collections, Flickr Commons