In his article “The end of universities as we know it,” Nathan Harden (2013) has made a bold prediction that in fifty years, or even sooner, half of the roughly 4,500 colleges and universities now operating in the United States will have ceased to exist. He further depicts the picture of the future of higher education as follows:
Access to college-level education will be free for everyone; the residential college campus will become largely obsolete; tens of thousands of professors will lose their jobs; the bachelor’s degree will become increasingly irrelevant; and ten years from now Harvard will enroll ten million students.
It is easy to guess that the driving force for this revolutionary change depicted by Harden is attributed to the “massive open online courses” (MOOCs). Harden concludes that MOOCs are “poised to forever change the way students learn and universities teach.”
Nathan Harden speculates that MOOCs may transform the future primary platform for higher education a third-party website, not the university itself. A global marketplace may be emerging where courses from numerous universities on a single website. From that platform, students can pick the best offerings and customize his/her education. Consequently, this marketplace will dramatically increase competitions among universities. Harden articulates the impacts of MOOCs may impose on different-tier colleges and universities as follows:
Prestigious institutions, especially those few extremely well-endowed ones with money to buffer and finance change, will be in a position to dominate this virtual, global educational marketplace. The bottom feeders—the for-profit colleges and low-level public and non-profit colleges—will disappear or turn into the equivalent of vocational training institutions. Universities of all ranks below the very top will engage each other in an all-out war of survival.
The impact of MOOCs on professors, as Harden sees it, will also be drastic. While the most popular professors will enjoy massive influence, professors who are less popular, will be “squeezed out.”
As we are wrapping up our MOOCs experience project, I wonder what kind of impressions came to you when you read the predictions about future higher-ed made by Harden. And what suggestions we may make for ACS institutions to react to the challenges and opportunities posed by the ever-increasing MOOCs, if required? And personally, as “someone who has a horse in this race,” what should we prepare for the change? Fortunately, as demonstrated by this project itself, the MOOCs phenomenon has caused attention of ACS. I wonder what next step ACS is going to take to meet the challenge or take advantage of this opportunity.