Posted by | March 17, 2012 11:34 | Filed under: Top Stories

by Stuart Shapiro

The ironic thing about Senator Santorum’s attacks on higher education is that higher education is actually in the early stages of a massive change that will in a sense destroy the university as we know it.  While Santorum may think that wanting to go to college is “elitist” the reality is that more and more people want to go to college.  And while state subsidies are dropping, public universities are figuring out new ways to serve all of these students.  From an interview with Marc Parry:

What you’re seeing, for example, is technology enabling a single master teacher to reach students on an individualized basis on a scale that is unprecedented. So when Sebastian Thrun offers his Intro to Robotics course and gets 150,000 students—that’s a big deal. Why is it a big deal? Well, because people who want to learn robotics want to learn from the master. And there’s something about the medium that he uses that makes that connection intimate. It’s not the same kind of connection that you get by pointing a camera at the front of the room and letting someone write on a whiteboard. These guys have figured out how to design a way of explaining the material that connects with people at scale. So Stanford all of a sudden becomes a place with a network of stakeholders that’s several orders of magnitude larger than it was 10 years ago. Every one of those students in India that wants to connect to Stanford now—connect to a mentor—now has a way to connect by bypassing their local institutions. Every institution that can’t offer a robotics course now has a way of offering a robotics course.

I’ve been in many meetings where faculty members have agonized over the implications of more online courses.  But it’s coming, because the market demands it.  More and more people are going to attend college over the next generation.  The universities that Santorum hates the most, Harvard, Yale, etc. will come out of this just very similar to how they look now.  But the universities that his voters realistically dream of sending their kids to, public ones, are changing dramatically, and it is not clear what higher education will look like in two decades.

By: Stuart Shapiro

Stuart is a professor and the Director of the Public Policy
program at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers
University. He teaches economics and cost-benefit analysis and studies
regulation in the United States at both the federal and state levels.
Prior to coming to Rutgers, Stuart worked for five years at the Office
of Management and Budget in Washington under Presidents Clinton and
George W. Bush.