January 27, 2012

HIGHER EDUCATION BUBBLE UPDATE: A “Disrupted” Higher Education System?

The “disruption” of the higher-ed market is a popular refrain these days. Rising tuition prices and student debt have left many wondering if the current model is indeed broken and whether those like Harvard’s Clay Christensen are right when they say that innovations in course delivery will eventually displace established players.

What exactly those innovations will look like remains a matter of debate. One view from Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, envisions a future in which every industry will be disrupted and “rebuilt with people at the center.” . . . While amenities and services on campuses have been redesigned in the last decade with students clearly at the center, the core of the academic experience for students today is almost exactly the same as it was for their parents decades ago. While other industries have been able to find productivity gains without sacrificing quality, on most college campuses we still have professors at the front of a room or at a table with an average of 16 students in front of them.

The biggest — and fastest — savings, however, are to be found in reforming administration. Those will be politically more difficult, however, as higher education administration provides a lot of jobs for people who reliably vote Democratic, and who have a lot of free time for politics.

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