, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Modified image of Apple iPad 2 with college cap, tassle and diploma, October 27, 2011. (http://digitaltrends.com/Donald Earl Collins). Qualifies as fair use under US Copyright laws because of the low resolution, alterations and subject of this blog post.

When I attended the Center for American Progress’ two-hour conference on Anya Kamenetz’s Gates Foundation-funded ebook The Edupunks Guide to a DIY Credential last month (see my recent post “Education Incorporated“), there was one thing that the experts on the panel kept bringing up. All of them agreed that the Information Age and the possibilities of online education are so great that the days of the traditional university are numbered. Like the dismantling of the traditional newsroom model of newspapers and magazines over the past fifteen years, the traditional university model was within ten years of becoming obsolete, at least according to this not-so-objective group of commentators.

Student loan debt the equivalent of an American house in 1980, questions about the usefulness of a four-year degree in the world of work, and the relevance of academic coursework to the “real world” will be the biggest reasons for why hundreds of higher education institutions could be out of business by the 2020s.

Despite my background, I am not some apologist for the state of American higher education today. There are quite a few things wrong with the current model, especially for standard state and regional public institutions, historically-Black colleges and universities, and most two- and four-year community colleges. But, for a variety of reasons, I’m not completely sold on the brave-new world of online education, currently dominated by for-profit colleges and technical postsecondary schools either. Like University of Phoenix, most charge as much for tuition as traditional four-year institutions, minus the academic and social supports necessary to retain and graduate students.

Still, this doesn’t mean that there won’t be a new kind of higher education for those millions of us who won’t have the grades and/or can’t afford to attend an elite or near elite institution. You know, somewhere between

Apple iPhone 3G, January 13, 2009. (Apple via Wikipedia). Qualifies as fair use via Creative Commons 3.0.

Harvard, UC Berkeley and the University of Pittsburgh. I think, ultimately, that ten years from now, going to college will be as simple as clicking on the iCollege or iUniversity app on your iPhone, iPad, iTV, or whatever Apple, Inc. comes up with next.

Of University of Phoenix, DeVry Institute, Kaplan University, Capella University and ITT Technical Institute, and I picked Apple? Why, pray tell? Because, believe it or not, Apple has the history of collaboration, technical expertise, and innovative vision — even without the great Steve Jobs — to pull off the moving of the higher education platform to an accredited application that even Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Oxford couldn’t thumb their noses at (though they may have to hold their noses, at least at first). After all, Apple has moved into the mainstream music arena and into the land of Hollywood and made it work to their advantage. Not to mention, to our advantage as consumers. Why not higher education?

How would this work? For starters, Apple could work with a slew of professors and teachers in fields as varied as astronomy, construction engineering, history, medicine, psychology and theater arts to put together adaptive virtual classrooms. The key word here is adaptive. It would be like EA Sports’ Madden NFL ’12,where each teacher or professor would be put in a lab with sensors attached to them and a classroom full of students asking every possible question and providing every possible answer to a given topic or series of topics that would add up to a course. And Apple would do this over and over again for, say, the 3,000 or so possible courses that an undergraduate student would take, not only in the US, but anywhere in the world.

That alone would make this a decent idea. But combining it with Apple’s ability to negotiate contracts and agreements — in this case, with accrediting agencies and with major universities across the country — will make iCollege or iUniversity a great idea. Because of these deals, iCollege or iUniversity students could transfer their credits to a UC Berkeley, Harvard or University of Maryland if they so chose. More

Star Trek: TNG Holodeck Screen Shot, October 26, 2011. The ultimate expression of a virtual classroom (Donald Earl Collins).

importantly, since acting in a play, shooting film projects or doing a laser light show can’t necessarily be done online, deals with schools, technical institutes and even major corporations would make it possible for any student’s iCollege or iUniversity experience to be well-rounded and tailored to their needs.

What’s more, once Apple makes the $100 or $200 million investment to set this up, they can put up reasonable prices for postsecondary credentials. For an industry or job-related certificate: $5,000. For a two-year or associate’s degree: $10,000. For a four-year degree: $30,000. The extra costs for the degrees would cover technical changes, the consulting fees for using professors and teachers as part of the iCollege or iUniversity app, and to cover the costs of students taking face-to-face courses as part of the process. But with five million, ten million, even a hundred million students enrolled around the world, Apple could make $50 billion in profits from such an app. Every single year.

Yet I know there are numerous faculty and administrators in academia who’d throw a fit upon reading this (or any similar) idea. The fact is, we’ve had a corporatized sort of education at the college level for at least fifty years now. Our scientific and engineering communities are fully entrenched in the military-industrial complex. Even history professors fight for endowed chairs. Between capital campaigns, as well as corporations and dying CEOs investing in schools and having buildings named after them, we’re past the point of no return. We in higher education need to get ahead of the tide before being drowned by it. For once.