I have a friend who was a god amongst college presidents. We had lunch a while back. As all good educators do, he makes me think. And what I think is; his profession is in for a wake up call.
He told me that the job market in this country is shrinking for traditional college grads and growing for technically trained grads. Having a 4 year psychology degree isn’t as valuable as having a 2 year nursing degree. Knowing how to fix a computer is more valuable than knowing how one works. As we shift to a service/information economy, there is less need for thinkers and a bigger need for doers.
This is a bit of a simplification, but, an important thing to think about as I take you to the next idea. Going to college won’t be necessary real soon.
In an on-demand world, why bother having to be at school for Calculus at 9am? Why not just pull up the lecture- the assignment- post your questions, and network in a forum online? The next generation of college students understands meeting online- they’ve been IM’ing since they were old enough to type, and playing X-Box live with people from all over the world without having to be in a bricks and mortar environment.
The idea of a structured “education” setting for adults is going to have to make a much more appealing argument for attending college to get a degree, it’s got to be about the experience, the community and the brand more than it is about the education by itself.
So what will the college campus of the future look like? More like Disneyland than educators want to think. The only things that colleges will have to differentiate their programming is the experience of college, since the “education” component will be readily and reasonably priced via the Internet.
Textbook publishers should also be prepared for the death of print, replaced by totally interactive texts that will restrict progress by comprehension of material. In fact, the whole role of educators will be much more as tour guides through the maze of knowledge than as fillers of empty vessels.
So what will be big in the campus of the future: Sports will play an even more important role in the branding and building of the college community. Bringing people together will be the key to keeping the schools running. Expect the “super brands” of top Division 1 schools to erode the ability of lesser schools to survive in a more sophisticated market.
Another key to success at running a bricks and mortar institution will be the ability to integrate study with work. Without government subsidies, huge endowments, or profitable sports programs, the average student won’t be able to rationalize the costs of a four year program when a two year program can guarantee a job.
Environments will also be critical. Educators have been talking about the classroom of the future for my entire life. Well the future is here and the mistake might have been the emphasis on the classroom. Socrates should have proved that you can teach on a set of steps, classrooms have lost their usefulness. Networked laptops, big pipes and video cams change the dynamics of group interaction. The key to colleges is to provide places where students feel special, smarter, hipper or more sophisticated, much the same way as you can go to a bar, or a nightclub, and get totally different environments. Look for buildings from the minds of architects like FrankGehry to be the standard of the future (see the Peter B. Lewis School of Business at Case Western Reserve University or his new building at MIT).
College marketing will have to change too. It’s not about coming to our school and getting a degree and getting a job, it’s about becoming a member of a club for life. The Ivy league has got this idea down for years, but will they be able to compete if they don’t change, we will see.

What do you think?