In 1997, Forbes Magazine published an article titled “Seeing things as they really are,” which was an interview about the future with legendary management professor Dr. Peter F. Drucker. When asked about the future of higher education, Drucker said, “Thirty years from now, the big university campuses will be relics. Universities won’t survive. It’s as large a change as when we first got the printed book. The college won’t survive as a residential institution. Today’s buildings are hopelessly unsuited and totally unneeded.” Given that his prediction was for 30 years in the future, Dr. Drucker has six more years for something similar to it to occur.
Given today’s situation with escalating COVID-19 cases throughout many of our states, I think Dr. Drucker’s prediction could occur earlier than 2027. If the fall of 2020 and spring of 2021 end up with a majority of traditional universities teaching mostly online, many students and their parents may decide that attending large, expensive residential colleges is a waste of money if quality online programs are readily available and more affordable.
Regardless of the feedback from last spring’s Zoom classes that were not well-designed online courses similar to those offered by colleges and universities like APUS, this fall’s online courses should be improved over last spring’s for the institutions that considered the probability of an online fall semester. At the same time, a quality online college experience includes more than just the activity inside the Learning Management System (LMS).
Institutions that want to be successful at offering online options for their students will need to build active and engaged online communities of students and faculty. Institutions successful at building online courses and scalable services will create more competition in a COVID-19 market where the number of college students is shrinking.
Ultimately, institutions with large online program offerings will offer them at a substantially lower price than traditional on-ground programs because of the economies of scale. When these institutions build the levels of engagement and service necessary to meet the needs and expectations of students and offer them at affordable levels, Professor Drucker’s prediction is likely to be met. It’s only a matter of time.