Friday, June 09, 2006

Apocalypse in Academia, or Brave New Mega-College

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Imagine being in the middle of your junior year and your college suddenly announces it's going belly-up. This is a scenario is increasingly likely to happen as nimble private colleges and aggressive for-profits pull enrollments away from traditional brick-and-mortar campuses into their online programs that are convenient, timely, relevant, and often presented in an accelerated format which allows students to obtain their degrees quickly.

What are the implications for the students left stranded? Here are a few possible things that might happen in the future.

1. Mergers and acquisitions in the academic world.

2. Inability to obtain transcripts from now-defunct college. A desperate need will emerge for a centralized unit to consolidate coursework and maintain transcripts. This will apply to for-credit work as well as continuing education unit-yielding professional development courses and training. This represents an opportunity for entities that are used to housing, archiving, and creating secure storage for confidential documents.

3. Proprietary schools may purchase failing private colleges. This will require some realignment. Will the new entity be for-profit, or will they maintain a not-for-profit status? Each case will be different.

4. A fledgling for-profit may go to Wall Street and make an initial public offering (IPO) with funds to be used to purchase academically solid but financially-floundering private colleges. They may strategically position themselves to purchase at least one college in every region. In theory, this could result in a network that would rival the University of Phoenix, but without the need for so much marketing and publicity.

5. The new colleges may take a lesson or two from the mega-churches and combine online courses and programs with a clearly defined place for social networking, counseling, spiritual enrichment and political action. The new "mega-colleges" will expand their role in the community. Instead of stadiums and football, however, there will be empowerment retreats and career-boosting self-help sessions.

6. We may also see the opposite occur. Instead of merging and morphing into something large, the financially troubled college may become a "micro-college" and become a living repository of knowledge. The level of scholarly endeavor will continue to be arcane, lofty, and focus on a "knowledge for knowledge's sake" approach.

Secret societies of extremely rich and powerful families may link themselves to these micro-colleges, and they can be used as think tanks for highly secretive and dangerous research. For example, there may be a nano-fetus or nano-stem cell which might have the power to spontaneously divide and grow. Before one's eyes, a person or thing may emerge, growing as quickly as time-lapse photography of corn stalks in green summer fields. Okay, this is a bit far-fetched. I do think that if online mega-colleges start to become dominant, they will be perceived as the Wal-Mart or eBay of college credit. In response, a highly exclusive antithesis is likely to emerge. It seems to be the way of the world.

I've probably spent more than enough time in this fanciful excursion into possible scenarios as more colleges fail to make ends meet.

What do you think the future will hold? Please e-mail and contribute.

This article first appeared in xplanazine at xplanazine.com

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