The price of college tuition has increased more than any other major good or service for the last twenty years. Nine out of ten American high school seniors aspire to go to college, yet the United States has fallen from world leader to only the tenth most educated nation. Almost half of college students don't graduate; those who do have unprecedented levels of federal and private student loan debt, which constitutes a credit bubble similar to the mortgage crisis.
The system particularly fails the first-generation, the low-income, and students of color who predominate in coming generations. What we need to know is changing more quickly than ever, and a rising tide of information threatens to swamp knowledge and wisdom. America cannot regain its economic and cultural leadership with an increasingly ignorant population. Our choice is clear: Radically change the way higher education is delivered, or resign ourselves to never having enough of it.
The roots of the words university and college both mean community. In the age of constant connectedness and social media, it's time for the monolithic, millennium-old, ivy-covered walls to undergo a phase change into something much lighter, more permeable, and fluid.
The future lies in personal learning networks and paths, learning that blends experiential and digital approaches, and free and open-source educational models. Increasingly, you will decide what, when, where, and with whom you want to learn, and you will learn by doing. The university is the cathedral of modernity and rationality, and with our whole civilization in crisis, we are poised on the brink of Reformation.
About the Author
Anya Kamenetz is a staff writer for Fast Company magazine. The Village Voice nominated her for a Pulitzer Prize for contributions to the feature series Generation Debt, which became a book in 2006. She has written for the New York Times, appeared on CNN and National Public Radio, and been featured as a Yahoo Finance Expert. A frequent speaker nationwide, Kamenetz blogs at Fastcompany.com, The Huffington Post, and anyakamenetz.blogspot.com. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband.