William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

The University In 2024—Guest Post by Agnes Larson

Universities are anti-egalitarian. Therefore, degrees for everybody!

We last met Miss Larson, a long-time university insider, in “The Corporatization of the University“. Is the Doctrine of Unexpected Consequences to strike in the government takeover of student loans? Larson says yes.

‘Tis the season for predictions. There is something about the end of the year that brings out one’s inner astrologer. For fun, let’s push the timeframe out further than 365 days, and consider the fate of the American university, circa 2024.

Some may claim that the decay has already set in (i.e., poor student quality; computer-aided grading; staff reductions; contracting out) but what will be wrought in ten years’ time?

Student body. Incoming freshman will be woefully prepared for what was known heretofore as “college-level” work. Colleges will be offering more remedial work, and four years of college will have more in common with the high school experience of 1984 than the college experience of 2014. The reliance on computers and other devices will leave this generation of scholars with shockingly under developed motor skills. For instance, the act of holding a pencil and squiggling a line will be beyond the capacity of many, but never fear, this is not a skill that will be valued. Having a dexterous and calloused index finger will be the mark of a true brain. (New terminology is in order, as “index” is a remnant of another era.)

Traditional assignments (i.e., term papers, essays, oral exams) will be replaced by perfunctory multiple-choice final exams that can be administered on a smarty phone and graded electronically. The underlying assumption is that students will have to make some effort, however modest, at learning. Although more progressive institutions will dispense with grading altogether, and offer a diploma after a suitable interval after the transfer payment is made or the check clears.

Student loans. Student loans will be largely transfer payments between the Fed and the individual colleges. As such, there will be no motivation to cap tuition rates. Due to a stroke of bureaucratic genius, students will still be on the hook for a lifetime of payments (i.e., taxes), even if they (or their parents) were able to pay full tuition up front (in the name of “fairness”, everyone must be burdened).

Professors. Most of the baby-boomers will be shown the door, implicitly or explicitly. The few left with tenure will have long ago abandoned any ideas of shared governance. It is hard to make the meetings when you’re working from home.

Star professors will be made into holograms, and while the professors may think they have the freedom to move to a better location or for a higher salary, they will find that they are little better than indentured servants. Their images will be property of their home university, and can be shared (for a price) with other schools. The technology will be such that the professor will have an eternal academic life, and will live on after his or her natural death (yet another avenue of cost savings).

Curriculum. With improvements in online teaching, curriculum and course syllabi will be uniform (Common Core 2.0?). There will be no quirky offerings that satisfy an individual professor’s research interests. By confining learning to an artificial frame designed by so-called experts will spell the End of Knowledge, at least in an academic setting.

Federal grants. The government will give up the charade of awarding grants. Instead, block grants will be given to each university based on a number of criteria. These grants will be folded into the student tuition transfer payments. Having a dedicated income stream, with a guaranteed 3.5 percent annual increase, is enough to put the mind of many a university president at ease.

Administration. The ruling class of the university will continue to grow. There is no limit to the number of vice provost, vice president, assistant dean, and associate dean positions that can be created.

Staff. University staff—those in the middle and on the lower end of the totem pole—will become extinct. With changes in curriculum, course delivery, and grading practices, there will be no need for support staff for professors or their departments. There will be a greater reliance on outside contractors, not only in providing services to dining and campus life, but also to libraries, facilities management, and fiscal/finance/budgeting.

Now, back to you, dear reader. What are your predictions for the future of higher education for 2024?

11 Comments

  1. Briggs

    29 December 2013 at 8:13 am

    All this seems right, so I wonder, since the education provided at many universities will be substandard, I wonder whether we’ll see a rise in small academies, specialty colleges with small enrollments which provides genuine learning.

    Might be wishcasting on my part.

  2. Sounds like I could simply send Siri off to class every day while I hang out in mom’s basement.

  3. “Student loans. Student loans will be largely transfer payments between the Fed and the individual colleges. As such, there will be no motivation to cap tuition rates. Due to a stroke of bureaucratic genius, students will still be on the hook for a lifetime of payments (i.e., taxes), even if they (or their parents) were able to pay full tuition up front (in the name of “fairness”, everyone must be burdened).”

    Regarding this I just wrote thos post, “Going to college on a student loan? Congratulation you have become or on your way to being a wage slave to the guarantor of the loan. Who is the guarantor? Why Uncle Sam is, who else. He took over the student loan business in his Affordable Care Act…”

    At http://carolinacowboy.wordpress.com/2013/12/29/meet-the-new-wage-slave/

  4. “This post” should read before I hit the enter key!

  5. There are and will be institutions of higher learning who will follow a classical model: St. John’s College (Annapolis, MD) and a number of Catholic institutions: Thomas Aquinas College, Christendom College, St. Anselm’s (VT), to name just a few. Be of good cheer, and if you have children, vet out the colleges to which they might be going.

  6. With MOOCs gaining in popularity and the increasing restrictions on research funding, by 2024 I think that universities will be dramatically different than they are now. Seems to me that the current system will become increasingly more unsustainable.

    The hand-wringing about standards declining, it seems to me, is mostly just resistance to change. Please don’t forget that people have been complaining that “kids (schools, morality, etc.) ain’t like they used to be” since the Middle Ages if not longer.

    ** Briggs- do you shut down comments on older threads? I wanted to comment on the Reddit thread but wasn’t able to…

  7. I believe that except for research venues, information depository and exchange purposes, and rites of passage and prestige for the wealthy elite that universities as we know them will soon be obsolete. The people who desire to learn will have more options available to them than ever before by way of “open source” information pathways at a very low or modest cost. Grades will mean nothing and quality performance will mean everything. Expertise will command a premium wage. Labor will receive their daily bread as long as they abide by the rules. Boat rockers will be dealt with harshly.

  8. The problem with getting educated via “open source” information is the self discipline required of the student to do the studying and then proving that he has masted the subject. When you lay your money (or your parents) on the table you are forced to attend the classes and pass the test. Without this imposed discipline few will educate themselves. Sure some will, and have in the past, but mighty few.

  9. The real universities will be underground. Whether amateur or illegal remains to be seen — knowledge-leggers?

    The Ivy League schools will have enough pull with the politicians to preserve themselves as places where the children of the current elite make the connections they need to become the next elite. Whether they continue to be research-oriented is up for grabs.

    Personally, I have to align myself with Arthur C. Clarke: “Any teacher that can be replaced by a machine should be! —Electronic Tutors, 1980″

    And with W. Edwards Deming, The New Economics, page 145:

    [quote]
    No notable improvement will come until our schools:

    – Abolish grades (A, B, C, D) in school, from toddlers on up through the university. When graded, pupils put emphasis on the grade, not on learning. Cooperation on a project in school may be considered cheating (!.!. Scherkenbach, The Deming Route, p. 128). The greatest evil from grades is forced ranking — only (e.g.) 20 per cent of pupils may receive A. Ridiculous. There is no shortage of good pupils.

    – Abolish merit ratings for teachers.

    – Abolish comparison of schools on the basis of scores.

    – Abolish gold stars for athletics or for best costume.
    [close quote]

    Followed by several more pages along the same line.

  10. Post-secondary schools in the USA a decade from now will resemble the universities, colleges, and technical institutes in the Soviet Union and its eastern European satellites in the 1970’s. The schools by 2024, as a consequence of an educational followup to federally administered health care, will be organized to serve government political, economic, and social engineering agendas exclusively. Only those who are politically acceptable will be able to enroll. Tuition will be “free,” but travel abroad and other privileges will be controlled until the graduate has paid by loyal service to the state the “social cost” of his education — an indefinite but very long term. Material resources in all but the most politically essential areas will be poor, and pay and living conditions for students and faculty (except for the very top ones and the Party members) will be less than wonderful. Academic departments and research groups will be strongly hierarchical and authoritarian, not necessarily structured according to ability or merit, and somewhat corrupt, although there will be islands of excellence here and there. Publications and contacts with foreigners and colleagues will be comprehensively monitored. Humanities and the arts? Hah! The academic suicide rate will be higher than today, and it will not be unknown for top scientists to drop out and work as freelance painters and mechanics. Maybe some of them will, at great danger to themselves and their families, escape to Canada.

  11. I have another prediction to add to the list. Students will not be able to get government loans, nor will any government money (such as grants) be made available, for Catholic Universities that teach authentic Catholic faith. The government will classify authentic Catholic Universities as institutions that sponsor bigotry and intolerance against the contraception and gay marriage agenda. The courts will hold that giving money (in the form of loans or grants) to authentic Catholic Universities is in violation of the First Amendment based upon the bogus notion of “separation of church and state” (a term that does NOT appear anywhere in the Constitution).

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