Forecast: Bursting bubbles

We've been reading stories for quite a while now about college students graduating with degrees in Women's Studies or some arcane art major, tens of thousands of dollars in student debt, and no job prospects.  College tuition and spending has soared in recent decades, much to the benefit of Ithaca and its surrounds.  

But parents and students are increasingly looking askance at the current college model, and the prospect that they might actually do something different is forecast as the "bursting of the education bubble."

Today, there is this:

Call it better learning through technology -- and cheaper.

As college and university classrooms around the country fill with students facing mind-numbing tuition, free online classes are filling up too -- and their rising number threatens to destroy the current model that has student loans soaring and parents feeling the bite...

Similar to how media began “supplementing” printed newspapers in the 90s with free online editions -- which transformed business models and made the news largely “free” on the web for consumers -- free online courses might (perhaps unintentionally) ultimately force tuition closer to zero. 

Exhibit A is Stanford's new "Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” class. It’s entirely online. It’s free. And it even promises student feedback, in addition to an unaccredited but still résumé-worthy “Statement of Accomplishment.” ...

Stanford is far from the only one making a bet on free online courses. MIT, Harvard, Yale, Oxford and dozens of other iconic universities are getting involved as well.

Our hometown Ivy, Cornell is no stranger to this trend, having run its CyberTower since 2000, first as a for-fee service and then for-free since 2004.  Some of the older material seems to be in ancient video formats but since it's Ithaca, you can still go there to learn about loons.

Online courses can easily have the same disruptive effect that Amazon had on the publishing industry and that iTunes had on the music industry.  

No, Cornell isn't going anywhere any time soon, but students may spend less time in a traditional classroom... and maybe less time in Ithaca. Cornell is branching out with a campus in Qatar and a plan for an engineering campus in New York City.  Fewer students spending less time in Ithaca can mean big changes for our county.  And it could happen quickly, meaning that we will need to diversify -- and fast -- if we want to maintain the lifestyle which currently emanates from the Cornell aura that has kept Tompkins County economically head and shoulders above our neighboring counties.  How exactly would we do that?

As Mark Twain said.... well, he said a lot of stuff.  But while living nearby and sharing rich associations with Cornellians, he only seems to have visited Ithaca twice and maybe never visited the Cornell campus proper.  

Just sayin'.


If we had a passenger train line connecting us to somewhere.... Tompkins County is an extraordinarily nice place to live, but it's *isolated*, and that sends people away. Mr. Ezra Cornell built a train line, but it got torn down in the 1950s. When an area has inherent attractions, being connected acts as insulation against a lot of economic dislocations. Maybe it seems a bit far for people to commute from here to New York but with the right fast rail line it would happen.