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No Mercy No Malice

Post Corona: Higher Ed

April 3, 2020

6-min read

After COVID-19, nothing will be the same. The previous sentence is bullsh*t. On the contrary, things will never be more the same, just accelerated. Over the last two weeks, organizations ranging from the East Coast’s largest hedge and VC funds to MSNBC and the Today Show have asked me the same question: What does the world look like “post corona”? 

The question itself is telling. Our species’ superpower is cooperation, and our strength as Americans is our optimism. The question itself is recognition of one comforting truth: Crises always happen, and they always end.

We’ve been spending a ton of time thinking about where the puck is headed so that, similar to hockey, a bunch of white guys can make more money. But I digress. My first observation: 

Let’s talk about higher education and make some predictions. An industry projected to register $10 trillion globally by 2030, may see the future happen faster. If you read this blog you’re intimately familiar with the below chart highlighting that we, academics, could not resist the temptation to starch the surplus margin (social good) so we could make more money and be less accountable. 

Yes, you likely know there’s now more student loan than credit card debt. But did you know the price of a textbook has exploded 812% in the last 30 years (not worth it), and 1 in 4 college students reports having an STD (worth it)? It ends up duopolies not only result in a damage to the commonwealth and teen depression, but set you back $852.75 for Biostatistical Genetics and Genetic Epidemiology.

We are experiencing two pandemics. One according to CNN and the New York Times (world is ending), and the other courtesy of Fox News and lieutenant governors of red states (stop by the pub on your way back to work). When you walk into the lobby of NYU Stern, you see a lot of things on screens. You will not see Sean Hannity. Progressives on the coasts (a decent description of 30 of the top 50 universities) believe we have underreacted, whereas red states, Liberty, and Bob Jones universities still suspect this RNA virus is a hoax.

This fall, I’m scheduled to teach MKTG-GB.2365 (Brand Strategy) in KMC 2-60 Tuesday nights at 6-9pm. It’s not going to happen. The room would normally be filled with 170 full- and part-time MBAs looking to garner the skills to build economic security for themselves and their families, and improve the world. Mostly the former. However, a room full of 170 NYT subscribers, sitting elbow to elbow, spells one thing — recurrence. So, while Liberty University will likely welcome kids back to campus, I speculate we, and anybody else that does not have their head up their a**, will not. 

Note: I have no insider information and haven’t discussed this with any NYU administrator.

So, how things will accelerate:

We’ll see a culling among universities. Just as retail closures are accelerating from 9,500 stores in 2019 to more than 15,000 in 2020, we’re going to see dozens, maybe hundreds, of universities not reopen. In academia, we have been preying on the hopes and prayers of the middle class, offering parents the chance to check an instinctive box, giving their kids a better life, by sending them to college. We also encouraged them to borrow against their 401(k)s and take out mortgages to underwrite our shape-shifting from public servants to luxury brands. No more.

I’m good, maybe even great, at what I do. But on Zoom people are going to discover I was never worth $100,000 per class — what kids pay to hear me rant about the Four

172 kids x $7,000 tuition / 12 classes = $100,000 per class session

My stay of execution will be that I teach at one of the 15 top 10 universities, which brings us to our next prediction:

For the first time, we’ll see a sustained drop in applications at four-year universities. As Amazon comes out of the crisis with more momentum than it entered, the schools they (and other information economy firms) recruit at will break from the cartel and maintain their economic might via endowments and increases in revenue streams thanks to digital platforms. Amazon, the largest recruiter from my class, will become the largest employer of college grads in the US.

Education startups will attract cheap capital and seize the opportunity the pandemic has accelerated. SARS was huge for e-commerce in Asia, and it helped Alibaba break out into the consumer space. COVID-19 could be to education in the United States what SARS was to e-commerce in Asia.

The rookie move is to believe that MOOCs or stand-alone education start-ups will be the big winners. (Searches for “MasterClass” have eclipsed “business school.”) They won’t. 

Why won’t MasterClass be a disruptor long-term? Because MasterClass sucks. Young people don’t gain value learning from celebrities, but from teachers, who can give them the skills to become celebrities. At each university, there are 6-12 “ringers,” great teachers who are worth it. Ringers, unbounded by the geographic constraints of their campus and parent brand, will see their compensation rise 3-10x over the next decade. Administrators at the top 10 universities who have the skills to become product managers will see their comp increase. Everyone else in traditional academia will make less. 

The second-greatest accretion of stakeholder value in business, behind Amazon’s entry into healthcare, will be big (and some small) tech firms partnering with a world class university to offer 80% of a traditional four-year degree for 50% of the price. This is the gangster cocktail of the fastest-growing analog consumer brands in history (Southwest Airlines, Old Navy, etc.). 

MIT/Google could offer a two-year degree in STEM. The myth/magic of campuses and geography is no longer a constraining factor — most programs will be hybrid soon, dramatically increasing enrollments among the best brands. MIT/Google could enroll 100,000 kids at $100,000 in tuition (a bargain), yielding $5 billion a year (two-year program) that would have margins rivaling … MIT and Google. Bocconi/Apple, Carnegie Mellon/Amazon, UCLA/Netflix, Berkeley/Microsoft … you get the idea.


University brands are the premier luxury brands globally, built over centuries, with margins and the illusion of scarcity that renders Hermès vulgar. If you don’t own the mine (MIT), you want to sell the picks, or staple tent denim to create durable pants for miners. Universities will dramatically increase their spend on technology and, in many cases, outsource entire programs (for example Duke’s continuing ed). There will be enormous opportunity to substantially upgrade SaaS teaching tools, as anybody who has used Blackboard can attest. 

We’ll smooth out the curve of learning — more older students, fewer younger. Just as jails have become mental health facilities for the poor, university administrators have become mental healthcare counselors for children of the wealthy. Kids, unprepared for the world via a mix of social media and bulldozer parenting, are being dumped at campuses across America. More kids will not attend school right away, and more adults in their thirties and forties will return.

“Are we human, or are we dancers?”

In my sophomore year at UCLA, I fell in love for the first time, learned my limits were not my real limits (joined crew), realized I would not be a doctor (failed chemistry), became less insecure about my insecurities (took Intro to Psychology), and developed resilience (had my heart broken). I’d like to think all these things would have happened whether or not I attended college. But they likely wouldn’t have happened in such a safe and joyous place.

Like most industries disrupted by software, tremendous value will accrue to millions of consumers via deflation. Hundreds of thousands of jobs will vanish. And billions of shareholder value will flow to disturbingly few organizations and their stakeholders. There will also be a reshaping of priorities as we take attributes that make us most human — the discovery, empathy, and emotional growth of a campus-based liberal arts education (a luxury only the wealthy will be able to afford) — and replace them with the pursuit of vocational skills and shareholder value. 

Big tech’s impending march into higher ed will bring more learning to more humans, and erode our humanity. 

Life is so rich, 

P.S. Episode 3 of my new podcast, The Prof G Show, is out — spoke with Matthew Frieman, a microbiologist, about COVID-19 and the development of therapeutics and a vaccine. Listen on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts.


  1. Gabriel Silva says:

    Scott. I am Gabriel Silva, the Chairman of Global Seguros de Vida and of Global Education Group. We are the largest issuer of pre-paid tuition plans in Latin America. Obviously, highly interested in your views. We will like to contact you and have a initial conversation about your ideas. We are actively rethinking our business model. Thanks. Gabriel.

  2. Chuck Duvall says:

    Really enjoyed and appreciated your comments on CNN the other evening. You are on point. I’m an old fart. I started college in 1962. Two scholarships $1500. Covered tuition, room meals and books. Same school today $50,000 +. Folks need to wake up. It’s a new world and only those that think in a new way will survive and prosper. Keep on doing what you are doing

  3. Robert says:

    I was eager to read you after listening to your diatribe on C.N.N. , I am gravely disappointed . You lecture in Chomsky speak. I always wondered how Chomsky did not know he was the worst public speaker in the U.S. Obviously it’s a contagion and he can’t help himself , but did he have to spread it to all the campuses of higher learning.

  4. Isabelle Pasmantier says:

    Thanks for the great insight Scott. I would be interested to have also your view about International higher education, as at QS, we do work with universities and business schools from all over the world. Unsure you are familiar with the sites and TopMBA. Com. Many thanks, Isabelle

  5. William Randall says:

    Finally someone on the inside is speaking the truth about higher education. When you add the complicity of govt student loan programs, it begins to look like a conspiracy. That plus the over emphasis on a “degree” has created a monster. With a few notable exceptions such as the top 5% a degree is a degree and therefore i advise my grandchildren to go for the lowest cost alternative at least for the first 2 years. One a person has gotten into the workforce, advancement is most often based on one’s performance. There are exceptions of course. Hopefully the current crisis will expose the current inequities and start us on a path to fix them. Thank you, Keep up the fight. The look on Anderson’s face last night was priceless

  6. Mary Wollstonecraft says:

    Many interesting points. I spent my life in education, gaining much but becoming increasingly aware that U.S. colleges are what some people think all teachers are–high-priced babysitters. Isn’t the question–educated for what? What does it mean to be a citizen in an era when the presidency is more thoroughly up for sale than it ever was? Do classes actually educate or do they just purport to? Doesn’t a person go into the workforce and sink or swim based on qualities he she or they had before schools got hold of them?

  7. Kalven Afjeh says:

    I share your view and finding. I have a plan to create videos on YouTube to encourage our future educators to be student activist, demand for lowering tuition or even free education as your basic right.

  8. Natalie Riddle says:

    I really enjoyed listening to you on CNN. Amazingly insightful n knowledgeable.

  9. Janice Cragnolin says:

    Just curious what is your prediction for the future of academic medical programs that require hands-on training such as surgical skills in 3rd and 4th year?

    • R says:

      Medical programs will bring their students back into the clinical areas where those hands on skills are learned. Students need to learn how to be safe. So we‘ll need enough protective equipment and knowledge to keep these students safe, but they have to learn how to work in the post-corona healthcare system. And we need a continuous source of new nurses, health care technicians and physicians to fight the fight.

  10. Maggie Michael says:

    It had to come to this with higher ed.

  11. Eric hill says:

    Professor, First time, long time… Actually started following you/listening to you on Pivot after your chat with Sam Harris on Making Sense. In a recent communication to my students and their families, I used a good deal of your April 3rd No Mercy/No Malice- POST CORONA: HIGHER ED post It does seem like the Corona virus is going to accelerate the disruption but I am not convinced that Higher Ed is simply going to be reformulated or reformatted through “virtual” online learning. Nor, perhaps, should it. The “everyone should (needs to) go to college” paradigm is what needs to change. An in person philosophy/ english/ history seminar done well is a glorious educational experience, but not everyone will benefit from it, and not everyone should have to endure it. Everyone should have the opportunity for gainful (and hopefully somewhat meaningful) employment, and all the traditional American Dream bells and whistles that go along with it. What do you think about some of the recent and emerging alternatives to college? The coding bootcamp is not new, but it seems pretty effective. Praxis is geared more toward developing sales skills and providing entrepreneurial experience. Would love it if you considered the viability of some of these alternatives on the Prof G Show or with your partner in crime on Pivot. Please also reconnect with Sam Harris soon. And if you do not already know Eric Weinstein, please have Sam introduce you. Eric Weinstein has some brilliant insights into the about to collapse under its own weight state of Higher Ed. You should get on his Portal Podcast or he maybe visits you on yours. With Much Gangsta Love,

  12. Randall Tinfow says:

    Wishful thinking by an excellent self promoter. Ben Franklin had it right. “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” Lecturers have little value. Classroom entertainers like Galloway are worth slightly more on small screens. The big educational brands will partner with Epic, EA, Nintendo. “Polymerases of RNA Containing Viruses” will be learned via simulations and live interactions rather than lectures. And MIT will compete with NTU (not NYU) for certifying student completions. Ringers? Simply actors with a pedigree, replaceable by virtual actors. Today’s profs may be useful for developing syllabi and course material. They certainly won’t command 7 figure retainers and royalties. Dream on!

  13. Ivan says:

    Why dont you make some online courses like mark ritson? I like your content and am sure some people would gladly pay for your course.

  14. Jeet says:

    While I agree with many projections in this article, I don’t think all these are the result of the Covid-19 crisis. These trends have been emerging over time and picking up steam, party because of the exponential growth of technology, and partly because of the change in corporate culture. I also think that the traditional model of academia is already out of sync with reality and that new models are emerging that perhaps are not based on the award of the degrees. In addition, I do think we have many more universities and colleges in USA and also some foreign countries than needed (a) to meet the demand; and (2) to make sure that students take education seriously. Perhaps it is time for us to think on creating a bit shortage of available educational facilities to make students value education and take it seriously. At present, several students take education for granted and give it the least priority in terms of their time and effort. Again, all this has nothing to do with Covid-19 crisis but evolution (or perhaps revolution) of societal shifts.

  15. Austin says:

    Awesome article. I have been doing a lot of thinking about how education will change as a result of COVID. I am a senior at Rutgers who will be graduating in May (not sure what commencement will look like). I can’t imagine students being back on campus in September. In fact, I agree, that college will not be back in session for the entirety of 2020. It was interesting to hear your take on how colleges will partner with big tech to tackle education. As a student–now taking all of my classes online–I can’t imagine being back in a lecture hall with 200+ students (nor do I think it is worth it). When I am on a Zoom session/virtual session with a professor, I am much more engaged (not sure if this is the case with all students). But, it feels like the professor is talking directly to me. Also, I have found that students (who traditionally would not engage with the class and ask questions) are much more likely to do so in a virtual session. Most of these questions are asked via chat, but still. From what I have seen, virtual learning has improved the learning experience of students. Yes, it was a change, but we are all familiar with communicating digitally. Why not transform our learning experience to reflect this in its entirety? I recently wrote a blog post titled “Was college worth it?” I talk about how COVID really really really made me rethink this question. I would love to share if anyone is interested.

    • Sam Austin Schlessinger says:

      I also cover the topic of “ringers.” I don’t call them “ringers”, but it’s undoubtedly true that colleges have a HANDFUL of teachers that are REALLY making an impact on students. Sadly, most just regurgitate information that students are expected to memorize, be tested on, and then never use in their lives ever again. Pretty sad. I can count the number of teachers who have positively impacted my college experience on my hand.

    • Noel Ashekian says:

      Hi Austin, I would love to read your blog post. If you have a Linked In profile you might want to consider self-publishing on LI. Having content published on LI is a great way to make professional connections.

    • Matthew Badessa Jr. says:

      Hi Austin, can you share your blog post?

    • Jesse says:

      Hello Austin, I’m interested in your post about your reflections on college. Please share. A quick search did not find it.

    • Deepa Advani says:

      Hello Austin, Found your thoughts on virtual learning interesting. Families of international students believe that student engagement will decline with online classes though they do agree it isn’t worth it, since we pay 70k or thereabouts as annual tuition. I would love to read your blog. Please do mail it to me. Wish you good luck !

  16. Brent says:

    Great article. I’ve been writing myself about the demise of the Higher Education model. The leading indicator I’ve seen in Corporate Life is that for the past few years the quality of graduates has declined significantly. Business has had to deprogram and reprogram college grads for years. Business has lost confidence in Higher Ed, students are too and now the “break” will create the Hard Reset that is overdue.

  17. Humphrey says:

    Really interesting article I wonder to what extent it is true outside of the US higher Ed system. In Europe we are aghast at the costs of US education. My children will complete their four year degree at one of the better Universities each for less than $50,000 total including their accommodation and other living expenses. We have Google, Facebook and other similar orgs in our backyard in Dublin but I suspect that their role in education here will be less or am I being naive?

  18. simon says:

    The question that has not been opinioned on is; If Universities stay online thru January 2021. What will students do for housing? Stay at home? Rent in a less expensive area than close to campus?

  19. Jay says:

    Simulations are a key learning tool. Playing a video game with voice comms and 10 remote gamer friends is a completely different experience from a family Zoom hour where people mostly stare silently. In the must-have-two triangle of [shared interest, shared experience, shared location] the location compromise must come with a doubled interest/experience dimension. Educational group simulations (video games) that are cooperative, competitive, realistic and unpredictable will fill the niche.

    • Debra Iles says:

      All we have in common is location.

    • Eleanor says:

      Live action role play simulations are a pedagogy that has gained a significant following among historians, political science, philosophy and english faculties. Look up Reacting to the Past… We are now doing the massive experiment to see if it can work online- we definitely have shared interest & shared experience – many of us are using Zoom in conjunction with something like Slack or Discord to substitute in for the shared location…

  20. Julie says:

    Scott… You have a very telling, relatable paragraph in your article that sort of hangs there… you don’t address it… What is supposed to replace this experience going forward? In my sophomore year at UCLA, I fell in love for the first time, learned my limits were not my real limits (joined crew), realized I would not be a doctor (failed chemistry), became less insecure about my insecurities (took Intro to Psychology), and developed resilience (had my heart broken). I’d like to think all these things would have happened whether or not I attended college. But they likely wouldn’t have happened in such a safe and joyous place.

    • Brian says:

      There’s sure a lot to chew in that paragraph.

    • Jeff Durbin says:

      I had those types of experiences too. And some of my closest friendships are from college or grad school. But universities have been cheating students and their parents for decades and these experiences are now indulgences for the wealthy.

  21. Pat says:

    Definitely some valid points here. The “market disruption” in Higher Ed is happening. There was already a slide in useless Graduate studies that added no value to future employers. Now we have an exodus of Foreign Students or a lack of enthusiasm to attend a US school given our lack of virus preparedness. The advent of on-line programs who really do offer employment ready courses (applied science vs theoretical science), and predicting some serious defaults in the bonds issued to pay for luxurious student dorms, student gyms, and great meeting halls. Look out for the collateral damage here.

  22. Chief Thoro says:

    So 150 years are expropriating the land from the Natives and offering them as seed capital for the education of wealthy (re: caucasian) children, will reparations come or will Big Tech abolish that value add as well?

  23. Blair says:

    Well said, Scott. What comes after the college market has been tapped? I could see this trend trickling down into high schools, and who knows from there? Interesting to think about.

  24. gat says:

    So I’m not a world-renown geneticist (failed organic chemistry). Maybe that’s why I don’t get the following arithmetic: “My stay of execution will be that I teach at one of the 15 top 10 universities, which brings us to our next prediction:” Nevertheless, I can lean into your prediction. But I am skeptical whether economic determinism will force recalcitrant faculties to cooperate–their institutional status/teaching genius, not withstanding.

    • Charlie Bell says:

      As a former math teacher and someone revulsed by the ubiquity and influence of college rankings, I read his “15 of 10” comment as delightfully droll.

    • Mike says:

      @Charlie Bell i saw that too and cringe a little

    • Realist says:

      I hope you realize that university rankings have ties so yes there are more than 10 universities in the top 10

    • Jeff Durbin says:

      @Charlie Bell Yes, the sarcasm was dripping off that statement! When I read it, my first thought was “How long until NYU fires him?” It’s a shame so many people took that literally and missed the point.

  25. John Atkinson says:

    Interesting take on a fast changing landscape for higher education

  26. Paul Lubitz says:

    Scott, I just completed your “Strategy Sprint” and while you were informative, irreverent and valuable the super motivated cohort was equally so. By value I’ll use Fernando Flores definition: Both helpful and scarce. The fact that I wasn’t there in person didn’t hold back on the learning.

  27. Jerry Israel says:

    It must be wonderful to be so sure of yourself that you have all the answers when no one even knows all the questions. The giveaway to your elitist arrogance is the biographical institutional name dropping. Who gives two anything’s that you are bi coastal. I guess from UCLA to NYU you flew over America a couple times at least. Don’t drive it now even if you want to stay off airplanes. You might blow a water pump in larned, Kansas and have to spend A day or two around folks who sweat for a living.

    • Blaize says:

      Elitist for sure, gagging even. But guess he gets paid well for his NYU gig and expects that his ringer status will elevate his opportunities.

  28. Terry Forth says:

    US$7000 for 12 classes??

  29. Stephen Martinek says:

    Scott, what do you think about MIT’s Micromasters program, hosted on the edX platform, and how does such a structure fits into this framework? Perhaps an early iteration of this trend?

  30. Blair says:

    “Our species’ superpower is cooperation, and our strength as Americans is our optimism.” Optimism may be an American strength but cooperation (under the current administration) is in short supply. Truthfully, in the absence of cooperation it’s hard to see why optimism is deserving.

  31. kurious says:

    Isn’t it ironic that you dismiss vocational, skills-focused training as overly capitalistic while claiming that higher education is insanely expensive (it is) and that you’re not worth the ridiculous amount of money you get paid (you’re not). That doesn’t make you enlightened, it makes you a hypocrite.

    • Another Teacher says:

      Great comment. Thanks!

    • gat says:

      Just sayin’ … Perhaps an enlightened hypocrite?

    • Jeff Durbin says:

      I didn’t read his comment on skills-based training as a critical comment at all. I think you miss his point that the traditional expensive liberal arts education is a scam and we will move even more aggressively towards skills-based education.

  32. Navin says:

    The greatest learnings I received from Bus. school professors were when they shared information that they would have been afraid to share in a public setting. Examples: insights on how a Fed. Reserve decision was made because they had once been there; or criticism of an accounting standard. I can’t see this translating to online learning because it is semi-public. I think this will be a limitation of online learning. Any thoughts on this?

    • Claude says:

      there are 3 major categories: those who attend a physical University due to wealth, merit, initiative; those who learn strictly online and will often miss the nuances and real-world capabilities from physical contact and working on projects physically versus virtually in those for self motivated or in other ways superior learners who can transcend the college experience. In our world fewer and fewer jobs actually require the skills and knowledge about college education. I’m afraid there will be division in society to the elite, the workers and those who are “irrelevant”. This is much less likely consumer society necessary for a capitalist system. At the same time that democracy itself is in danger. Coronavirus has only spent up these changes. Will anyone be a winner? Also missing from this discussion is the role of arts in philosophy. Where did we lose sight of the University is home to humanism?

  33. c1ue says:

    Nice Killers reference. A major assumption being made is that the education is what makes a top university so prized. What if it is the elite financial/intelligence/social contacts made, instead? How then would zoom-based learning replicate said experience?

  34. Clayton Gentry says:

    Thanks, Scott. I hadn’t considered the humanity-erosion component to tele-higher-ed. Concerns me a bit, but — I think — only a bit. Lots of opportunity to fall in love in the “real world,” just as in a university environment. More concerning to me — the continued accretion of influence, dollar bills, and, per your university-partnership hypothesis, hyper-valuable human capital by a list of companies you could count on one hand. I worship Google, I use Apple products exclusively, and Amazon sends me my groceries. I’m keenly aware of the mental back-and-forth I recite every time: “I should give the little guy a shot… but they don’t have Tiger King.” I’ll probably have to at least google the Berkeley/Microsoft masters program if such materializes. I think you’re right about Masterclass, and similar MOOC platforms (Coursera, Edx, Udacity). I see the big firms on your parternship list whipping out their own platforms with comparative ease anyway. Apple already has a (legacy) prototype in iTunes U. I wonder if we eventually get the Civic version to their Bugatti, for those of us who would value a version of the education at a single digit percentage of the $100k price point. At that point, the Courseras of the world start feeling a bit redundant. Clayton

  35. Paul M. Pierre says:

    Badging, much like a uniformed police officer yields instant social authority from the shield, many big name universities will continue to exist. Stanford will continue to offer liberal arts degrees on campus, as will USC, the Ivy League schools, etc…Those, however, as the author pointed out will be reserved more and more for children of wealthy parents. The degree, or knowledge acquired, will be second to the badging. A degree in English at Harvard may trump a technical degree at Georgia Tech. The true value of a degree will be revealed in accelerated form by this crisis. Is it worth it to get into 150K in debt to get a degree in Women’s Studies at University of Michigan? Should we allow an 18 year old to waste 4 productive years on campus, only to come out jaded by extreme liberalism, disoriented by life in an idealism bubble, completely disconnected from reality? …..ah, and yes, finding out that in the real world, you actually have to work (at something, NOT of your choosing most of the time) in order to earn money from which you must pay rent, taxes, buy food, and yes pay back that student loan, with interest.

    • Alex.C says:

      I know Scott refereed to Georgia Tech as the jewel of the south for education recently. As a recent graduate of GT all I can say is that it’s all sizzle and no stake. I totally agree with his statement that there’s 10/15 profs that are worth the tuition money the rest of them should not be put in front of a class.I can find people on YouTube doing a better job at teaching than most people I’ve dealt with at Georgia Tech

  36. Marlene Greenhalgh says:

    Another great read, Prof. Makes sense in all its contradictions. Certainly the coronavirus crisis has forced many of us (personally and professionally) to adapt and adopt digital alternative products and practices. This has accelerated and, will continue to accelerate, our use of them and has helped us perhaps (maybe/ perchance) to realize their value to our pocket and our planet. Education could (and should) be delivered free, of course, as a human right. Let’s hope that our humanity will be the driver to make it so, personally, professionally and politically. If so, let’s hope it will encourage teachers (at all levels throughout the education system) to lead the change for humanity’s sake as well as their own. One lesson I think we have learned from COVID-19 is that it is our shared fragility and strength that enables us to understand each other and to appreciate why we need each other and how we need to support each other. We now know that we can achieve truly amazing progress when we cooperate with each other in shared goals to strive, survive and to thrive. Let’s hope we can accelerate as a species to ensure that the pandemic is the catalyst to global systemic change for all our sakes. Let’s make it so.

  37. DAN ALBERT says:

    “On Zoom people are going to discover I was never worth $100,000 per class.” Maybe not, but you assume they are there to learn something. They’re their for the NYU MBA.

  38. Travis Samulski says:

    Good incite again, Scott. I am an example. I graduated with an undergraduate degree in accounting (University of Arizona, 1992) then a law degree (University of Wyoming -1996). Passed the bar exam. Pursued a career in banking. Most of my job offers and my career were based on the training I received as a Wells Fargo, HSBC and Credit Suisse banker. The training, classes, connections and “real world” experience offered by the career was much more of a commodity to the next employer than my academic background.

  39. richard says:

    Thanks for your posts, they are always thought provoking. As far is this one is concerned, I am worried by your last ( one before last to be exact) line: “erode our humanity”. In my view the best part about higher education is about developping our humanity. If it does not happen anymore that does not bode well for our collective future I am afraid…

  40. The Professor says:

    Another elephant in the room which no one is discussing is the dramatic drop of international students in the 2020-21 school year. With cases accelerating in many of the unstable countries that are feeders for elite higher education our government will have no problem closing the door. This will have serious ripple effects on the tuition bucket.

  41. PLC says:

    BOOM !! Exponential acceleration ! Spot on Scott! You’re a message in a bottle. Rise of the welfare state ? Any thoughts. Be well, Pierre-Luc

  42. Ricky Richards says:

    Love your commentary as always Scott. The only thing I did disagree with is your analysis of Masterclass. Masterclass has created a phenomenal brand and if anything I could see a big tech firm scooping them up and lowering the price (Which for the value it provides is already cheap) to democratize access. That’s a much easier task than trying to bring university which costs ludicrous sums into the 21st century. To your point about gems of teachers, that’s all well and good but most are un namable to the general population and having celebrity teachers is the the hook that gets people through the door / paywall and engaging. Take you as an example.. has your cult fame not given you a larger platform for which to reach more people? For both students and adults alike, I think masterclass is a very appealing proposition. Would love to hear more about your thoughts on this. Thanks… Rick

  43. Vikram says:

    I guess the same logic would hold true for commercial real estate. Companies spend millions into building campuses and people would realize working from home is realistic permanent option.

  44. Ihsan says:

    Scott, I think you are right that a lot of older people will go back to school. I look forward to taking one of your classes in the future. You mentioned all the life skills you gained physically attending UCLA, I think you are dramatically discounting this aspect of college. Parents want cheaper prices but they also know the value of leaving the nest as they have experienced the product. In addition, as my father said to me “you are off the payroll” they want kids to leave lol. In addition, many students can’t wait to leave the nest. More access will come and average schools will drop prices, but it will be hard for tech to match the serendipity of meeting your spouse/co-founder/best friend/ etc. down the hall. We shall see!

  45. Steve M says:

    There’s about 8 million four-year college students and 5.5 million two-year college students. The two-year experience is waaaaaay worse than the two year, RE: teaching, advising, networking, prospects, etc. And, oh! only 15% even transfer to a four-year institution and graduate within 6 years. I wonder if in addition to “Google X MIT” there’s also a “premium community college” segment ready to emerge: dorms, built-in networking opportunities, meals, advisors that help students create career paths, etc.etc. I could see anyone from AmeriCorps to firms that develop student housing to groups that need to Google moving into this space.

    • Bruins Fan says:

      Your comments indicate you have neither experience in nor knowledge of community colleges. Community colleges were established to ensure all Americans have an equal opportunity to access higher education. The mission is to advance our collective free democracy by developing critical thinkers — for the good of the individual *and* society overall. We have open doors, and the fortitude to educate anyone who expresses motivation to improve their life.

  46. Woot says:

    Or … society realizes everyone is hugely overcredentialed, reverses some idiotic legal decisions, university bubble deflates. Only chinese princelings attend Ivy League. Then they look around and go back home.

  47. Stef says:

    I just want to confirm that your recommendations mentioned in your podcast are good. In my case this is the end of the 4th week of self-isolation at home (working remotely) and increasing contact with friends & especially my parents (in Switzerland ) has been extremely important for everybody, especially for my parents (they aren’t allowed to even go buy groceries – there is a local organization that delivers them what they want to order, plus neighbours that do the same for more exotic wishes like cigarettes hehe). Fyi in Switzerland even after implementing (at a relatively early stage) quite strong restrictions, which are followed by most people, the amount of daily new infections do seem to have stabilized after a while but so far it hasn’t decreased ( ) => in my opinion most if not all states in the US (especially Florida as from what I understood it hosts a lot of old people?) should do the same to at least first stabilize the situation in the nation (because the amount of cases will increase and patients will have to be transferred, if possible, whenever a state’s capacity reaches the limit). Because of the late symptoms caused by this virus, any reaction is always too late => you have to anticipate. Greetings from Switzerland! 🙂

  48. Eric Bernal says:

    Great post as always! Degrees have definitely become commoditized. I live in Canada, and even here the cost of education has skyrocketed. For many, getting one or two degrees is equivalent to becoming an indentured servant as people struggle to pay off student loans for years. When I went to university in the 1990s you could work all summer, pay for your tuition, books, car insurance, and still have some money in your pocket. That is not possible now. Kids don’t have the luxury to go to university to discover themselves! The cost is just too high. Who wants to spend $80,000 on a Liberal Arts degree, finish with debt, if you are not sure about what you want to do with your life? On another note, I would be curious to hear your take on how governments deal with potential viral threats moving forward! Will we all need biometric passports that prove our healthy or virus-free status before we board a plane or ship, or enter a stadium or large conference? Could viruses from the wild animal trade be considered a form of bioterrorism? Will there be any consequences for China in the future if they keep enabling the creation of deadly viruses? Will spending shift from the military to our health care emergency preparedness? Does it make sense for the US to have an $800 billion defence budget when it can’t even provide enough masks to hospitals?

  49. Ed says:

    Another question may pop up. Do we really need universities any more? all they do is produce older debt ridden better trained better smelling mules. I get the ‘go there and meet the right people anlge’ but as a place of learning?

  50. Phil Simon says:

    A flight to quality? Perhaps. Also this might be the kick in the ass that many schools need to up their tech games. LMSs are far weaker than Slack, MS Teams, Zoom, and their ilk.

  51. Braeden says:

    If access to top brand schools expands dramatically, will they be able to continue to capitalize on the exclusivity that built their brand dissolves? A large part of the value of a Princeton/Stanford degree is that there aren’t that many of them. It’s an exclusive club. If they’re graduating 100,000/year, then that feature disappears. (And the Round of 64 in the NCAA tournament will be much less exciting when there are only 32 universities left.) What would you expect to become of the research apparatus attached to most of higher education? Will there be a great decoupling as classroom responsibilities at R1’s are reduced even more? A lot of PhD and postdoc labor is funded by federal grants, but even top research faculty are typically funded by tuition (with the exception of endowed chairs). So even fewer faculty positions and/or faculty wage stagnation is expected. And I do think there will be lost research value if we take even bad faculty out of the classroom. Teaching and curriculum development helps hone research questions and promotes breadth in the skills and specializations within departments. Even if sometimes it can feel like a chore.

  52. John says:

    Scott, I had to comment as this is one of the best pieces you’ve written. And why wouldn’t it be? You are the perfect author for such a piece — A deep subject matter expert skilled in market analysis with a knack for communicating in an effective manner. Also, this strikes so close to home that I couldn’t resist commenting. I’m a product of one of these 15 Top 10 business schools and participated in one of the early technology-enabled distance learning programs. I knew — while in school 15+ years ago — that b-school tuition wasn’t, um, worth the price my company paid for it. Don’t get me wrong — I LOVED the education. My worldview was expanded by an order of magnitude, but… If I had to pay for it myself, especially at today’s tuition combined with current MBA salaries, I’d never write that check out of my own account. Something has to change… and it will. Brace for the acceleration… It is long overdue.

  53. JJSun says:

    Overall peoples’ ability to remember most things is pretty short, and increasingly becomes even more so as there are more distractions thrown into the mix. On that thought, your initial premise I agree with. However, as a strategist and contrarian thinker (the seeds for which were there way before I earned my fancy degree from Bard), I’m going to say that ultimately things will be different, but *different* doesn’t equal bad necessarily. It’s just “different.” It’s a change from what was, to something else. Change is good, it’s cyclical. It’s how nature ultimately works. Now – the trajectory of what happens post COVID19 will no doubt follow the same trendline that was seen during post 9/11. For a short while, there was a genuine air of thoughtfulness that seemed to be present all throughout workings of business, society and culture. It was definitely felt here in the US, and even pushed out globally for a bit. From the ashes, the phoenix of opportunity rose and with it brought “change” in the form of new intentional frameworks, structures and agendas. Basically good, right? For a while it was, but who wants happy and good all the time? If you’re always good, how would you know it unless there’s something that also mixes in to serve as a complete contrast. It’s inevitable. Thing change. They did during post 9/11, and it will also be the case post COVID19. There will definitely be a renaissance of small independent business owners and family based businesses, local communities will become more important than ever, live physical engagement will become paramount, and the recent YoY decline in medical school applicants is going to reverse itself with an even greater spike seen among those opting for the less expensive and time intensive routes of becoming Physician Assistants or RNs. What’s unknown or a lot more grey, but what I can only hope for, is that all of these more opportune changes will have a real effect on big business as it stands today. It’s at that level where change is most resisted and yet most needed. By having collectively held up change and to fight nature, because it’s in the financial interest of a few – is where the cycle gets broken and things crack at an alarming rate

  54. xiao says:

    Can you speak about the social and networking aspect of it? I find higher education is a bit like going to conferences, there is some value in watching panelist speak, but all of that information is online anyways. The real value is meeting other people in the audience who share similar interests. Often times the conversation will diverge from professional talk and it’s possible to make real friends. College is like that, but for 4 years straight. The “high touch” and constant-touch (no pun intended) aspect is important and has long term consequences. On the surface, universities sell content, but more importantly they sell people. In particular, they sell kids to corporations, and sell the kids to each other, who in turn hire each other in the future. This kind of a sales process demand a lot of touches and face to face interactions, and it’s hard to replicate that with a screen. The limitations apply to remote work.

    • xiao says:

      Just to add to earlier comment, the kids are not paying $100K USD to you (literally true), they are paying $100k to access the other kids in the classroom. Again no offense to you, I’m sure you’re a knock-out teacher. Universities are like clubs, so much of the premium attached to high end clubs and ivies are the other clubbers. Of course you can’t sell people (in the slavery sense), so clubs monetize with drinks, and Universities monetize with content. No one cares about the DJs anyways, they’re just remixing other people’s soundtrack. So in this case the DJ is the professor.

  55. Chris Baker says:

    Love the “I teach at one of the 15 top 10 universities” line. I use that line all the time with respect to my Duke MBA. Sometimes I go so far as to call it the 20 top 10 biz schools in the country. Other alums dont find that funny. One year Duke came in at # 13 or something and the head of the alum association in California said in a giant email “what are we gonna do about this?”. I hit reply all and said “laugh and then have a beer”. Not funny !!!!

  56. Tom Eppright MD says:

    I very much enjoy your work. I am a Psychiatrist and value how you break apart questions. It allows non-business people like me to see how you process information. Keep up your great work. Thanks again.

  57. Dan Hogan says:

    After being in retail for 35+ years(VP Federated and my own 7 store chain) retired at 55, Take that experience and do a class on line as well as a podcast. Also some one should create a brand to include all “ringers” that would take care of the back office needs for them. Thanks for the insight. Dan Hogan #danhogan3

  58. todd says:

    You are missing two major factors – regionally good/great community college systems that rolled quickly with the punch and higher end public RESEARCH universities that are largely funded either with technology ALREADY or major sports programs….

  59. Mikal says:

    Uncertain times, interesting perspective. I wonder what the outbound effects will be as they cascade into “the real world” as these new graduates (who were raised entirely digital to begin with) enter the workforce and become decision makers? That’s when we may truly see the results of whatever outcome is built.

  60. Neil Davidoff says:

    Allow me to provide a counterpoint. This pandemic will accelerate the transition to telecommuting. HR folks will see more applications, as more jobs may be done from anywhere. They will use more automated searches to sort out applications to read, including searches for recognized schools. So existing schools will have an edge, deserved or not.

  61. Marky says:

    Your talking your book – yes big tech will move in and lower educational costs -the system needs increasingly more deeper disruption. When governments allow Bankruptcy to wipe away student debt -college tuition rates will fall to late 90’s rates! 95% percent of all college professors are left of center -some more than others -thus a FoFF move to quote CIVIQs vs a Gallop poll that saw the Fed with a 60% approval rating. No fed decision hits every target and neither does a prof with a germane distaste for decisions he is uniformed and unknowing of the logic behind those decisions.

  62. Mike Lewis says:

    Fantastic read. The thought behind this and the trends ring true to me. Thanks for writing.

  63. Kees Dalfsen says:

    You lost me in the third paragraph ”a bunch of white guys” , why underline ethnicity? Are hispanics or black people not allowed to play? Imagine someone writing about basketball ”a bunch of Blacks running back on forth chasing a brown ball”. Why go all post-modern lib on us? keep it business prof

    • John Logic says:

      There’s tissues on the table over there, Kees. Scott was illustrating a point, not making a racial stereotype, other than that hedge, VC, MSNBC and Today are dominated by a bunch of rich white guys.

    • Harry Larry says:

      @John Logic And the NBA is dominated by rich black folk… “Racism” is now A-OK as long as it is directed at white folk. Laughable indeed. Just humans doing what humans do. Prior it was acceptable to be racist against black and so the sheep did as sheep do. Now that the pendulum is swinging and white are becoming unfavorable, the sheep are amassing. Keep calling out the sheep Kees. Do not be bothered when the sheep yimmer and yammer in distress as they follow the flock though.

    • anon says:

      @Harry Larry you need to refresh yourself on the rules. being racist against white people doesn’t count. or something like that.

  64. Drake says:

    Bursting Education bubble will be more extensive than college alone; do the math on the average private school (tuitions, years, kids, and false hopes for a golden admissions ticket to top 5). Vocational schools will be back in vogue, particularly if we re-shore manufacturing from bat-eating countries. Plus, trades like electrical, plumbing, welding are highly resistant to automation (for the moment) and provide more career structure.

    • Stephen Martinek says:

      Drake, I think this is a good point. As Scott rightly mentions, students are motivated by prospects of financial security. I think a a lot of people, especially younger, are waking up to the reality that financial security can be found in the trades. And the covid lockdowns I think can accelerate this trend.

  65. Tracey Riese says:

    Not all the content will be skills-based. Once it is cheap to acquire, humanities will rise in demand and value as adult learners seek to add meaning and purpose their lives, and fill in the gaps left by career-driven educations.

  66. Greg says:

    Glad my alma mater Virginia Tech got joined at the hip with Amazon’s DC/Alexandria expansion last year given your post and prediction.

  67. Justin says:

    I would love to see the disruption you describe in higher education since the costs are getting out of control. I’d be curious to hear from you and your readers on how you get around the lab component (hard sciences, etc) and practical component (nursing, etc).

    • Dana Cruikshank says:

      My take? those practical component-oriented fields, along with the hard sciences, have quantifiable value, so there will be public and private-sector funders willing to step up in exchange for some of the ROI students receive. That’s not to say there isn’t a value to the humanities, but with a different ROI, it will be left largely to individuals to fund that.

  68. Neville says:

    You project a trajectory universities might follow were they controlled by the very small number of talented ‘Ringers’. In fact they are controlled by the majority of deeply-entrenched mediocrities, clinging determinedly to that brand. It is, after all, the only thing of value they have. These people are far more likely to resist what you foresee than to drive it or even accede to it.