Alumni Networks: How Higher Education Disruption Can Be Avoided

Alumni Networks: How Higher Education Disruption Can Be Avoided

This blog will be discussing how despite signs signalling otherwise, higher education disruption can be avoided in the industry. 

I hear it all the time.  Higher education is ripe for disruption.

I have seen the worried looks of deans and vice-chancellors at conference after conference, many at a loss as how best to compete with the MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) threat posed by Coursera, edX and others.

I won’t rehearse the arguments of why higher education is ripe for disruption – you can see well written articles in both Forbes and the The Economist for that.

And you know what, higher education may well be ripe for disruption but it will not happen any time soon.

Let me suggest why.

Yes, 10 million people and growing have signed up for Coursera on-line courses, but that still cannot be defined as higher education disruption. How many people do you know who have decided not to go to college, and are instead going to do a series of MOOCs? How likely will it be that this will happen anytime soon?

For disruption in any industry to work, there needs to be an overwhelming motivation from either the buyer or supplier on why the new way of doing things makes huge sense.

On paper, the payers for higher education have a huge incentive for a ‘free’ model. Who wouldn’t want to use their ‘college fund’ of thousands of dollars for something else?

Yet however good a MOOC is, it will not yet replace the market incumbent – the college higher education system that has remained virtually untouched for decades.

The market incumbent, has three strong advantages vs a MOOC, and one knock-out advantage.

  1. Campus experience – can a MOOC get close to offering the memories and personal growth that comes from a campus experience?
  2. Face to face teaching – there remains a significant difference between face to face teaching and virtual teaching although I concede the gap has narrowed.
  3. Access to exclusive alumni networks – can a MOOC offer you access to alumni networks as exclusive and as willing to help?

Schools are rightly trying to differentiate themselves from MOOCs by highlighting and improving their offering in these three areas.

However even if MOOCs could compete in these three areas, they are still missing the key disruptive ingredient for higher education.

Are employers willing to change the fundamental selection process of how they hire?

Disruption in higher education will only come when recruitment managers in companies are willing to recruit graduates of a MOOC as equals to those from a college.

The recruitment managers not only need to be convinced that the educative experience of MOOCs has equally prepared applicants for their companies, but in addition they have to overcome their own emotional bias of agreeing to commoditize their own higher education that they themselves spent thousands of dollars on.

In the western higher education system, MOOCs at best seem destined to play perhaps a limited ‘blended’ role. Schools will offer a MOOC as a clever marketing ‘sample’ initiative to provide potential students with a taster of what they can offer or maybe for standard popular courses.

If higher education disruption ever comes it will start with lower ranked schools in the developed world, and in general in the developing world where the ‘free’ option seems more attractive, and the hiring classes are less likely to be biased in favor of a college education.

Higher education institutions may want to consider offering MOOCs as part of a ‘freemium’ model. However they may well be better off investing in improving the campus experience, the quality of teaching and the access and exclusivity of their alumni networks.

These are the things that build their brand and better protect them from the commoditization of MOOCs should it ever come.

Do you think higher education disruption is coming, and if so, when?

Is there a difference between the developed and emerging markets? Between elite, mid-tier and bottom tier schools?

Would you ever give parity to someone who had completed some MOOCs with someone who has a college education?

 

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