How can colleges and universities win?

The unraveling of higher education

Why are there whispers of the decline of higher education? One signal is that enrollment has been decreasing since 2010. Some describe this decline as a ‘slump’, but those with a business background recognize a year over year fall in demand as the decline of a market, which is why institutions are concerned.

The product life cycle is classic business 101. Every product that raises to maturity has a day where it declines unless it is replaced by an updated product.

Universities are primarily betting that the updated product is the same degree program in ‘digital ’ form, partly because they are ‘holding on’ to the current model of bundled courses. Example 2U is building a business helping current universities make take their current university online.

What universities are ignoring is what students really want — faster, cheaper, more flexible, and more relevant to jobs. Alternative models have sprouted up from bootcamps (e.g. General Assembly) aligned to specific career transitions to substitutes like Always Hired and MissionU that are offering a free or low-cost tuition in return for a share of salary when you find a job. These models are on the rise, because they are shorter and less expense than traditional degree programs and allowing learners to get the learning they need to make job transitions. They are becoming pathways to employment beyond the degree.

While it will take years before these alternatives to be robust enough to handle the 17+ million learners higher education serves today, the decline is not coming — it is happening. The institutions that will win are those that deliver what learners want (reminder: faster, cheaper, more flexible, and more relevant to jobs).

Our startup is working on better linking learning to jobs by using machine learning technology to match courses across institutions to career pathways. If your institution is interested in joining us or hearing more, email me at Join the revolution.


Sergio Marrero

Co-Founder & CEO, Caila