Will half of all US Colleges and Universities shut down by 2030? Review

Chris Fellingham
Oct 13, 2018 · 2 min read

Clayton Christensen, author of ‘The Innovative University’(2011) and the Innovator’s Dilemma has doubled down on his prediction that online will destroy half the US Universities and colleges by around 2030.

Christensen is not a stranger to bold claims, indeed his eponymous institute has much to gain from a sustained public presence for his ‘disruptor’s theory’ (think lucrative business research and consulting contracts and book sales). That said, he deserves some plaudits — his forecast matches Tetlock’s criteria — that a prediction ought to be measurable (none of this “something big will happen in the Middle East next year”) and specific in time (“50% of universities will close soon”).

Christensen’s argument is straightforward, a large number of Universities are in a perilous financial state, online courses and career specific programmes (e.g. bootcamps) will deliver better returns to students in terms of employability at a lower a price and operate on a lower cost basis, thus bankrupting a large number of universities — portrayed as a crude solution to skill shortage — e.g. just get a degree.

Christensen made such a forecast at the dawn of MOOCs (2011) when his book came out and has repeated it — with roughly the same timeline this year. The thesis on balance seems timely and compelling — Coursera have 12 degrees and are adding more, edX add 9 Masters, Bootcamps train more programmers than the all the Computer Science departments of the US combined. Nor is this just restricted to the US- with FutureLearn in the UK pushing to augment its degree/credit bearing course option.

Derek Newton, writing in Forbes magazine begs to differ — noting that closure rates while increasing are significant (around 7% since the prediction first came about) but limited almost entirely to for-profits and for the rest there has been little change since 2013.

Is Christensen wrong then? Yes and no, his timing looks off and since a forecast ought to meet both criteria to be worth anything then we ought to consider Christensen’s forecast unlikely on current trends. That said, further forwards it’d take a brave person to bet against digitisation being hugely disruptive to Higher Education — including precipitating mass closures. The fact that in just 7 years (from the start of MOOCs) there are now a slew of full accredited, online degrees from major universities as well as so many new business models (bootcamps etc) suggests the pieces are in place for deep structural change but it’s more likely we’ll be seeing these manifest rather than complete by 2030.

Human Learning

Edtech, Education, work and skills for C21

Chris Fellingham

Written by

I’m Chris, I work in Social Science, Enterprise and Humanities ventures at Oxford University, I formerly worked in strategy for FutureLearn

Human Learning

Edtech, Education, work and skills for C21

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