Sign up FAST! Login

» Napster, Udacity, and the Academy Clay Shirky


Stashed in: Stanford, Harvard

To save this post, select a stash from drop-down menu or type in a new one:

Harvard, where I was fortunate enough to have a visiting lectureship a couple of years ago, is our agreed-upon Best Institution, and it is indeed an extraordinary place. But this very transcendence should make us suspicious. Harvard’s endowment, 31 billion dollars, is over three hundred times the median, and only one college in five has an endowment in the first place. Harvard also educates only about a tenth of a percent of the 18 million or so students enrolled in higher education in any given year. Any sentence that begins “Let’s take Harvard as an example…” should immediately be followed up with “No, let’s not do that.”

This atypical bent of our elite institutions covers more than just Harvard. The top 50 colleges on the US News and World Report list (which includes most of the ones you’ve heard of) only educate something like 3% of the current student population. The entire list, about 250 colleges, educates fewer than 25%.

The upper reaches of the US college system work like a potlatch, those festivals of ostentatious giving. The very things the US News list of top colleges prizes—low average class size, ratio of staff to students—mean that any institution that tries to create a cost-effective education will move down the list. This is why most of the early work on MOOCs is coming out of Stanford and Harvard and MIT. As Ian Bogost says, MOOCs are marketing for elite schools.

There are only 18 million students of higher Ed in any year?!

3% in the top 50 schools; 25% in the top 250?!

Egads, something's gotta give.

and 47,000 (470,000 actually, maybe?) students alone in CA on the community college wait list.

wowzers. 

i think the bootcamp model will win out. people will figure 4-years is a lot of time to waste if you can't afford it. 

college in 25 years will be for the 1%.

although, many could argue that it already is. that's basically what shirk is arguing.  

 OK, I re-read this. The analogy is shiiite. 

The recording industry destroyed napster, and Spotify pays them $300m/yearly in fees. 

So, is the lesson here that the incumbent will win? Because if so, that's clearly what's happening with universities as well as hollywood.

You May Also Like: