Yet few doubt that college is ripe for change. Under the current system, students face serious problems getting into and through school, universities struggle to make money, and everyone grapples with fairness issues – why did she get accepted and I didn't? This is to say nothing of the rising cost of a degree that may, or may not, prepare students for a job. Mix in the advent of new technologies such as cloud computing, which makes information, videos, and course work accessible at any time from anywhere, and old-style bricks-and-mortar colleges look ready for reinvention.
Challenges remain on the road to an electronic "edutopia," of course. Traditional universities haven't quite figured out how – or whether – to charge for online courses, or if they should give people credit for taking them. Professors on some campuses are rebelling, concerned that MOOCs devalue in-person teaching. Skeptics argue that digital learning can't provide the intimacy of the classroom or the social experience of the campus.
But some barriers are falling. California is considering a law to require state schools to accept credit for approved MOOCs, in response to more than a half million public college students shut out of oversubscribed basic classes. More broadly, the American Council on Education has recommended five MOOCs as worthy of college credit, which could make it easier to get and transfer courses. The move may lead to putting standardized introductory classes online. Might Lander's course one day be accepted for basic science credit at hundreds of colleges?
Schools are wrestling with more fundamental questions as well. Why would students pay $50,000 a year to trudge through slush for Lander's class when they can get it on their computer screen free of charge? What really is the value of learning on campus? Will the ivy-framed quad even exist tomorrow?
"Disruption is happening," says Anant Agarwal, president of edX, which provides a platform for schools to deliver online courses. "The university, the college, the school as we know it will never be the same again."
* * *