Chris Wickham, in his book Medieval Europe talks about the 12th century development of the modern university system, collecting scholars together to a location in critical mass allowing them to debate and improve their theories and concepts. These “universitas” were centered around theological studies (Oxford, Paris) and legal studies (Bologna). These European institutes of higher learning were developed in the early middle ages, meaning that universities pre-date the Aztec Empire (1300-1521) in the Americas. In Nicholas Nassim Taleb’s book Antifragile, he introduces the concept of the Lindy Effect, theorizing roughly that the longer something has existed the longer it is likely to exist, because it is proving to be “antifragile” or capable of surviving exogenous risks to its existence.
What the marriage of these two data points makes clear is that the university system is not going away. How it will adapt is a fair question – but the perception that “universities are done” and “disruptions in higher ed will lead to an end of the university system” are wildly overstated.
Income Share Agreements (changing how we finance higher ed), Hybrid course offerings (marrying online and in person experiences), block classes (moving past the tyranny of the academic calendar), rolling admissions (WGU’s semester-less approach) and our own insurance guaranteeing a student sees ROI on their degree are all innovations which may change what the university looks like, how it interacts with its students and what their experience is. But you can be confident, your children and your children’s children will still be seeking out college degrees.
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