Hotels and Higher Ed.

For many years some commentators have argued that higher education, as we know it, is headed for the bone yard of oblivion, due to advances in online communication. Why listen to a lecture on the major points of the Monroe Doctrine, when you can get it on your cell phone immediately and free?

It’s not hard to find examples of industries dramatically affected—even eliminated—due to technical change and online shopping. Kodak cameras, traditional book stores, and Xerox printers are among the casualties, as pointed out by Alana Dunagan, in eCampus News.

Higher education has been affected—so far not drastically—by online communication. Most students still opt for bricks-and-mortar colleges. “Disruptive innovation” has been incremental, even in the face of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), once touted as the wooden stake in the heart of traditional college pedagogy.

Ms. Dunagan believes she has found an apt analogy to higher ed., when it comes to impending changes: hotels. The hotel industry is experiencing unprecedented competition due to the rise of companies like AirBnB, which allow travelers to stay in private residences at great savings. You can read the piece for her argument. A similar analogue, which the writer does not mention, is ride-sharing services like Lyft and Uber. This is a bad time to be a taxi driver who has invested thousands of dollars in licenses, fees, and liability insurance, not to mention the big expensive car.

Easy and cheap access to almost unlimited information is changing the way we teach. Libraries may be transformed especially. Traditional (and expensive) textbooks may become obsolete. But these things do not mean that community colleges will dry up and blow away. All you have to do is examine the characteristics of today’s young students, who have plenty of skill and experience when it comes to staying connected, but need human intellectual contact more than ever.

An education is not a soft bed for the night or a cheap ride to the airport.