Balaji's blog

The College Problem

College eduction and more specifically college tuition and resulting student loans are at a critical level in our country. Even as a parent of kids who are currently only in elementary school, the thought about paying for college is already giving me anxiety.

Traditional colleges are certainly under stress. But there are really no good alternatives for them now. Currently the college fees are untenable and certainly alternatives are required. But do we have that?

Let us look at what colleges provide

1. Education and training (of course)

2. College experience 

3. Connections and friends with similar interests 

4. Access and inspiration from Professors and resource

#1 is the reason parents and most folks think why colleges are needed and certainly is the primary reason, no question. #2 is another reason kids want to go to college. How about #3 and #4

#3 and #4 are sort of ignored but I think are a big reason. Humans do not create or build in isolation. Companies are built with teams and even artists who we imagine to create in isolation have always communicated and shared. Where do these teams and connections come from?

In a lot of cases, we can trace the root of these connections to friendships made in colleges. This is a very important age where the conditions are right to form the connections and even the budding start of the ideas. The famous anecdotes we like to talk of college dropouts even have this aspect. Sometimes it starts in high school but college plays an important portion.

On to #4. Colleges give access to professors and researchers (especially in the big colleges). For young adults, there is no other reliable way for this to happen. Yes, internet has made connecting somewhat easy but not that much. Even if connection is easier, inspiration is not. Seeing, talking and hearing is an inspiration for many students that then goes on to define their entire future. Now where does that leave us?

Number 1 is beginning to be addressed by Lambda school, Khan Academy and so many others and some are doing a pretty decent job. But how about #2, #3 and #4?

In order to truly disrupt colleges, we need solutions that can address #2, #3 and #4. These by nature cannot be only online solutions but perhaps a hybrid. A campus to facilitate #2 and #3 with visiting faculty and visits to facilities for #4 and combine this with online for #1.

I am envisioning future campuses where students can stay, interact and learn through virtual classes attended from the campus combined with some in-person. Also trips to visit professors and or facilities. Any models to keep costs reasonably low for this then it is a win.

I certainly hope we solve this for the next generation.