Moreover, the promise that an expensive degree at a traditional university will pay off rests on some questionable assumptions; for example, that no cheaper way of attaining this educational premium will emerge. Yet there is a tornado of change in education that might challenge this, either through technology or through attempts to improve the two-year community college degree and render it more economically valuable. Another assumption, which is proved wrong in the case of 40% of students, is that they will graduate at all. Indeed, nearly 30% of college students who took out loans eventually dropped out (up from 25% a decade ago). These students are saddled with a debt they have no realistic means of paying off.
I don’t think MOOCs or free courses or badges are necessarily the answer to the “problems” of higher ed and the huge investment required for an education. But I do think they represent important early innovations that if I were the parent of an elementary school kid right now I’d be pretty tuned in to. The traditional “college is the primary path to success” narrative is changing, and the options will no doubt increase.