For those of you not familiar with Seth Godin’s excellent blog on marketing, take a look at his latest blog:

The coming melt-down in higher education, as seen by a marketer

Now I thought this was going to be the usual ‘Let’s hammer the universities’ diatribe that we saw from Tapscott and Williams in the EDUCAUSE article, but it is more subtle than that. In particular, it suggests that the high prestige universities (at least the ones with very high fees) are likely to see trouble ahead, because their market could be undermined by lower cost alternatives that provide what the ‘market’ is seeking.

I myself have doubts whether the elite market will ever go away, any more than people with money will always buy Porsches or Lamborghinis, even though the maxim speed limit is 80 mph almost everywhere. So it could be the middle rank state universities that are likely to feel greater pressure for alternatives to a college education, because their tuition fees are still high (mainly because state governments in the USA are reducing grants to state universities).

What I take away from this is that those middle rank public state universities that change their models of organization and manage to keep tuition fees to at least a modest level stand an opportunity to make real gains in status and market, if they can develop programs that meet the needs of the market and are of high quality in terms of interactivity with faculty, and flexible delivery (although that’s not the solution Godin is suggesting – he wants something much more radical).

What I’m still struggling with is an alternative model to the current higher education system that carries any conviction. I don’t see the need for qualifications going away, if only because employers need something to hold on to when hiring, so although non-formal online education is certainly likely to continue to expand, there will still be demand for qualifications, although I do see methods of assessment changing radically (e.g. e-portfolios instead of exams). Perhaps the answer for middle-rank state universities is to start looking to technology to provide cost-efficiencies, that will reduce administrative overheads, reduce teaching costs, and therefore enable lower tuition fees, without losing quality. (Yes, I really am an optimist! It’s what Vancouver does to you).

What’s your view on this?

  • Godin and all the others are wrong: things won’t really change much at all and the public universities will still survive
  • governments will eventually bail out public universities to reduce tuition fees because of public pressure
  • public universities will have to adapt and those that don’t will die
  • it is the elite private institutions who will suffer the most
  • this won’t effect Canada (or your country), because we value our state-funded universities too much
  • something else (I’d be particularly interested in suggestions for a convincing alternative higher education system)


  1. I thought Godin’s post was bang-on. It applies more to the US than to Canada, of course.

    BTW, you write a post, not a “blog.”


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