The death of bricks and mortar higher education is frequently pronounced by people who confuse education with information acquisition. The thinking goes that higher education is little more than an information acquisition middleman and that the Internet can provide virtually unlimited access to information at a fraction of the cost in both time and money.
There is merit in the view that the cost of information impacts the delivery of higher education. Way back in the day (think Middle Ages), recitation sections were places where a person would read to groups of students because books were both expensive and hard to come by. As books became more plentiful, these sections morphed into places for discussion, teamwork, etc..
But at its core, education is not information acquisition or even the development of a specific skill, it is the cultivation of opportunity, insight and perspective. It is an attempt to develop through extended interactions with experts the capacity to both see and enact a different future for both the individual and society.
Like professional service companies that have been impacted by the Internet (financial trading companies, personal tax accountants, textbook companies), the key to higher education prosperity in this new virtual world is to develop a trusted advisor relationship with clients–to understand their unique situation, challenges, and needs and to be able to engage in dialogue with them that produces a collaborative plan that meets their goals. People will pay for this: one might argue that in a world where we run the risk of being buried in data and options, a trusted advisor to help navigate the way is more valuable than ever. This is why I am so big on engagement with our students; it is the vehicle by which we become trusted advisors; providing insight, shaping students’ perspective and helping them enact their future.