Maybe the dreams of so many will finally be realized.

Instead of the detested Bowl Championship Series (BSC), there really will be a playoff system to determine the national champion. DeVry University will play Capella University in one national semifinal and in the other the Ashford University will take on Kaplan University. The winner will play for all the marbles in the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.

GlenDale AZ

Sounds a little far-fetched? Right? Wonder if the management of Borders really ever appreciated the nature of the sinister threat to its bricks-and-mortar business model by Amazon and its unique ability to serve the “long tail.”

The local and regional newspapers with their 20th Century dependency on classified revenue really didn’t comprehend the impact of Craigslist until it was too late. They have not recovered and the carnage is just starting; they have not even reached the end of their beginning of the end.

As I start my first day tomorrow as a full-time instructor at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication, I am wondering whether I am one of the band members sitting on the deck of the Titanic…BEFORE the luxury liner hit the iceberg.

On the surface everything looks amazingly robust. A college education is now seen as a virtual entitlement for all, not the province of the privileged few. For example, the student population of the University of Oregon has expanded from 19,000 10 years ago to 24,000 now. The average GPA for the incoming freshman this past fall was a record 3.59. The J-School has a total of 2,000 students and the classes for the most part are packed, including the two that I am teaching. There is a reason for the campus wide swagger at Oregon besides the football team winning the Rose Bowl.

rosebowl

In addition, there is the perception shared by some chief executives, even those hailing from the innovative Silicon Valley, that those “attending” online universities are essentially buying a degree, not earning one at a “real” school.

And yet I drive past the shuddered Borders. I remember walking up and down the aisles, checking out books that grabbed my eye or thumbing through CDs. I would take the books over to the in-store coffee shop and peruse them over an overpriced upscale coffee and maybe buy a book or two. Those days are part of the not-too-distant past.

As everyone knows, you can download individual songs, not CDs, from iTunes and instantly load them onto your iPod. Books can either be instantly downloaded to electronic readers or quickly shipped. The bricks-and-mortar model limited the revenues of a Borders because physical space only allowed so much commerce. The “long tail” means that Amazon is not restricted by space and anybody who is looking for an out-of-print book or obscure music beyond the Top 40 can find it at Amazon, but rarely at Barnes and Noble or at now-defunct Borders.

Do these same bricks-and-mortar and ivy-covered walls also maximize the revenue potential of traditional universities, while online universities can teach literally an infinite amount of students on a global scale on a 24/7/365 basis? That may seem like a stretch, but how big of a stretch?

The perception that students are merely buying a degree is a public relations problem that can be solved with time and success stories. What if the public starts to see more-and-more University of Phoenix or DeVry University graduates in positions of power and authority, just is the case for graduates of Ivy League Schools, Stanford, Cal and yes, Oregon? Will we see a president of the United States (POTUS) hailing from an online university before we have a woman president…or will these firsts come at exactly the same time?

A key advantage for on-line universities is their classes never close, there is always a space and they can be taken anywhere at virtually any time. They are highly adaptable. Their non-tenured instructors are less prone as Debra Saunders of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote today to advance a social justice agenda and actually teach the course they were hired to teach…maybe even actually helping students find a real job. Bummer: There are no administration buildings to storm and occupy.

For the bricks-and-mortar presidents, administrators and department deans they should be afraid, very afraid of the digital future. Having said that, they have some time…but not unlimited time to devise a strategy to fight back. One important weapon in their arsenal is their well-established brand: a University of Oregon degree carries great weight. The same is true for other major universities.

There is absolutely no reason why these brand names can’t be married to online teaching technology to effectively compete or maybe even outcompete the University of Phoenix et al. crowd. Why can’t English 101 be taught online? Why can’t electrical engineering be taught online by renowned engineering schools? Of course, they can. The analog way of thinking and teaching needs to accommodate the digital reality of the new world.

Are there some limitations to the online teaching model that points to a sustained future for the fittest bricks-and-mortar universities? Sure. This week, I am teaching Public Relations Campaigns. I will be dividing up students in groups of four to work with non-profits on “capstone” projects. They need to learn how to work with others face-to-face, to not love each other but to respect each other. They need to appreciate that not everyone will carry exactly the same load, but that is life…just as long as no one is AWOL.

whiteboard

How can you effectively teach real-time tactile teamwork online? E-mail, texting and social media provides for universal connectivity on an immediate basis, but it does not replace face-to-face communication…in fact it allows introverts to avoid eyeball-to-eyeball contact. That is not what we are trying to achieve in bricks-and-mortar Public Relations Campaigns.

http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/could-many-universities-follow-borders-bookstores-into-oblivion/35711?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

http://chronicle.com/article/Candace-Thille/130934/

http://www.hattoss.com/ouniversities.htm

http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2012/04/01/ucs_leftist_echo_chamber_drowns_out_diverse_voices_113688.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_Tail

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