WIP: The future of universities 🚧

Caveat: I was more into the future of universities in June. Since then, my interest in them has waned. As such, I'm just trying to remember what I was thinking back then. A lot of this is based on what I had heard from Scott Gallaway and I can't recall which parts so just bare that in mind while reading

I think going to universities is going to become less important in the future. I suspect this isn't a hugely contrarian view but I wanted to share nonetheless.

Taxi Cabs

Context: In order to drive a taxi, you had to buy a permit from the government. Taxi drivers set their prices at high rates (and, as a result, consumers had to pay high prices for rides) AND there wasn't really any quality control or standardization; when hailing down a taxi, you could get into a freshly cleaned vehicle OR a complete dump. Not only that, but the taxi's product wasn't that great: the driver might ignore you the whole ride and seem like it was an inconvenience for him to drive you in the first place (great customer service, wouldn't you say! NOT!). I also recall, a personal antidote here, but I took a taxi in Toronto once and, when I went to pay, the guy said that his "machine was down" and forced me to go to a machine and pull out physical money from an ATM. I am skeptical that the machine was down; more like he wanted cash off the books...

All in all, the taxi cab got greedy. They charged higher amounts AND offered a worse product.

Then came Uber.

Uber offered a cheaper product than taxis AND a way better offering; rather than having to run outside and flag down a taxi, you could use your phone to summon a ride. Not only that, but with the 5 star review system, Uber drivers got ratings AND people could choose to accept or decline a ride based on those ratings. As a result, there was incentive for Uber drivers to provide a better offering: clean vehicles, sometimes water or snacks in the back, ability to charge your phone, etc.

Uber = cheaper AND better offering.

In many ways, I feel like the taxi / ridesharing industry is parrel to universities. I don't know the full stats — I just did a quick Google search — but look at this:


College tuition has skyrocketed compared to other things! The one to really compare to is either House Prices or Consumer Prices. College / university tuition has more than 3x those other things.

So here we have the higher education establishments getting greedy.

At the same time, do you think the university offering has gotten 1,200X better since 1978? I highly doubt it. I'm assuming it has gotten better but just like a few orders of magnitude better not 1,200X better!

Furthermore, I think that universities are becoming more productized. You used to feel confident that a degree from an Ivy League meant you were legit (and you could say that is still the case now too). However, I also know that helicopter parents are on professors' backs like never before. Their kid needs to get an A+ or else they will hold off further donations to the institution. So I don't think universities have the credibility they used to. They used to stand for something in North America — i.e. a place of higher learning (or maybe I'm halo effecting the good ol'days?).

Therefore, universities seem to be offering a more expensive product AND a worse offering.

I suspect universities are here to stay, it just depends in what capacity. We will likely need universities to validate that doctors and lawyers are legit.

However, for other professions, I'm not so certain that universities are necessary.

You can see this with the proliferation of things like OnDeck and Lambda School.

  • apprenticeships
  • What I suspect will happen is that a lot of smaller and middle sized schools will shut down. It will follow a pareto distribution / power law —> a smaller number of schools will get a large amount of students, until it compounds and the smaller and then the middle sized schools don't have $$$ to pay to keep the lights on.
  • Covid has accelerated this process. If I live in Green Bay, Wisconsin and I have the opportunity to go to University of Wisconsin — Green Bay OR Harvard, I'll definitely go to Harvard because it has a waaaaaay more legit brand name.
  • Further, if people are not going to be on campus as much (let's say at Harvard), Harvard needs to come up with ways to supplement that income in the form of rent and on campus sales. Rather than limiting their offering to only people who can attend Harvard in person (whcih they have traditionally done), I suspect they might increase their online enrollment. This makes sense, especially for classes where the marginal cost of production (for an additional student) is 0. It just makes sense to offer it to more willing to pay students.

  • with the way the world is going — ppl upskilling or change skilling — is it even worth it to spend 4 years specializing in a subject? Especially if that subject doesn't correspond to a tangible skill that is utilized in the world after university.


  • I do think university is a great period of self discovery. I couldn't imagine myself going into the real world straight out of high school — honestly, I can't imagine myself going into the real world right now, 10 years later! lol
  • University is a great time to test things out, try things out, etc. That's one thing that saddens me about some of the things that have happened at universities where people/professors aren't allowed to say things because it offends people. I am all for progress and making the world a better, more liveable place for others, regardless of who you are. However, I really think university can be a great time to come to classes and say "You know, this is what I'm thinking. I'm not sure if it's right, but I'd love to discuss with all you guys and see what you think." Right now, I percieve that lots of people are scared to do that because they are worried that they will get cancelled or vilified by other students or professors.
  • Maybe you take your $$$ saved up for uni and do somethign else? Travel the world.

Written: November 24, 2020