What is the biggest threat to traditional universities?

Traditional education is getting outdated

Our culture is based on the idea that higher education is a crucial part of personal growth. We can hardly imagine a world where a successful person didn’t graduate from university. Stories about great business people who didn’t have higher education are told like fairy tales. We are used to the idea that universities are these sources of knowledge with genius professors and large libraries that make us fit for a future workplace.

The reality is different, however. Higher educational institutions are starting to lose students because of various factors, but the biggest threat universities encounter today is technology. Despite all its benefits, it brings problems that education cannot bear without changing from what we know it as today. 

Why traditional education is threatened

Traditional universities have great value in our society. They’re a landmark of success and a part of the American Dream as we picture it. 

A solid university with a good reputation can give its students these perks:

  • access to information
  • a network of peers with similar interests and goals
  • a specific direction in life
  • the guidance and support of experienced professionals
  • practice in a field of interest
  • the chance to experiment with different majors or future career directions
  • a prestigious diploma
  • a well-paying job

Unfortunately for traditional universities, technology has become the main problem in terms of these perks being unique. Most people born after the 1990s use the internet and know how to access the information they need. Many books offered at educational institutions cannot keep up with the daily updates and innovation in science. A typical case would be data science; a printed book on the subject will be already outdated by the time it’s released.

Chances are, many people using technology to access data for educational purposes know just as much about many topics as university students who get the same facts from textbooks. Many traditional courses have an old-fashioned method of studying with a very typical schedule. You can buy any book on Psychology 101 and know the theory at a respectable level. 

Technology has reorganized our society as well: many young people admit that they see very little point in formal education. The reasons for this change of heart vary, but most would agree that it stems from tuition fees. A friend of mine decided not to go into higher education because she didn’t have enough money, and she invested in a shorter course and a small business instead. 

Prestige is the benefit of traditional education that remains quite strong even today. Universities offer the ability to present one’s diploma as a sign of achievement. Undoubtedly, many companies still view the formal degree as their reason for accepting a candidate for a job. For example, we all know someone who got accepted into a prestigious position because they spent a lot of money on their university. So it isn’t as if the benefit is imaginary, right?

But as tuition fees rise, fewer students are deciding to pursue an academic degree. For many talented and diligent workers, traditional universities lack the flexibility, affordability, and information they need. Although the trend is changing slowly, it’s evident that the available alternatives provide more than traditional universities at a similar price. 

Are traditional universities the thing of the past?

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Technology and new learning

Technology is a threat to universities of the past, but it offers immense opportunities for learners who know how to use it. Today, many educational institutions grant more flexible ways to learn without physical presence, trying to meet the changing needs of modernity. Much shorter programs with technological assistance offer specialized courses for students to gain the necessary skills. 

People who might have to travel and spend terrifying amounts of money on rent and textbooks can learn at home or find training at a much faster pace. California Coast University, Abraham Lincoln University, University of Arizona, Weber State University, and others are only a few examples of accredited online schools that offer great quality education.

More companies are starting to accept candidates without formal qualifications but with the necessary knowledge and skills they acquired in other places. The most incredible transformation is happening precisely in the highest-paying environment: fields that are only developing and need talent as fast as possible. Web developers, IT managers, and software architects are some examples of professions a person can gain without a degree. 

Many standard educational programs can’t offer courses in the most rapidly developing technological and scientific spheres or fail to adapt as fast as necessary to attract students. Indeed, there are still many places where the traditional diploma will be valued the most, but such places are becoming less common. 

The changes that technology brings to society make it hard for a traditional learning system to remain effective. Technology starts to reveal the hidden but real problems of traditional universities:

  • an excess of time spent on learning
  • a lack of flexibility 
  • an overload with outdated materials
  • obsolete specializations
  • high prices
  • the inability to dramatically change one’s career 

By changing our opinions on education, technology is also shaping the way we expect traditional universities to change with it.

Online education is the future of education

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What happens next?

So, what will we see based on the demands for faster, more practical, and more diverse education?

The internet will have a new role in learning; even if it doesn’t make the educational system entirely digital, it will change the way people see learning. More companies and institutions will offer alternative, much shorter educational programs specializing in a particular career or field. You’ll probably be able to complete your whole university program in a year or two very soon. Perhaps they won’t have as high a level of prestige as some of today’s universities, but they will emerge at a revolutionary pace, finding larger audiences and attracting more learners. This, in turn, will cause a dramatic drop in attendance at traditional universities. You and your peers will stop viewing university as a must; you’ll see it as an option and think about other ways to gain knowledge. Maybe volunteering or international traveling will be more practical for you. 

The current trends in education and a greater emphasis on technological and scientific innovation would probably lead to a decrease in humanities majors. Contrastingly, more learners will study STEM disciplines, but most sciences and other fields will show a striking mix of different areas. Many of my peers have decided to change their majors, becoming interested in today’s world problems with the environment, economics, and social issues, and I’m sure you know such people as well. 

If traditional universities plan to survive, they have to change. If they can adapt to the new learning culture, they may even find the undiscovered benefits of such rapid transformations and attract new generations of learners eager to produce new ideas. 


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Mark Edison
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Mark is a pro in education and science. He writes about opportunities for studying in the best schools across the US and abroad. Also, Mark is a devoted sociologist always ready to explain the latest trends in the community.