Monday, August 20, 2012

Epic 2020 and a Radical View on Change in Higher Education

At the risk of appearing to be an alarmist, I want to project an even more challenging future than I suggested in my last post.  To that end, I strongly encourage you to watch a new online video, Epic 2020, at  It was developed by a friend of mine, Bill Sams, and regardless of how you react to the message, keep in mind that it is attracting a lot of attention.  You might also read a commentary by Sams, in eCampus News, at 

Epic 2020 projects radical change in higher education, building from the effects of the so-called “student loan bubble,” unsustainable business practices at colleges and universities, and the potential power of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).  However, in my opinion, Bill’s most intriguing and provocative points relate to the emergence of alternative certifications and the argument that high quality content can/should be free to the learner.  He suggests a financial model that completes the picture many of us have wrestled over, in which revenue streams tie to a number of sources, but the cost to students for content falls to zero.

Views of the video have exceeded 20,000, as I write, and it has attracted the attention of a number of bloggers.  In my opinion, it can give you a quick perspective on how the most innovative individuals are imagining the future.

Bill would tell you that the point of the video and commentary is to provoke discussion.  Epic 2020 connects dots that already exist, and then paints a picture of a possible future.  One thing almost no institutions are doing, so far as I can tell, is systematically studying and thinking about these issues, and that is part of what makes them so vulnerable to alternative ideas.

To link all this back to branch campuses, specifically, I came across a blog post at  This particular post triggered several negative reactions in me, but I wanted to share it, because of the way it links MOOCs to the role/future of branch campuses.

Note that the post is principally about international branches of U.S. institutions.  (If you Google “branch campuses” you’ll find the term frequently used as if “branch” and “international” were synonyms.  I find that irritating.)  Nevertheless, I certainly agree that MOOCs and other online options pose a competitive challenge to branch campuses, which were themselves created to expand access and opportunity.

The place where I differ from some futurists, at least for now, relates to the future of brick and mortar institutions, including branches.  Most agree that flagships and elite, well-endowed privates will be fine.  Likewise, most predict that we will see a nearly stunning number of closures and mergers.  Still, there are powerful cultural effects operating around higher education, and the role of governments and accreditors seems unclear to me.

Regardless, it is time to take emerging ideas seriously.  As I’ve said before, that proverbial train is leaving the station.  It will soon be too late to get on board.

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