How COVID Will Transform Higher Ed

Better than listening to lectures online? $2,000 per course better?

by James A. Bacon

The COVID-19 epidemic will permanently alter the landscape of higher education, one of America’s most broken industries, contends Stephen McBride, writing in Forbes. College costs have ballooned “beyond all reason,” he says, but as recently as a year ago, he held out little hope that anything would change. Why? “It’s a tough sell to convince an 18-year-old kid not to attend the four-year party all of his friends are going to, especially when the US government is financing it through student loans.”

But the coronavirus, McBride says, “will be remembered for transforming college forever.” Many colleges are moving their courses online next semester. Instead of living on campus and walking to lectures, kids will be sitting in their bedrooms and watching professors on Zoom.

This is FAR more disruptive than most folks realize. College is about much more than just the learning. There’s the education, and then you have the experience. The learning part has barely changed in a century. Kids still sit in 60-year-old lecture halls listening to professors. But now the “experience” has been stripped away. Do you think teenagers will be willing to mortgage their futures in order to watch college lecture videos on the internet?

McBride cites data showing that colleges reopening “online only” this fall have cut costs by $9,000 on average. “By slashing tuition for online courses, schools have permanently changed the perception of what college is worth,” he says. (McBride doesn’t mention it, but the perception of millions of parents is changing, too, as many universities reinvent themselves as political indoctrination camps. What conservative parent wants to pay a hundred thousand dollars to send their kid to a college where he learns to spit on his parents’ values?)

As learning shifts online “nimble disruptors” will enter the marketplace, offering college degrees at much cheaper prices. McBride crunches a few numbers to show how this might work. The disruptors would hire world-class professors to create online courses for, say, $200,000 a year. If each professor taught 250 students per school year, that would work out to $800 per student. Tack on the cost of technology and profit, and a disruptor could charge each student $3,000 a year. Tuition could be slashed by 70-80%.

Remember, under such as scenario, we’re talking about world-class instructors here.

The Harvards, Yales and Stanfords will always attract elite kids and command huge tuitions. But the thousands of schools that sell “standard issue” degrees taught by less distinguished professors could be in for a world of hurt. Online schools will do to traditional colleges what Amazon did to department stores.

Here in Virginia, higher ed institutions seem to be oblivious to the risk of oblivion. Their obsessions with racial and gender issues are distracting them from the existential challenges they face. While a small percentage of students and their parents may share the their fixations, most don’t. Some find them actively offputting. Indeed, some will cheer the demise of higher-ed institutions seen as champions of values most antithetical to their own.

While some Virginia institutions do seem determined to reopen, all are imposing COVID-related restrictions that will severely cramp the college lifestyle. What fun are drunken bacchanalia and hookups if you’re forced to wear face masks and keep your social distance? There goes the college “experience” McBride talks about.

We’ll get a much clearer picture when higher ed institutions report enrollments for the 2020-21 academic year in just a month or two.

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22 responses to “How COVID Will Transform Higher Ed”

  1. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    The comment about all these colleges teaching students to “spit on their parents’ values” raised a question in my mind. One of the largest college payers these days is the U.S. military, through ROTC programs. In general the colleges probably feel fairly immune to federal pressure, but would that be a soft spot? Fifty years ago the colleges ejected ROTC, but what if this time ROTC chooses to leave various campuses?

    My wife is convinced that the permanent changes in education will bleed all the way down to elementary school. That model of 5-days per week in the seats may also disappear, if the goal is a workplace with zero risk. Not possible. Many teachers are going to love being separated from unruly discipline problems in particular. No bus duty! No lunchroom duty! Zoom tracks attendance!

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      Are you just forgetting or ignoring Veterans education benefits?

  2. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Spit on their parent’s values? Not when my two were in college. We reinforced our values.

    1. I figure the parental population is divided about 50/50 on that. Half the population is just fine, even delighted, about the way things are going, just like you. The other half is appalled. I wonder what the economics of higher ed would look like if enrollment dropped in half.

  3. Nancy_Naive Avatar

    Yeah, ’cause it worked so well in the 1960s and 70s. ROTC is chump change compared to the DARPA, IARPA, and DOD money flowing into the science departments.

    1. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      No doubt. No, Larry, I was just thinking about the future officers being trained, more so than the educational benefits post-separation. Not sure I want the officers in 100% agreement with Peter’s values :).

      1. Nancy_Naive Avatar

        No, but since we’ve gone all volunteer, how’s an almost 100% Sherlock worked out?

      2. Nancy_Naive Avatar

        BTW, I take it the “No” was to me, the rest for Larry, but I just had to ask.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          Be careful – I’m being considered for being a better troll than you…

          1. Nancy_Naive Avatar

            Clearly I’m a dog, not a troll

          2. LarrytheG Avatar

            that too.. snark-troll. breed

          3. WayneS Avatar

            You could be a Nova Scotia Duck Trolling Retriever.


            Never mind, it’s “Duck Tolling”, with no “r’.

            But what fun is that?

  4. LarrytheG Avatar

    There are two different kinds of “higher ed”. They are very different products.

    The residential on campus is a product that has more than just education involved. It’s the “experience”, often sports and other college-sponsored activities.

    The other “higher ed” is exemplified by those who are only in it for the education part. That’s the primary interest and purpose and it’s actually the more common kind of higher-ed in other developed countries like Europe and Asia and in this country Community College and other educational offerings for military veterans.

    The on-campus product is more akin to a boarding school model of past years but there are still boarding schools for those that want them and have the shekels to pay for them.

    The hand-wringing of the residential on-campus folks is a bit old-school provincial and really not that big a deal anymore. Almost everyone knows if they want a good-education – they have a lot of options beyond on-campus.

  5. novalad Avatar

    “As learning shifts online ‘nimble disruptors’ will enter the marketplace, offering college degrees at much cheaper prices. McBride crunches a few numbers to show how this might work. The disruptors would hire world-class professors to create online courses for, say, $200,000 a year. If each professor taught 250 students per school year, that would work out to $800 per student. Tack on the cost of technology and profit, and a disruptor could charge each student $3,000 a year. Tuition could be slashed by 70-80%.”

    Lambda School and a couple other businesses have had real success doing this in the tech space, and in the abstract, there’s nothing stopping enterprising and heterodox SMEs/educators from translating this to other STEM fields. Even more so, getting online certifications for enterprise platforms like Salesforce, or cloud solutions like Azure/AWS, is going to be more affordable and practical than tacking a second minor onto your BS.

    This isn’t the case for the arts, though. People go to school to have fun, make connections, nerd out over Syria policy or whatever, and most especially to put that [preeminent university name’s] cachet on their resume. If you can think of a way to convince high school seniors why they should pay $6,000 a year to sit in their parents’ basement and earn a degree from Piedmont Lyceum Online over (notionally) having the time of their lives at a flagship state school for $10-20,000 — you shouldn’t be posting at BR during the workday. You should be monetizing the heck out of this.

  6. LarrytheG Avatar

    This is a little funny. Remember UVA, Sullivan, Dragas, MOOC ?

    What happened?

  7. James Wyatt Whitehead V Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead V

    Here is an interesting article that shows the number of colleges that have closed between 2016 and July 2020. I wonder what this map might look like in July of 2021?

  8. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    Here is edited version of an earlier comment of mine on Bacon’s Rebellion:

    TMT says– what do we cut? Taxpayers are beleaguered at least at the state and local level. Local taxes go up faster than incomes … Government is the biggest threat to my quality of life. I feel an obligation to pay taxes, but there needs to be cuts. Where do we start?”

    RMF 3rd replies:

    I don’t know where we start, but we better start somewhere soon, because there is a whole lot more pain and dysfunction coming our way, if we do not start.

    For example, the damage caused by these out of control student loans that have been sold to and inflicted on our college and university students, together with the Federal Government’s wasteful research spending that now pollutes science, now is doing untold harm to students, parents, taxpayers, our nation, and our future.

    These wasteful costs and expenditures of monies now dismantle our teaching of the Arts and Sciences to our undergraduates. These are foundational courses. Learning from them are critical to the survival of our nation, our culture, and our children’s future.

    But now, under today’s system of higher education, these loan and grant monies are working to undermine our colleges’ and universities’ capacity to teach and instruct, and to discipline and set standards for our students and their behavior while in college and after college as adults. Indeed, these monies given to US higher education corrupt most all they touch: our children, society, culture, our institutions, and our American political system.

    For example:

    Not only today do millions of students in US classrooms learn next to nothing beyond bad habits, they are wasting much of their time and undergraduate experience on and off campus, while the costs and habits taught and experienced at colleges are despoiling their best chances of a good future once they get out of college.

    The damage is endless. Recent generations of children who have been sent to college in the hope and expectation that they will become effective citizens and people, have instead had their culture, values, character, identities, self confidence, and competence destroyed. So now they are setting about destroying western civilization itself, along with its cultural and monetary wealth, its history, and its legacy. Indeed, these ruined kids now are erasing even the ability of future generations to memory the riches our American predecessors have left this nation and all of its people, the most successful, generous and humane society in world history.

    As a result our students now lack the skills, habits, and tools, and the drive and confidence, they need to keep learning and growing throughout life. So they do not know who they are. They do not know where they want to go. They do not know who and what they want to be. Things like how, where, what and why they want to earn a living, and devote their lives too. They do not know how to gain and keep a lasting mate and start and build a stable family. They do not know how to be self-sufficient and productive contributors to the self-governed democratic society, America left them. So they either ignore or destroy that republic instead.

    America higher education has poisoned our kids.

    America’s higher education today by and large refuses to give our students the tools they need to do such things, indeed to succeed and thrive as a free, independent, self assured and competent people. How can our American students manage to live, thrive, and improve within our constitutional system without knowing how that system and its culture works? How can they understand the place they were born into and live in now without knowing its history? And destroying it instead.

    How can future generations keep and maintain and improve Western Civilization and values built over millennia without knowing what western civilization is? Or how it got to be where its been and is now? How it was built? What are its values? What are its foundations? What are its frailties, its strengths, its weaknesses, its opportunities, its uniqueness? What has been lost and gained and fought over and unresolved for centuries so they our students today find themselves where and who they are today?

    Without knowing all this – What has happened in our past and why – today’s students find themselves lost, powerless, and helpless in this world they live. Particularly so in times of great change, challenge and uncertainty.

    This is why today’s student’s are so terribly unhappy, so unable to cope, and so self-destructive, angry and inept. They now find themselves on a stormy sea without anchor, sail, or rudder. But instead of the tools they need to survive, they are filled with hate, self loathing, frustration, and despair instead.

    And it is worst for the disadvantaged among us. Why? Because all education in America fails them, and abjectly so, ripping from under them the foundation they and their nation need to stand on: strong families, strong communities, strong ethics, and values, the drive to learn, improve themselves, and stand confidently and competently on their own two feet as full grown and flowered adults in this challenging new world we all face today.

    In short:

    Without a real education, but only a false one or none at all, our students now do not know how and where to look for their OWN answers to the critical questions they confront in growing up today, and what they must face if they are to become an adult.

    AGAIN: Much of the fault lies with our colleges and universities. No one there has shown these students where to look to find the best examples, the best guidance, the best inspiration, the best hope and best skepticism, much less where all the snakes are hiding in the woodpile of this world, so that they can navigate this world on their own.

    By that I mean – Make Up their OWN minds about what their values really are and what they really believe in. And why they believe as they do. Only so armed and standing on such firm and educated and historic ground, can they formulate and execute with confidence their OWN best Judgements and take their own actions in their own best interests and values that are built upon the best learning and experiences of our and their earlier generations of Americans and inherited from them, instead of false diktats and ideologies of hate and victimization imposed on them by the coercion, indoctrination, and force of other people ruled by a leviathan state that was imposed by mobs, and then inevitably ruled by an elite few running a corrupt regime for their own benefit.

    That is where Americans now are headed. A cowed, angry, scared people amid a collapsing culture falling under the boot of corrupt regime.

    Remarkably, America’s system of higher education has birthed, nurtured, and brought to fruition, this ongoing American tragedy. In so doing, it has bankrupted its students, their families, their culture, their heritage, their spirits, their ethics, and now their entire nation, and its security.

    For example:

    One central problem today is that most professors grossly overrate themselves and refuse to earn, or even try to earn, the mantle of great teacher that far to many falsely wrap themselves in, given their guilt. Others could not care less about teaching students. This is true in all disciplines, but particularly damaging in the arts and humanities. Here far too many professors have over the decades disassembled and destroyed the great courses their great professors earlier taught – courses in literature, literary theory, linguistics, histories, and psychologies and social and cultural studies and political sciences of all sorts.

    Today’s system of higher education drives this great decline in teaching that now is driving us to disaster. It has been going on for decades. Teaching is too low status. Always way underpaid. So elite professors in growing numbers opt out of teaching altogether while pocketing student tuition in the billions nationwide. Meanwhile these elite professors (and administrators) are off doing their own thing. What contributes little nor nothing to educating their students at college or university, but instead enriches the wealth, power and status of higher education and themselves, and those who run it, while they falsely claim to solve not only all their students problems and dreams, but also those of the entire world.

    This is the vast delusional world of today’s American higher education, its academy, its administrators, and its vast array of crony allies. The crony allies who now also feed off America’s systems of higher education funded by students, parents, and taxpayers. Ironically, these crony allies include many of America’s wealthiest people and groups, and a growing array of political forces within and around America’s state and federal governments, its cities, their many contractors, functionaries, unions and other special interests.

    Hence higher education has its job all backwards.
    True educators do not teach their own version of truth or nonsense to students. They teach students HOW and WHERE to look and search for truth. How to shift through all the best history and teachings and scholarship of the past, how to find it where its lies and so give students the skill to be able to figure out for themselves what the past has to offer them directly from those few souls who over time have proven far more accomplished and learned and wise and experienced than we (or at most all but a handful of us, including at best a few professors) can ever hope to be. It is this reservoir of knowledge and wisdom that much of America’s faculty at elite institutions of higher education have been going about for the past 5o years trying to ignore, hide, obfuscate, insult, and destroy, for future generations including their own students. And they have done all this damage to our society while they take from us vast sums of public money for their work benefiting only themselves while they poison the minds, character, ethics and legacy of our kids.

    But the truth remains. Only true educators can best bring the past to life for many of today’s students so they have the best chance to build their own future, instead of having professors and their institutions and corrupt allies stand in the way of, and do positive harm, to their future.

    1. novalad Avatar

      E. Luttwak and a few other preeminent scholars of the arts are attempting something along the lines you suggest; if I find a link to their project I’ll post it in this thread.

      Your diagnosis of academia rings true to me, but the focus of this paragraph deserves more attention:

      “This is the vast delusional world of today’s American higher education, its academy, its administrators, and its vast array of crony allies. The crony allies who now also feed off America’s systems of higher education funded by students, parents, and taxpayers. Ironically, these crony allies include many of America’s wealthiest people and groups, and a growing array of political forces within and around America’s state and federal governments, its cities, their many contractors, functionaries, unions and other special interests.”

      Truth and virtue matter, but so do incentive structures. Every entity with institutional power needs the shell game to continue for their own survival. How do we change these institutions’ incentives? More fundamentally, how do we incentivize en masse defections from those institutions to more effective, virtuous, and future-oriented alternatives?

      1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
        Reed Fawell 3rd

        Very constructive comment. I will think on it and get back here on your very important question, namely: How do we change these institutions’ incentives? More fundamentally, how do we incentivize en masse defections from those institutions to more effective, virtuous, and future-oriented alternatives?

        Meanwhile, this Sunday morning, I received this from a catholic priest I much admire, and thought it relevant to my earlier comment.

        “Fr. Rutler’s Weekly Column
        July 26, 2020

        As a psychosis, “self-mutilation syndrome” is rooted in self-loathing and obsessive-compulsive behavior. Whole cultures can be afflicted with a similar compulsion to injure themselves. Nowadays it is called a “cancel culture.” To topple statues and burn churches is a metaphor for self-loathing rather than reason.

        In their modern aesthetic recklessness, nations begin to disdain what Matthew Arnold called “the best which has been thought and said.” Even people who do not read much still can see much, and they can see that destruction of great buildings is the grammar of self-mutilation. There was a sigh of relief when the French government announced that the cathedral of Paris would be restored exactly as it had been.

        But you need only look at some recent architectural horrors, like the Centre Pompidou, to appreciate that the preservation of Notre Dame was a close call. Consider the 1925 Plan Voisin of Le Corbusier for replacing central Paris with buildings that looked like refrigerators, to see the fabric of a society without a soul.

        The burning of the cathedral of Nantes was reported with practically no mention of the winter of 1793-1794, when over 14,000 Catholic counterrevolutionaries were slaughtered in that region. Jean-Baptiste Carrier, the sadistic officer of the Revolution, mocked his own name by drowning more than four thousand priests, nuns, mothers and infants in boats designed for what he called “Revolutionary Baptisms.”

        At the same time, another Jean-Baptiste, Gobel, was made Archbishop of Paris in place of Antoine de Juigné, provided he “take the knee” to the Revolution. All atheistic revolutionaries kill their fomenters: Just as the architect of the Terror, Robespierre, was guillotined by his Terror, so were Carrier and Gobel. In a kind of cultural doppelganger today, writers for our most “liberal” periodicals are being fired for not being pure enough for the anarchists who have made their moral impurity into a religion.

        Since the late 1960s, disciples of Le Corbusier among the liturgical “wreckovaters” denuded churches as arrogantly as the cults of theanthropy in the French Revolution. Convents subscribing to ephemeral “renewal” have now become nursing homes for women who once thought that labyrinths could be stairways to Heaven.

        We are now in a spiritual combat as monumental as World II. In 1944, when the Nazis demanded that the Americans surrender during the Battle of the Bulge, Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe replied, “Nuts!” The vernacularism was unfamiliar to the Germans, and so another message was sent: “Du kannst zum Teufel gehen.”—You can go to the Devil.

        No victory is secured by kneeling to the Enemy. Those who do, will be the next in line for the guillotine. The Holy Church has the best translation for “Nuts” when proclaimed in defiance of the Anti-Christ: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty…”

        Faithfully yours in Christ,
        Father George W. Rutler

        Like what you’re reading? If so, please consider making a special donation to the Church of St. Michael the Archangel at 424 West 34th Street, so that we can afford to continue distributing the column!
        P.S. – You can also now hear Father’s Sunday homilies.
        Simply go to

  9. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    “Not sure I want the officers 100’percent” with Peter’s values? What do you know about my values, Haner, and who are you to judge? Such arrogance.

  10. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Reed. What an incredibly lengthy and tortured bloviating. Maybe you mean that professors should agree with you. Then they Are ok.

  11. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    Peter, many of them do agree with me. I read their books which you apparently do not. Here is another one for you.

    Regarding Richard’s comments on the quality of certain aggressive providers of distance learning, whether also offering brick and mortar education or not, I must admit that my commentary is strongly colored by my experience with the Great Courses offered by the Teaching Company. I also suggest there are several systemic advantages to monitor and insure the quality of distance education, advantages that are too often not found in the traditional brick and mortar setting.

    Regarding the advantages using the Teaching Company Model?

    1/ On Teacher excellence there is complete transparency. It’s built on a professional biography buttressed by a long and highly distinguished track record peer reviewed at leading Universities. Thus, a large number of these professors have won University Wide Teaching Excellence awards and national and International recognition.

    For example David Thorburn teaching Masterworks of Early 20th Century Literature:

    Professor of Literature, MITand Director of the MIT Communications Forum. He received his A.B. from Princeton, his M.A. and Ph.D. from Stanford. He taught in English Department at Yale for 10 years before joining the MIT Humanities Department in 1976. His fellowships and awards include Fulbright, Woodrow Wilson, and Rockefeller Foundation fellowships. He’s lectured widely in US and Europe on literature and media. He’s written Conrad’s Romanticism and many essays and reviews on literary, cultural, and media topics in such publications as Partisan Review, Yale Review, The New York Times, and The American Prospect, in addition to scholarly journals. He’s a poet published in Threepenny Review, Slate, The Atlantic Monthly and other publications. He’s edited collections of essays on Romanticism and on John Updike, and a widely used anthology of fiction, Initiation: Stories and Novels on Three Themes. He’s co-editor of Democracy and New Media and Rethinking Media Change, the launch volumes in the MIT Press series “Media in Transition,” of which he is editor in chief. He’s founder and for 12 years the Director of the Film and Media Studies program at MIT. He has won teaching awards at Yale and MIT, with courses in modern fiction and film among the most sought after in the Humanities Department. In 2002, he was named a MacVicar Faculty Fellow, MIT’s highest teaching award.

    2/ In addition, all student’s can rate and comment on each course. So prospective buyers have a comparative and qualitative analysis of each course before they buy.

    See for example Student Comments on: Masterworks of Early 20th Century at:

    3/ Video versions of Teaching Co. courses include, where useful, highly sophisticated visual tools to enhance teaching process, and thereby deepen the students understanding.

    For example watch video Preview of “Pompeii: Daily Life in an Ancient Roman City” at:

    4/ The recorded lecture is open for all to see and criticize. Frauds, hangover days, sloppy or outdated scholarship, teaching failures (like failure to inspire) are exposed for all time. Simply put there is no place for failures to run and hide.

    5. The belief that all these courses are introductory courses typically found only in the large lecture halls of large Universities is not well founded.

    See for example 24 lectures on Dante’s Divine Comedy at:

    Or 32 (45minute each) lectures on Life and Operas of Verdi found at:

    Or the 108 lectures on Great Ideas of Psychology and Philosophy found at:

    If these are Introductory Courses, they are Introductory Course on Steroids. Add to all this, the course guides and suggested reading lists that buttress and deepen each course.

    I am confident that I am a demanding learner. The Quality of these Teaching Company offerings have never failed to astound me. The typical educational experience I derive from these courses far exceed, in quality and depth, what I received in four years at UVa.

    (I do however highly value the UVa experience for other reasons. And acknowledge that a 20 year old may well be less motivated to learn than the adult who buys from the Teaching Company. But I firmly believe that many Universities and Professors fail to properly motivate their students. (It’s plain to see. Visit the classroom of an indifferent professor. Then saunter down to the classroom of a Great Professor. His students are getting educated. Most of the rest are wasting their time, and their parents’ money. Yet how many indifferent Professors get fired these days? Best I can tell, absolutely none.)

    What is missing with the Teaching Company Educational experience is the irreplaceable small seminar of bright, highly motivated young scholars led by a great teacher. Here fresh insights and knowledge continually explode out of intense debate and discussion build on ongoing lectures and study of readings offered in Teaching Company type courses. This small seminar kind of experience is where a great teacher learns daily, too.

    If a University can link these constituent parts up into a synergistic whole, it will, I believe, create far better teaching experience than now offered. My God, imagine paying $40,000 grand a year to be taught mostly by Graduate Students! It’s Ridiculous.

    Or for Universities to pay outrageous salaries to “Great Professors” who refuse to teach! That’s Crazy too. And outright fraudulent, if students are forced to pay their salaries.

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