One of my favorite programs at Penn State is the Penn State Forum speaker series, which hosts a slate of speakers each year on a diversity of topics. Joel Myers, CEO of AccuWeather (and a longtime trustee) delivered a talk a few years ago that I recently rewatched.

It’s “The Digital Revolution: Transforming Higher Education.” The first few minutes aren’t new for anyone who’s under 40 (i.e., “Kids today can find things online that used to require a trip to the library and hours of searching), but Joel gets into some compelling data from roughly the 14-20 minute mark. Most of the remainder stresses the reasons that colleges and universities might not be able to avoid the creative destruction facing them from technology and things like self-paced/competency based learning.

Interestingly, Joel forecasts a coming end to rising tuition and even expects it to decrease. (We’ve seen that born out at least in some schools, including Penn State’s tuition freeze announced last year.) Some of the points that struck me:

  • Over the past 40 years, the number of students has tripled, college costs in constant dollars has more than tripled, and revenues of American universities adjusted for inflation have increased 9-fold;
  • recent Bain study found that 1/3 of colleges “not on a sustainable financial path;”
  • an additional 28 percent are “at risk of slipping into an unstable condition;”
  • “means that 61% of institutions have negative prospects for the future even before disruptive changes from technological revolution come on strongly;”
  • Moody’s downgraded its financial outlook for colleges and universities, “giving entire sector a negative grade”

I think there are some particularly solid concluding points starting at the 35 minute mark, where Joel gets in to what entrepreneurial approaches and market-influenced pedagogy might look like. It’s one thing to talk speculatively about how different digital devices or platforms might play a role in learning from a tactical perspective, but it’s another to explore more of a systemwide approach.

“Tuition, education loans, and government funding will stop increasing, and may actually decline year after year,” Joel says. “Finding new revenue sources to partially replace them, and ways to excel despite lower revenues, is essential.”