A recent Free exchange column looked at how online education might affect higher education. Elite institutions should be fine, we wrote, because they product they offer is completely different from the standardised, distance education that MOOCs offer, The Economist reports.
Unless, that is, they begin offering their own course material online at low prices, in the process breaking their business model. What is that model? Stanford economist Caroline Hoxby has one answer:
Elite institutions face very different circumstances, Ms Hoxby reckons. They operate like venture-capital firms, offering subsidised, labour-intensive education to highly qualified students. They aim to cultivate a sense of belonging and gratitude in students in order to recoup their investment decades later in the form of donations from successful alumni.
Ironically, these universities may have threatened their own business model by embracing MOOCs. Online courses break the personal link between students and university and, if offered cheaply to outsiders, may make regular graduates feel more like chumps than the chosen few. For top schools, the best bet may simply be to preserve their exclusivity.