Professors Don't Need Schools Anymore

David Wagner, Managing Editor | 12/28/2012 | 89 comments

David Wagner


It has long been suggested that technology was eventually going to allow for enough people to virtually attend classes that we wouldn't need the physical building.

But until now, most people have assumed that there would be something called a school where affiliated teachers would teach. A new platform, Professor Direct, allows for teachers to cut out the school and charge students directly for their expertise.

Each course on Professor Direct starts at $49 per student. Professors can choose to charge more. Professor Direct takes the first $49, but anything over it goes directly to the professor. Some schools will actually accept some of the classes for transfer credit, so this is no free online course designed to just grab eyeballs.

As the platform grows, one could actually imagine superstar professors in all fields choosing to skip out on the Harvards and Princetons of the world to serve their content at luxury prices on a platform like this one. Given the ability to pack literally thousands of students into a class, it wouldn't take too many students, even at $100 per student, to outstrip the salary of a college professor. Of course, there are some current drawbacks.

For one, students can't get a degree directly from a place like Professor Direct. Degrees are obviously important in the current job market, and we're unlikely to see that change any time soon.

Another is that professors will miss out on research support from universities. Travel expenses, labs, research assistants, and technicians are all a part of the built-in cost of a professor that a school accepts upon hiring. Building enough student following to make up for that lost assistance will be difficult for most professors.

Another factor is prestige. One must be at the right university or write the right book to build the superstar status that would command the fees and bring in the class sizes that would make being an unaffiliated professor lucrative.

Still, you're going to have people with the social networking skills, charisma, teaching ability, or ability to overcome research issues that are willing to make a go of it. And the price, along with the ability to transfer credits, is going to attract students.

Even if this alone doesn't bring down the walls of the school, it is clear technology is going to bring the people with knowledge and expertise closer together. If you're the CIO or president of a school, you're going to have to find a way to keep putting yourself into the space or facilitating the contact between students and your own professors. If you fail, expect to be disintermediated.

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