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What will happen to Universities? Harvard & Major Universities are charging Full Tuition for online

Updated: Jul 17, 2020

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Harvard Online and the College Experience

Earlier this week, Harvard announced it will only allow for 40% of its students to be present on campus for classes, and all classes will be online, yet, Harvard will still charge the full tuition of $49,653 for e-learning via Zoom conference, receiving some harsh criticism on social media.

Since only 40% of students are allowed on campus, Harvard is prioritizing "at risk" students who have trouble learning in their home environment, and first year students so they can be introduced the college experience, though they must social distance, wear mask, be tested for the COVID19 every few days, along with other measures. However, this college "experience" will be unlike any traditional college experience, in fact, will be drastically different.

For many, college is the time of self exploration, meeting new, lifelong friends, discovering interests, and learning from experiences and independence in addition to classroom materials and lectures. College students today will miss out on these opportunities and universities will need to adapt in order to provide students with these opportunities for online experiences.

It will be interesting to see how college attendance rates will vary this coming fall compared to past years, and if college attendance and enrollment will continue to drop. We likely could see more students take a "gap year" and delay college for a year or two, or learn a specialty skill via a Coding Bootcamp, take online education classes through platforms like Udemy and Udacity, attend a technical college, or simply do their own learning from YouTube. Students interested in fields which require degrees or advanced degrees, will likely begin to consider Community College for prerequisites as the cost of attending a Community College is reduced substantially.

Alternative Education and Specialty Certificates

The forcing function of Colleges and Universities closing their physical spaces and relying on online education seems to open the door for Alternative Education to surge in growth.

As the world has shifted primarily to online in just a few short months due to the COVID19 pandemic, startup companies in the EdTech space like General Assembly, Coding Bootcamps like Flatiron School, will likely thrive. Even though many of these EdTech companies have in person components, they have relied heavily on distance learning since their inception. Other learning options for students include self-paced EdTech companies like Udemy, Udacity,, or even Coursera.

Product Strategy for EdTech and new course creators

EdTech has long made the case to provide alternative education to Universities, with even some suggesting they will get their students into the workforce with good salaries immediately after completing a program. Many of these EdTech companies focus on technical roles which are in high demand like Software Engineering or UX Design.

As the world becomes more digital and companies rely heavily on content creation and management tools, this opens up the opportunity for EdTech to focus on skillsets in Social Media, Video & Audio Production, Digital Marketing, Program Management, and more.

Alternative education has the opportunity to massively disrupt traditional college and university systems, and perhaps completely change many legacy college institutions. We likely will see more vocational and specialty online schools form around different subject matters at a mere fraction of cost of attending a traditional University. If you gain the skills to land you on your career trajectory, you may not mind missing out on the "college experience."

Targeted Offering

While Universities have hundreds of class offerings and multiple majors, the most successful EdTech companies have focused on the core domain of technology, and have offered select courses completed via an intensive format. Students who come to these EdTech programs are not coming to discover themselves and figure out their major once on campus as one might at University, but rather are targeting a specific field of study, focusing on that field and that field alone to gain skills that will make them employable upon completion of that program.

In product, it's easy to believe your product is for everyone, but something to remember is if you build a product for everyone, you likely will end up building it for no one. The reason it's important to be focused and targeted on your customer, especially at the beginning, is because you are still learning what the customers' needs are, and trying to get to product market fit. This targeted customer will likely have a similar pain point, which you can then expand from or bring to new markets.

Online First

Baby Boomers, Gen X, and the first half of Millennials grew with or without very limited digital experiences in the classroom. While up until COVID19, students were still attending college in person, the majority of their work has been tied to online and digital submission of work. This generation of students are the most prepared for remote, distance learning, but do they all have access to the same tools?

While most companies never imaged something like COVID19 completely altering their businesses, the ones who have are thriving are the ones who are focused on digital experiences and being online first.

Just a few years ago online grocery delivery or streaming video felt more like a simple convenience or even a luxury, but now it's a necessity. In Product, Tech, and in Business, you need to understand how your product adapts to different environments, and if humans are necessary to make it operate for the user, or can it truly be all software and handled by code?

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