In a very good blog post, Bryan Caplan lays out three competing perspectives. But he leaves out a fourth:
Select groups, such as adult continuing education, military officers on ships, precocious 12-year-olds, or perhaps middle class students in Kenya who can’t get the real product, will follow an exclusively on-line model. But most students will not, at least not in the United States. College still has considerable consumption value, fraternities improve your job prospects, instructors help motivate, and face-to-face contact imprints a lot of learning on our minds. Still, there is far too much duplication of lectures and universities are being squeezed by personnel costs. State governments face rising Medicaid costs and 78 percent or so of students are in state systems. Lecture duplication will be significantly reduced, and instructional time will be spent…instructing…rather than repeating canned lectures ad nauseum. Imagine that ten years from now one-third of all lectures are delivered on-line in one manner or another, perhaps with some later in person commentary. Students may watch those lectures with an instructional aide present to address questions or to show them how to press the “Play” button. There will be no need for employers to fundamentally change which sources they respect for personnel certification, although possibly some upstarts will arise in corners of the market where quality can be measured by tests.
At the end of his post Bryan writes:
* When I talk about “online education,” I don’t just mean students at existing brick-and-mortar colleges taking some classes from their dorm rooms. I mean students enrolling in virtual colleges instead of physical colleges.
I would say he is defining away the most likely model, namely a hybrid model which has a significant on-line component.