Education: Is the end of college near?

Aaron Marshall
Mark Kvamme

Columbus venture capitalist Mark Kvamme knows how to be provocative.

During a recent panel discussion on innovation at the Lincoln Theatre, the city's influential tech investor predicted college won't be around when his now-young children are graduating from high school in 14 years. In a town built around a 147-year-old land-grant university, that's an eyebrow-raiser. When asked to explain his claim later, Kvamme qualifies that he wasn't saying colleges would go out of business, per se, but rather that technology would revolutionize education in the coming years.

“I think we are going into a world where things are changing so rapidly that you will have to be a continuous learner,” Kvamme says. “The whole idea of needing to travel to some faraway place to be bestowed knowledge by wise old professors is going to end.”

So what will the new “continuous learner” model look like? Kvamme paints a picture where technology in its infancy now—think voice-activated digital assistants and virtual reality headsets—will be mainstream, along with other inventions beyond our current horizon. “The virtual reality-augmented world will be one where learning about everything is going to be done in near-real time,” he says.

Kvamme is doing more than talking about the coming revolution. His venture capital firm, Drive Capital, is also betting on it. Drive has a stake in Udacity, one of a handful of companies offering massive open online courses that lead to “nano degrees” and other certifications short of traditional college undergraduate degrees. “Perhaps I'm biased, but I think something like [Udacity] will be that new model,” he says.

Kvamme predicts schools with strong brands like Ohio State will weather this future just fine. But he says small liberal arts schools might struggle, along with institutions that have counted on “crazy tuition inflation” in recent years.