Could the Internet put SUNY out of business?

Aug 20, 2010

The big take away from Bill Gates’ discussion at the Techonomy conference in Lake Tahoe, CA was the idea that education will be less “place-based.”

According to MG Siegler's piece at, Gates said,” Five years from now on the web for free you’ll be able to find the best lectures in the world.” 

You can sort of already do that on sites like TED or just by doing a topic search on Youtube. Gates says that kind of widespread knowledge will be better than any single university.

But what if you could get credit for that kind of recreational learning? 

According to Siegler’s piece, “[Gates] believes that no matter how you came about your knowledge, you should get credit for it. Whether it’s an MIT degree or if you got everything you know from lectures on the web, there needs to be a way to highlight that.”

Our friend Tim Nekritz, who works in the communication office at SUNY-Oswego, says Gates’ idea comes up a bit short. 

“I think what's missing in that vision is the important social role of colleges and universities. Going to college is not just about getting an education, but is a rite of passage. If I look at what our students post on the our Class of 2014 Facebook page, it's about making connections, finding new friendships, trying new things, joining clubs and, yes, taking classes. It is, for them, a package deal, and serves a sociological and developmental function as well as educational.”

Ok, so it’s not likely that all public and private universities in the world will be consolidated into the “University of the Internet.” But what if that tuition bill were only four digits, instead of five?

According to Hillicon Valley, Gates said during the same talk that because college will be less place-based, he envisions technology helping reduce tuition to around $2,000 dollars instead of $20,000. 

We asked Nekritz if that was possible for the SUNY system. He said he has no crystal ball and couldn’t say. So, we went to the mothership. David Belsky is media relations guy for the SUNY system as a whole. 

“SUNY does share Mr. Gates’ vision of an affordable higher education. Even in the face of severe budget cuts, SUNY has succeeded in keeping our tuition at 12 percent below the national average, currently weighing in at only $4,970. It’s the fact that we can keep tuition at a four digit number rather than a five digit one that keeps public institutions like SUNY affordable and accessible to all,” said Belsky.

Also, Gates also praised charter schools (which are public schools that are run like private schools), saying that there’s no room for innovation in the standard system. 

We emailed the piece to Barbara Bradley with the New York State School Boards Association. She says the standard system is still innovating, “Interestingly, NYSSBA is releasing a report to our members at the end of the month entitled “Hey, You, Get Onto My Cloud!” It defines cloud computing and includes examples of cloud computing applications used in the classroom by public school districts in New York.”

She says contrary to what Gates says in the article, “public school districts are making use of the new technologies to engage students and improve achievement, as well as carry out administrative functions.”