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College in the Age of AI

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Scott Andersen
Scott Andersen

College class numbers will steadily decline over the next decade

I don't have the answers here, but it's something that I think about a lot. My two nieces will be graduating from high school in the next 5 years, and as I think about AI, I can't help but wonder what jobs will be available for them, and what college that will prepare them for those jobs will look like, if it survives at all. Will college become specialized around a few professions?

Colleges have always had a difficult time keeping up with innovation

The pace of technological change means that the knowledge and skills taught in traditional college programs can become outdated quickly. Continuous learning and adaptability are becoming more important, and AI-driven learning platforms are well-suited to provide up-to-date content and training, tailored to the evolving needs of the job market.

Alternate sources of Education

The rise of AI-powered educational platforms offers personalized, flexible, and efficient learning experiences. Platforms like Coursera, edX, and Khan Academy provide access to high-quality courses from leading universities and institutions, often for free or at a fraction of the cost. This democratizes access to knowledge, allowing individuals to acquire specific skills or knowledge without the need for traditional college education.

The Changing Role of Educators

As AI takes on more administrative and some teaching tasks, the role of educators will need to shift towards facilitation, mentorship, and tackling more complex educational challenges, requiring a reevaluation of teaching methods and educator training.

Gone are the days of a professor teaching an Economics 101 course in person. That 8am lecture hall filled with 300 weary business students can entirely be replaced by AI assessment along with some video resources.

Textbook value?

Does it even make sense to buy the econ 101 textbook? I believe textbooks will go the way of the encyclopedia. We were alreay headed in that direction with the popularization of .pdf versions of textbooks. It's easy to see how a student can get all of the needed knowledge from other sources as AI teaching platforms become the norm.

What fields still have a value of a traditional college education?

There will no doubt still be value in certain fields. Particularly those requiring specialized knowledge, hands-on experience, and critical thinking developed through direct interaction and mentorship.

  • Medical Professionals - In a world where lifespan is increasing I don't see the medical profession shrinking in the next decade. They will however want to embrace AI in all the ways that can help them be more accurate in diagnosis, and more custom in treatment plans per patient. Medical schools will be critical in embracing the new technology, and adapting with their students to the quickly changing medical field.
  • Education - Especially at younger ages, education will still be a valuable service. Training to become an educator requires not just knowledge of subject matter but also pedagogy, classroom management, and student psychology. Programs at colleges that offer the mentoring and in-classroom experience will continue to be valuable.
  • Science & Engineering - These fields require a solid foundation in complex mathematical and scientific principles, as well as practical skills that are often developed through lab work, projects, and internships. The collaborative environment of college programs also fosters teamwork and problem-solving skills essential for these professions.
  • Law - This may be the one I'm least confident in, but I believe that since lawyers are infact the ones who write the laws, they will protect their profession, limiting the amount of AI that can be used. Because of that, this may still be a valid college degree. Legal education not only involves understanding and interpreting vast amounts of information but also developing critical thinking, argumentation, and ethical considerations.

Value in community

I think one of the most formative parts of college for me was the community that I became a part of. Colleges offer invaluable opportunities for personal growth, networking, and community building. The experience of being part of a campus, with its diverse array of clubs, organizations, and events, provides a unique environment for students to explore their interests, develop leadership skills, and form lasting relationships. We'll want this community to survive, but in an increasingly online education system, what does this community look like?

Looking Ahead

As we transition towards more AI-driven and flexible learning environments, it's crucial to recognize that the essence of education—cultivating a curious, informed, and capable citizenry—remains unchanged. Colleges and universities, while adapting to new technologies and methods, must also preserve the irreplaceable value of direct human interaction, mentorship, and the holistic development of students. Educational institutions must proactively evolve to prepare students not just for the jobs of today, but for the challenges and opportunities of the future. This includes fostering critical thinking, creativity, and adaptability—skills that are crucial in a rapidly changing world and can be best developed through a blend of traditional and innovative teaching methods.