Thrun focused on marketable skills like computer programming, robotics and other hard sciences. The idea is to get only the best-of-the-best, and while I might prefer a literature course taught by Salman Rushdie or a history class taught by Garry Wills, science and technology are the low-hanging fruit.
The economic problem with college, as Shirky notes, is that it's labor-intensive and does not scale. You can push down salaries to an extent, but it still takes a lot of people, a lot of buildings, and a lot of land to produce even a mediocre college education, let alone an elite one. What makes an elite education is the unique talent of its faculty, which can't be discounted because demand for it is so high.
What Udacity does is spread that limited talent across to the broadest possible audience, while doing away with those other costs. Everything else can be done through one-on-one tutoring. Standardize on the best courseware, with the best lecturers, and use the Internet to deliver that to the widest possible audience.
At the time of publication, the author was long AAPL. He does still treasure his Rice degree -- real sheepskin!
This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.