NEW YORK (
) -- It's almost June. Time for dads, grads and counting the living from the dead in the collapsing U.S.
higher education market
Because if my month of learning
collegiate-level data science
via no-cost Mountain View, Calif.-based online course provider
is any indication, it's time for parents, educators, employers, students, investors -- not to mention college real estate speculators -- to learn how ugly it's going to get to charge a lot to learn a lot.
Investors know this lesson well. Just like in the music, financial services and corporate IT sectors, high-quality, first-rate content -- in this case, a job-fetching higher education -- is absolutely, positively available for nothing.
"When I have heard about your site and the courses you offer," posted Paolo Scolamacchia, a Milan, Italy, computer specialist and one of my roughly 65,000 Coursera no-cost data science classmates. "I was very surprised and excited to join them."
What's remarkable about learning intricate and complex topics such as MapReduce and SQLite with nothing more than a PC is not that automated grading tools work. Or that online social schooling really does replace much of what traditional teachers do. Or that the same gut-wrenching collapse felt by giants including
Warner Music Group
New York Stock Exchange
await the giants of higher education.
What's stunning is how ordered, well understood and -- let's be honest -- mundane the process of digital devaluation will be.
A phat, free online higher ed market
Absolutely positively, free online higher education is on the by-now classic explosive Web trajectory of dazzling growth. Geez, Coursera has meetups in 1,646 cities; content from 62 universities
; and investors such as
Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers
Heck, its teachers will have bigger followings than rock stars.
That means some sort of significant financial event is a certainty. Harvard and MIT's joint online ed effort
or my sleeper pick, the private
, are also in this group. But Coursera is at the head of the class. It is already
a popular play
on private exchanges such as
Remember, this is the Web. Coursera will be as profit-challenged as
or any other Internet company. But for the lucky few close to this investment, some sort of lucrative funding event -- maybe even an IPO -- will graduate to the market say, by midyear 2014.