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NEW YORK (
TheStreet) -- 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
Coursera 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, the
New York Stock Exchange or
Hewlett-Packard(HPQ) 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
including Yale; 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
edX or my sleeper pick, the private
Khan Academy, 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
Amazon(AMZN) 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.