Online education is as credible as traditional education and is growing every year. Despite heavy regulation and the desire to support traditional models it is suspected that most universities will offer online classes to augment their expensive infrastructure. As online models change and adjust to meet multiple stakeholders and regulatory shifts one has to wonder about stronger emerging models.
Models come and go but those that are likely to make it might transform higher education models as to provide what stakeholders need while still capitalizing on the efficiencies virtual colleges provide. Their biggest challenge is not their quality, as based in research, but their credibility as defined by a few bad actors and lots of protectionist language.
That doesn't mean things will be this way forever. As traditional colleges adopt online techniques and online research supports the virtual model that image will change. The lines between virtual and traditional will be blurred as each seeks to mimic the benefits of the other. Eventually online leaders and elite schools will emerge creating new demographic markets.
Online schools will also start producing research with public appeal. They may be partnering with other universities for the hard sciences but will be engaging in lots of different types of research on their own. Professors, whether working out of an office, or in their homes, will be conducting investigatory studies and publishing their findings.
Regulation will also change. It will come down hard like a hammer so that people can make political blowing about how they are doing something about the bad actors. As regulation moves into overkill mode it will also damage their traditional stakeholders and slow down Americas competitive position in higher education leading to the pendulum shifting back in the other direction.
Ultimately, the good that can come out of regulatory gaming is that some online institutions will transform their models to meet new requirements and will come out stronger when the pendulum does swing back. They will master both playing fields and be even more competitive than their traditional counterparts. They can beat the metrics game while providing a superior product that has wide appeal not only to Americans but also the international community.