Will online education replace the Ivy League?

Getty ImagesGetty ImagesOne of the lasting effects of the recession of 2009 may be that many upper middle class parents who expected to send their children to private universities now can't afford it. And since those families are probably too well-off for financial aid, there will be a huge boom in attendance at state colleges and universities, and even community colleges, which are upgrading their offerings at a furious pace.

But that might not be the only route for future students. According to "Who Needs Harvard," an article in the current issue of Fast Company magazine, we might be just a couple of decades away from a time when a good chunk of higher education will be taking place online. It's not just virtual courses; now that online social networking allows for conversation and connection these new outfits can also offer an entire online community to share the learning experience with. And both venture capital firms and the Obama Administration are plunking down lots of money to support experimentation in this sector.

The article focuses on innovative ideas like Peer2Peer University - a roster of low-cost university level courses with a plan for accreditation and the issuing of degrees; Edufire - low-cost, live video courses and tutoring on a variety of subjects; Academic Earth - free video lectures from top scholars around the world; and MIT's OpenCourseware - free access to nearly all undergraduate and graduate courses offered at MIT. And it and argues that traditional bricks and mortars schools will suffer if they don't keep up with these innovations.

It's a fascinating article, and while reading it, I kept wondering what it will mean for the next generation of students and workers.

If more young people could graduate from college without being burdened by up to $100,000 in debt from student loans, then would more of them make career choices based on what most interests them rather than what fields have the highest starting salaries?

Will the growth of online education fuel a new kind of discrimination in evaluating people's level of education. Instead of comparing educations based on public or private status, or two year versus four year degrees, will the question be, "Did you get your degree online?"

What's your take on online education?