In higher education, you can never have it all. Harvard offers an unrivaled brand and resources and an immense social and economic payoff, but the vast majority of applicants are rejected. For those that work like dogs to get in, there’s the eye-watering expense, whether it’s the government, student, or endowment that pays. State universities, on the other hand, tend to be much more accessible and less expensive, but may offer more average resources and return. Online universities are often easy to get in to and allow you to balance work and study, but you spend most of your time interacting with a computer, which for some people feel a long way from the immersive, social ideal of school.
Every innovation, from the public university to distance learning, seeks to reconcile the tensions in what has come before. In turn, each innovation produces its own tradeoffs. The latest turn of the crank is 42.