I think the idea about the Harvard brand and going online is very interesting, but what would be their incentive or motivation for doing this?
Because at some point they will be eaten alive if they don’t, and they will be forced to change or die. Since being founded in 1636, Harvard has gone through a number of radical institutional changes, and fitting into the online world will be just another one of those changes.
The analogy that is useful is that right now a Harvard education is like a big gas-guzzling car with tail fins, the hottest new thing in 1955, but if you look at it from 1975, it looks old and antiquated. The markers that define “high class” now will probably look very antiquated to the next generation.
Maybe I’m a bit jaded, but I think Harvard Extension is mostly there b/c they want to make themselves feel that they are doing their bit to let the hoi poloi hobnob with the swells. It is a fine continuing ed operation, but they could have easily made it much more extensive, opened satellites in the suburbs, etc. etc. if they really wanted to tap into that market.
They don’t really want to tap that market, but I think that they are going to be dragged kicking and screaming into that market. The Extension School is considered low-class because it doesn’t bring in the money, but I think at some point Harvard is going to face the choice between either massively expanding the Extension School or else ceding that market to someone else and losing institutional relevance.
I don’t have any institutional connection to Harvard, so I don’t know much about the politics. I do know something about the institutional politics of MIT, and I have a lot of crazy ideas about how MIT’s role in the 21st century, which are largely being ignored. There are a few visionary professors there that see the future coming, but institutionally, no one is going to do anything fundamentally different unless they are in a “change or die” situation. But the “change or die” situation will come, and right now I’m trying to get things organized enough so that when the crisis hits, I’ll be one of the few people in the room that has any clue what to do about it.
The big thing that I think that MIT needs is an “Academic Liasion Office” which is modeled after the “Industrial Liasion Office”.