College level courses are available to a larger audience than ever before thanks to digital media. Many of them are available at no cost. YouTube for example has an 'edu' channel which carries lectures and other educational videos. This means that a person can essentially attend college classes without paying any fees. They won't take any exams, turn in any term papers or receive any grade and most importantly they won't receive any credit. But at least some of them will learn something about the course subject. Many will fail to stay with the entire series of lectures, but others will become highly engaged and perhaps know as much or more than the on-campus student who pays tuition and completes the course in person.
This has been a long time coming. Since the invention of moving pictures, radio and television, people have been eagerly anticipating a change in the delivery of education and a much broader reach, serving millions of people who otherwise would never receive any comparable instruction.
However, the other (and for many people, primary) objective of higher education is in securing employment. Independently watching hours of college lectures supplemented by readings on one's own offers no such assurance. In the past, employers traditionally have depended on colleges and universities to provide some assurance that job applicants have absorbed the right information and went about learning in a disciplined, systematic manner. For example, at one time the baccalaureate ensured that students are able to compose a thoughtful essay that supports a certain viewpoint and cites facts to that end. But from what I read in the newspapers, many of today's college graduates lack many skills that an undergraduate education previously conferred. It seems today that paying tuition, attending class, completing assignments (for better or worse) and basically acting responsibly are all that seems to be needed to earn a bachelor's degree.
I wonder then about giving away content (in the form of free online lectures) when presumably many people pay tens of thousands of dollars for the same content. Are they paying for the information that could before now only be obtained by enrolling in an institution of higher learning? Or are they buying something else?There is no guarantee that a job is forthcoming for either the independent student or the matriculating, tuition-paying student. The only difference is that the latter (for the time being at least) is more likely to be invited to an interview.