Have a look at these two headlines, from reputable media outlets: (1) "A Perfect Storm Is Heading Toward Higher Education" and (2) "Prepare For 'The End Of College': Here's What Free Higher Ed Looks Like."
The first article is from Time. The second, from NPR, involves an interview with noted higher ed. authority Kevin Carey, who is promoting his new book.
As the title indicates, the Time piece, by lawyer and author Steve Cohen, predicts dire consequences, driven largely by tuition costs. ("Perfect Storm" a few years ago replaced "Train Wreck Waiting to Happen" as the latest fatuous use of hyperbole.)
So…the Apocalypse is near. It has been thus since the Book of Revelation—which, scholars tell us, actually conveys hope, to be replaced in our era by CNN, which does not.
Mr. Carey's point, on the other hand, is optimistic. He envisions a University of Everywhere, at which online offerings will replace the ivory towers. In a good way.
You should read both pieces, in the interest of fairness, to get the full context.
One might infer from such articles—utopian or dystopian—that community colleges, since they are barely mentioned, have little place in the future of higher education.
However, moving forward, two-year schools will likely assume an even larger role than they do now. Relatively speaking, community college tuition is the cheapest by far. The success numbers have begun a slow crawl upward (which is probably as good as it gets, if we are honest, given the herculean task ahead). Additionally, the movement toward four-year degrees at these institutions intensifies. This hardly spells doom. And, most importantly, two-year schools are, more than ever before, the best option for the most sizable chunk of the population that needs higher education.
The sweet spot is the intersection of pedagogical quality, low relative cost, and proximity. It sounds more like "In The Beginning" than "The End."
The folks who should be worried are educators at expensive liberal arts colleges (see example) that are not extremely prestigious. Oh yes, and investors in MOOCs, which have abysmal completion rates so far. It is one thing for Mr. Carey to commendably take a free online course from MIT, and quite another for the average high school graduate in Texas with minimal academic preparation to complete developmental math and move on to higher levels.
Former Texas Rep. Whilhelmina Delco (D-Austin) used to say that, if community colleges didn't exist, we would have to invent them. Exactly.