Bill Gates Predicts Technology Will Make ‘Place-Based’ Colleges Less Important in 5 Years

‘Place-based colleges’ are good for parties, but are becoming less crucial for learning thanks to the Internet, said the Microsoft founder Bill Gates at a conference on Friday.

“Five years from now on the Web for free you’ll be able to find the best lectures in the world. It will be better than any single university,” he argued at the Techonomy conference in Lake Tahoe, Calif. “College, except for the parties, needs to be less place-based.”

An attendee captured the remarks with a shaky hand-held camera and posted the clip on YouTube.

“After all, what are we trying to do? We’re trying to take education that today the tuition is, say, $50,000 a year so over four years—a $200,000 education—that is increasingly hard to get because there’s less money for it because it’s not there, and we’re trying to provide it to every kid who wants it,” Mr. Gates said. “And only technology can bring that down, not just to $20,000 but to $2,000. So yes, place-based activiy in that college thing will be five times less important than it is today.”

Earlier at the same conference, another tech luminary predicted that printed books will soon be rare luxury items, and e-books will be the norm. That prediction came from Nicholas Negroponte, chairman emeritus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab and leader of the One Laptop Per Child effort to build low-cost laptops for education.

“People will say ‘no, no, no’—of course you like your libraries,” he said, according to a report in TechCrunch. He said that in a recent report, e-book sales on Amazon outnumbered hardcover books sold through the online bookstore. “It’s happening. It’s not happening in 10 years. It’s happening in five years,” Mr. Negroponte said.

That’s a lot of change in five years, at institutions not known for sudden movements. But the crystal ball is always good for discussion, so share your reactions in the comments.

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