Education is a funny word since it entails a very broad spectrum of practices. Words though are meaningless if they fail to be properly applied to cultural context. When parents today wish for their children to get a higher education they often imply the act of attending teachings from an institution which grants magic papers called "degrees". That paper, although it does not necessarily imply knowledge, is believed to give people jobs. it is upon this belief that universities today face their demise.
Degrees can easily be bought if one knows where to look. If you spend enough time in academia like I have, you will too find out that research grants can also be bought. A school is nothing but a business. It employs people and it needs to make a profit in order to survive. For the most part, this is facilitated through taxes. Citizens pay their share and then pay again to send their children to school. Colleges multiply as much as student debt, student fees and unemployment. Now ain't that an interesting statistic?
Colleges have become a farce for the very reason that people chase titles and reputation rather than knowledge. People who get their "bachelors" then want their "masters", then their "phd" and then a "post-doc". I rarely met students that had a specific ambition to research something that genuinely interested them. Most struggle to find a topic to research. When they do come to a decision, they end up choosing something easy that has a shitload of references to get away with. The result? Pointless circle-jerk research is flooding the academic world with limited replication — the actual scientific work. Humanity was able to advance with a handful scientists that made key discoveries in eras when college was not a common endeavour. The sheer amount of students we have today involved with research, should be able to take humanity in an inter-galactic empire rather than the superficial intellectual facade we are witnessing.
What we see instead?
Numbers and ego measuring. You want to make it in academia? Publish papers. Quality? Doesn't matter. What matters is numbers. The more you publish the better. Most universities have a "quota" that you have to meet as well. Doesn't really matter what you write as long as you keep in within publishing parametres. This is not only evident from the objectives of universities but also from the attitude of the people involved either directly or indirectly. Most people value academics from the numbers of their publications and how famous they are in their area of research. Science apparently, has also become a meme for success, progress and intelligence when science itself can debunk all 3 claims quite easily.
Degrees are becoming more and more useless for the very simple fact that knowledge is abundant. Going to college to learn something is similar to buying sand from the beach. The only thing that makes the whole thing legit is the "authority" that reassures you that the knowledge you are acquiring is legit. You get a stamp of approval, even if you don't remember most of the things you studied and in 4 years your knowledge becomes obsolete.
The only reason the whole thing keeps existing is because it has become a cultural meme. People believe that "objective" research can only be done in the pantheon of Academia but not so much on private ground. The amount of irony in this belief staggering. Private research can be bought as much as grants that are funded from specific political initiatives. Humans like money. It doesn't matter if they get it from the private or the public sector. The belief that the government sector is there to "protect" from the "evil" private sector is just that; a belief. Nothing else.
Way back in the day, schools used to be free. In some countries they are. Nonetheless, the entry requires some kind of knowledge beforehand. Call it charisma, dedication or combination of both. Students before the business era of colleges, needed to prove themselves beforehand, demonstrating that they were worthy of education. In my country this was the case as of recently. People who did well in exams (much like SAT's) gained free access to universities. The rest had to find another career, mostly technical or in sales. After University.Inc stepped in, every single person who didn't make it through the real exams, was able to attend a university in the U.K. There was something for everyone. Even if you were struggling with English, daddy's money could grant anyone a degree. Even if you found the material extremely hard you could "rent" a service to write you papers. Today the situation has become even worse. In an attempt to get more and more women into colleges the standards for STEM fields in many countries dropped, in defense of memes like "feminism". The eventual result is the decay of academia for the sake of student numbers and political maneuvering. More and more bills today are targeted in order to push specific groups into specific fields. Culturally, it has created reverse discrimination.
At the end of the day, it all came down to money. Even in the U.S the most privileged attend Ivy League institutions because they can afford it, not because they are worth it. Numerous scandals are surfacing left and right that you can also pay someone to take the SAT's for you. It makes one wonder; What is the point of all these, if not to satisfy a cultural meme? Do people have to go through it because everyone is doing it? We have reached a point where nobody knows exactly why we are doing something because the narrative has changed so much that it has lost its original point. Some people attend Church based on the same premise. Most people are not really religious. They just go to Church due to cultural habit.
Academia has ended up being a cheerleader for the status-quo. It has become an indirect political tool to preserve and sponsor specific initiatives that stem primarily from tax-payer money. There is no critique, no debate since that might upset the customers, aka the students. This is how the notion of safe-spaces has been born. Universities are running more like businesses, eye-balling on benchmarks rather than focusing on research.
I am a big proponent of science but the only thing I see in universities is the butchering of the scientific method for the sake of profit. Couple this with pop-culture science cheerleading and no wonder the whole thing has ended up being a joke. There is nothing wrong with making money. We are all capitalists one way or another. Nonetheless, when it comes to doing science you can't have your cake and eat it too. If competition and money are your objective then actual research becomes secondary. If ranking up in journals is the main goal and number of publications seem to do it, then again, research becomes pointless.
Eventually we will all come to realize that there is no real use for institutional relics such as Universities or Churches (heck even jails). We have advanced in our way in understanding how the world works. One can be spiritual in the comfort of their own home. One can learn about any profession by using online sources like khanacademy or coursera. Many companies are already onboard with actual field work so one can gain experience with lab work. All in all, the institution version on a physical location has become obsolete.
Much like the move of FIAT to the blockchain, universities have started a shift to the online world. There, they offer basic courses that anyone can attend, avoiding the ridiculous fees. In this reality, they have to compete with the entire internet world that offers myriads of free courses that even better in quality. They too have to adopt. Eventually, Academia.Inc will perish due to overabundance of knowledge. The money scheme lasted for a while but is not sustainable. More and more people own degrees but with no value in the real world. Those that will not adopt, they will perish. My bet is that the next economic hiccup will be partially caused by students loans. Only then we will see a massive shift toward a new educational paradigm.