Thursday, February 17, 2011

Something to Think About

There was a news announcement yesterday that Borders Booksellers had declared bankruptcy. I can remember when they first opened in my area. It was the most impressive bookstore I had even been in. They not only had a vast selection, they had depth. They had books you normally couldn't find elsewhere. The staff was knowledgeable and helpful. The store had ambiance. There was a social aspect to it which was nurtured over the years with coffee shops, string quartets and the like. It was everything an online bookstore was not. In fact, if ever there was an argument in favor of a bricks and mortar bookstore over an online bookstore it was Borders. And yet, they still lost the battle.

It occurred to me that  many of the reasons one would cite for why Borders was superior were the same reasons that people would cite for why  face to face education is superior. There is a social environment. There is ambiance. There is a benefit to being there not the least of which is networking and access to experts. But that didn't save Borders. Will it save bricks and mortar universities?

Some of the older universities have huge endowments that will protect them for a while. I suspect that Harvard for example could survive on its endowment for an extended period of time. So, they probably have little to worry about. But, what about the thousands and thousands of universities that are not Harvard. How will they fare? I don't know. But it is certainly something to think about.

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