Fast forward to 2025. The annus horribilis, 2020, is in the fairly distant past. The popular esports national championship is taking place—between two powerhouse higher education teams—Google and Microsoft. Just as a century earlier America fixated on the Harvard vs. Yale football game, and later ball throwing contests between top SEC universities known more for football than learning, schools like Alabama and Ole Miss, now the insurgent for profit high tech giants are battling.

Far fetched fiction? Not necessarily. Both Google and Microsoft, along with many other high tech private powerhouses, are moving headlong into teaching employable skills, and certifying vocational competence. Why? For many Americans, traditional higher education is vastly too expensive and too hung up on weird and even threatening left-wing ideology and indoctrination, rather than scholarly dissemination and discovery. Many mostly semi-affluent Americans still want four or five gap years between adolescence and life, provided by residential “colleges” serving the strange triple functions of country clubs, hedonistic party sites, and halls of learning. However, an increasing proportion of the population of our slow growth, aging and debt ridden society are just saying “no” to traditional college.

Non-traditional providers of knowledge, like 2U and Coursera, are reportedly booming, and a few nimble and risk-taking state universities like Purdue (which bought Kaplan’s on-line services, now Purdue Global) and the University of Arizona (which is buying Ashford University) are moving into non-traditional modes of delivery in big ways.

But now the big guns are getting really involved. Google is moving quickly to offer high level vocational training via several Google Career Certificates, short courses (six months or so of training) hosted on Coursera designed to offer a big vocational return at a moderate cost—many initial participants will get scholarships from Google in its effort to quickly achieve critical scale economies. Not to be left out, many of the other big names of high tech loaded with resources and hoards of very bright people are moving in as well. Microsoft, for example, at this writing has a new worth, based on market capitalization, of $1.72 trillion, probably conservatively 25 times that of America’s richest university, Harvard. Even now, several coding academies have been doing well, in some cases charging nothing for instruction in return for a share of the earnings of the graduates.

Let’s do some forecasting (something economists do poorly). Let’s use an automotive analogy. In a few years, we will have perhaps 200 truly Lexus/Mercedes type universities and residential colleges doing the triple functions described above. We will have a few hundred mostly public Chevy/Ford/Honda type schools struggling to do what Harvard, Claremont McKenna, etc. do. We will have, figuratively, intensive care rooms and cemeteries filled with dying/dead minor league state universities and private schools. And we will have Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Apple and undoubtedly some other agile new providers. The community colleges may get brutalized in the process.

The accreditation agencies that kept competition down and perceived undesirable riffraff out will be measurably weakened; the smart and savvy Mother Superior of Accreditation, Judith Eaton, president of the Council of Higher Education Accreditation, smartly just retired, ahead of the deluge. Meanwhile, new ways of certifying competence, perhaps something like my oft-proposed National College Equivalence Examination, will be created, as employers discover the 75% or even 100% wage premium that they have been paying for college degrees is too much, and that diplomas are an obscenely expensive screening device. Already some are dropping mindless degree requirements for jobs.

I am only about 50% sure about all of this, but given my age and life expectancy, I can afford to take prognostication risks even as I prudently no longer buy green bananas or completely fill my gas tank. The Democratic Party derives a good deal of income and many of its ideas from the academy, and if it totally takes over the federal government, it may succeed in dramatically increasing subsidies to traditional higher education and putting barriers up against the new competition, such as by anti-trust suits trying to break up Google and Amazon and other regulatory barriers against those engaging in mortal sins like trying to make profits from American desires for more knowledge and discovery.