Former U.S. secretary of education William Bennett writes that American higher education may have serious problems now, but he’s optimistic about the future:

A college degree does not hold the status and significance it once did. Recent data from the Census Bureau and Department of Labor found that almost 54% of recent graduates were unemployed or underemployed… Many students are ill prepared for the labor market, whether by fault of their own or by colleges and universities that are out of sync with the needs of a skilled work force.

With American college graduates facing over $1 trillion in total student loan debt and many students getting little return on their investment, our higher education system could certainly use a shake-up. According to Bennett, technology holds the key. Thanks to new technology:

Better, smarter, more adaptable and cheaper education will soon be available to all. Initiatives like the ED-X partnership between Harvard and MIT promise to give non-traditional students elements of a world-class education online, and for free. Coursera, recently founded by Stanford professor Andrew Ng, will offer not only free online courses, but also a great deal of individualized instruction in the form of grading, testing, student-to-student help and certificates of completion. What Salman Khan and his Khan Academy did for elementary and secondary education, offering world-class instruction online for free, will soon be replicated throughout academia. These new ventures will no doubt challenge the traditional four-year residential, physical university model.

Extrapolating from Bennett’s predictions, I’d like to make one of my own: by far, the most effective education reforms will come from bottom-up innovation and experimentation, not top-down mandates and regulations. As long as we (and policymakers) keep that in mind, the future is bright indeed.