The secret of success in any startup is to provide a product or service needed by thousands and, via technology, deliver it at the lowest possible price point. The product doesn’t have to be functionally equivalent or as powerful as its competitive counterparts, but in order to displace them it must cost less. Additionally, lowering the price point also opens the product to a larger market often left untapped by the higher priced vendors.

Most of us would agree that higher education is overdue for a make over and most students would flock to an institution that offered a quality education at an affordable price. Last week Apple Computer tilted the playing field through the introduction of iBook Author and its integration with iTunes University. 

iBook Author lets anyone create rich, multimedia course content for free. Textbook authors can then publish their content to iTunes University where students can search, download and consume university quality courseware for much less than the price of a college credit. Many courses from prestigious universities like MIT, Cal Berkley and Stanford are free.

Undergraduate college students, on average, pay approximately $1,200 per year for textbooks; graduate students pay even more. With iBook Author, educators can take control of text book creation, eliminating the large publishing company middleman and reduce the price of textbooks. 

Companies like Udacity and Udemy have constructed service offerings that enables community created content and university created content to be published online and consumed en mass. The on-to-many architecture of the Internet allows thousands of students to take the same course at the same time with the same set of instructors and moderators. These economies of scale can’t be duplicated by traditional brick and mortar universities.

One piece of the puzzle is missing though: accreditation. While online institutions like the University of Phoenix offer college credit at higher prices than the disruptive startups they also confer degrees and certifications; which for most is the driving force behind taking a college or continuing education course. 

Only when high quality, low cost courseware is integrated within cirricula offered by accredited degree conferring institutions will we see the true disruptive power of zero emerge. 

Somewhere a startup is brewing their own version of Higher Education 2.0. and in the near future a college education will be made available to a much larger economic demographic; and that my friends will be a very significant turn of events.