Internet U.

The 'Net's a bonanza. E-profits abound. And now your local university wants to cash-in on the cyber craze and not just to sell school supplies. They want to sell diplomas. Degrees! They want to have college by the 'Net.

Don't panic. I'm not talking about some scam to get phony sheepskins to hang on the wall. We're talking about legitimate universities, who want to let legitimate students take legitimate classes by wire--to get a real, deserved, four-year degree (or in my case, a whole lot longer since I have a 2400 baud modem) without setting foot on campus.

Let me be the first to say: This is insane! Sure, e-commerce is a gold mine, and e-ducation is probably a moneymaker too. And the colleges claim they need the dough, though I don't see how--I just shelled out $36.50 for a pair of running shorts with a little Bulldog on the front.

Granted, the concept is not totally without merit. "Distance Learning" is convenient. Computer-based training is economical. It breaks down geographic boundaries--college students could live in Liberia without having to travel thousands of miles just for a little ivy and brick. Makes sense--plush campuses and grassy fields have no value, except to maybe the football team. Then again, my alma mater doesn't really need the grassy fields either--we only got two first downs all season.

And e-ducation can open universities to a whole new market. To house-spouses, who have to stay home but want to get ahead. To busy mid-lifers, who want a new degree for a new career. To retirees, who want to keep up. To those irritating eight-year-olds-appearing-on-Oprah who've already finished high school. Or for the traditional student who is staying in college longer and learning more--like my son, who's been there since '93 and is still a sophomore.

Which begs the question: Do you have to actually physically sit in a class to get a degree? Hey, I never even knew where my Chem class met till two weeks before the final. But I say YES! Yes to physical college! NO to the Internet! There's a place for it on campus, but not for e-ducation. Let kids use it to buy books. Pencils. Term papers (just kidding). Or let kids use the 'Net the way we adults use it--porn, e-trading and an occasional update from

But don't use it for e-degrees. If we start opening up our institutions of higher learning to electronic classes, we'll screw up a really good thing. How can the e-xperience give kids the three things that I remember most from college: beer, pizza and more beer?

But who cares what I say? Digital degrees are inevitable. Boot up, sign-on, and graduate over the Internet. PhD via the Web? We can't stop it. If somebody wants to spend $30,000 per year and get a BA in Psychology, more power to him or her. But they will never have a "real" education, never become well rounded, never truly experience diverse cultures and perspectives, and most importantly, never get to drink way-too-many assorted alcoholic beverages from a rubber hose and a funnel.

Byline: Michael Cohn lives in Atlanta, and still is paying off his student loans.

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