As politicians and academics debate the future of higher education, it is already happening -- in dorm rooms, off-campus apartments and living rooms around the world.
Estela Garcia, a working mother from Menlo Park, attends class at her kitchen table after she puts her daughters to bed; Tim Barham, a UC Berkeley senior, takes statistics at home after a day at work; and Oakland teenager Sergio Sandoval studies a college course while in high school.
For years, online classes existed on the margins of higher education. Then Silicon Valley startups devised slick platforms delivering elite university courses, free, to students everywhere. Suddenly, online studies have become central to discussions about the future.
"I think this is the single most transformational thing that could occur in higher education in decades," said Ron Galatolo, chancellor of the San Mateo County Community College District.