COLLEGE FOR $99 A MONTH…. In recent years, Americans have grown accustomed to living amid the wreckage of various once-proud industries — automakers bankrupt, brand-name Wall Street banks in ruins, newspapers dying by the dozen. It’s tempting in such circumstances to take comfort in the seeming permanency of our colleges and universities, in the notion that our world-beating higher education system will reliably produce research and knowledge workers for decades to come.

Tempting — but wrong. Colleges are caught in the same kind of debt-fueled price spiral that just blew up the real estate market, and are selling information at a time when technology is pushing its value into the basement. In combination, these two trends threaten to shake the centuries-old foundation of the modern university.

In the new issue of the Washington Monthly, Kevin Carey explores how this might happen through the story of an Internet entrepreneur with a big, controversial idea: providing college classes without a college, online and at an astonishingly low price. The idea, Carey argues, could be great for students — in fact, it could be the best option for the many Americans caught in treacherous economic times who otherwise can’t afford the education they need to earn a decent living. But it could be disastrous for universities’ ability to provide the goods besides student instruction for which we depend on them.

Read “College for $99 a Month” here.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.