Prediction, there will be a well-respected, free online university supported by advertising and partnerships that will drastically change the way we think about higher education in the next 5 years.

Does that sound ridiculous to you? Have you heard of Coursera, or any number of online education startups that are taking the tech world by storm?

It’s true, it takes a lot more than money and online buzz to make a dent in the education world. Technology news is often fickle and doesn’t always translate to real world success or failure. But as a country we’ve finally come to the very true conclusion that education is in dire need of a fix. Higher ed is too expensive, and too slow to change. The best systems are underfunded, and the entire system is underappreciated by our politicians.

Combine all of that with the investment dollars that are flying around the education startup sector in 2012, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for something big to happen. Startups are working with respected universities to try to change the way we learn from the inside. Others are trying to change education from the outside.

In an age when online degrees are gaining validity and respect from both educators and employers, it’s only a matter of time before someone starts offering advertising supported degrees, or company-sponsored degrees to people all over the world. And all it takes is time to establish credibility of such a system before it starts becoming a very realistic substitute to a traditional 4 year college.

So 5 years might be too soon. But if it’s ever going to happen, it’s going to happen now. We’re standing at a crossroads, and the tech world is holding almost all of the solutions available.