For over a year, Apple had been working with 6 universities on the pilot project and just started inviting other universities to sign up.
Will listening to lectures on iPods catch on? It reminds me of a scene in an 80s movie where the prof. plays a taped lecture in a room full of students' tape recorders. There is value added for the universities. The University of Missouri offered lecture podcasts online before it signed up with Apple last summer as a pilot school. iTunes U offers a free bundle (software and service package), but why? Selling new uses of the technology besides music?
In any case, students are tech naturals, so allowing value propositions to develop in the podcast arena makes sense. The market dominance of iTunes and iPods makes Apple a natural leader.
Plus, schools and universities tend to be fertile ground for Apple sales.