It is understood that in order to get ahead in life, our kids need a college education. It seems, though, that the term “college education” is a loaded term. It means a certain level of knowledge attained. It means credentialing from a particular set of institutions. More than anything, though, it means status. It separates the haves from the have nots. It is a ticket that needs to be punched in order to have access to that “high-paying job,” or actually, an interview for that high paying job, or more accurately, the chance to be possibly interviewed for that high-paying job.
Those of us who have gone through the process ourselves owe it to our kids to make sure they get the same opportunities as we did. Looking at this, many parents are looking at the implications, financially and otherwise, for getting their kids prepared for college. There is an entire cottage industry dedicated to making sure kids have fine tuned resumes from their high school years, they’ve picked the right college, the right program, they’ve kept their grades up so maybe they will get a little help with tuition. But in the end, these students will be spending tens of thousands of dollars, and four or more years of their life for a piece of a paper which qualifies them to get an interview…maybe…with a potential employer.
But what does this piece of paper mean? Does it mean that they are actually prepared for the job? Does it mean that they have received the comprehensive, well-rounded, liberal education that they were promised? Possibly. There is mounting evidence that (statistically) this isn’t the case. Costs have been going up, and average income of college graduates (and basic competencies of college graduates) have been going down.
By now, many have heard of services called “MOOC”s (Massive Open Online Courses), which utilize online platforms to deliver courses to anyone, anywhere, for a fraction of the cost of a traditional four-year program. MOOCs are essentially to the higher education status quo what Uber is to the transportation status quo. They have come a long way over the last few years, and ironically, the most elite universities in the world are participating. The results from the courses and programs very often show a high level of rigor, and good evidence that the students completing the course have attained competence in the subject material.
The challenge here, of course, is that employers have been conditioned through a different set of computer algorithms. Namely those which filter out anyone without a “bachelor’s degree.” For two reasons, it’s valuable to consider this challenge as not insurmountable.
First, most of us are familiar with the fact that the best jobs are rarely attained through being tossed in the ring with dozens or hundreds of other candidates with the same resumes from the same set of schools; rather they are based on good networking, and hard work getting the right opportunities to get in front of the right people.
Second, it is only a matter of time before forward-thinking employers begin to reap the results of hiring based on competency, and not simply pedigree. Employers are not dumb. Once they begin to see that they can get a more accurate picture of a potential employee’s qualifications with a set of job-relevant certificates than a Bachelor’s and a GPA, then things will begin to shift. There is already healthy indication that some employers — especially tech-related employers, of course — are looking seriously at candidates with MOOC-based educations. It should not be surprising that “disruptive” technology companies, not too seldom created by geniuses out of a garage who may or may not have finished college, would begin to look at a disruptive education option as a reasonable improvement on lining up a bunch of college graduates with the same degrees.
There could be another, long-term challenge, though. MOOCs are not exactly new. Over the last few years, MOOCs have been largely buttressed by the fact that the most elite universities, including the Ivy League, are aggressively participating. This makes MOOCs’ successes somewhat dependent on the institutions they are actually geared to disrupt.
The main thing to know is that there are options. Do your own research. If your student is on a good path to a university, and you’re comfortable with the path they’re taking, and your budget can handle it, then you may prefer the traditional campus approach. But given the sky-rocketing costs, and the fact that few of us end up doing what we went to college pursuing, it would behoove anyone to take a good look at this technology and explore the options within it.