I could write a companion post to this one with 5 reasons TO send your kids to college, but this post feels more compelling right now. It starts a conversation that needs to be had.
So, with that being said, let's dive in to my 5 reasons NOT to send your kids to college.
1. Many 4 year degrees no longer make economic sense.
Since 1978, the cost of college tuition has risen at more than 4 times the rate of inflation. It’s even risen twice as fast as the cost of medical care.
In 1990 I was a freshman at Tufts. For a freshman in 2015, a year on the Medford MA campus costs just over $61,000. After 4 years, a Tufts degree will run well north of $250,000. My Bachelor’s degree was in English with a teaching emphasis and the average starting salary for an English teacher in my home state of Utah is $32,000. So it was simple economics that led me to leave both Tufts and teaching.
My example may be stark, but it's not unique. For many of the degree programs available at a traditional 4 year college, from the humanities, to history, to social science, the tuition to salary ratios are similarly poor.
2. There are better options for education.
Much of college teaching is still lecture based. If you miss something, or a concept is difficult, the lecture moves on anyway. If you’re already familiar with some of the material, you still just sit through it with everyone else. Especially at prestigious "research" universities, teaching is generally considered a secondary obligation. Faculty are rewarded and honored far more for research and publication than for teaching. The quality of instruction tends to reflect that reality.
By contrast, an online market is emerging for certification and hands-on training programs that are self-paced, student-focused, and competency based. My current favorite in this category are the “Nanodegrees” offered by Udacity. Why is this?
- Students move at their own pace.
- Nanodegree seekers have access to mentoring as well as detailed instruction if and when they need it. In this way, the instruction is flexible and learner adapted.
- Completion of the degree means that the student has a portfolio of work to show for their effort--they’ve actually built something that proves they have the advertised skills.
Competency-based programs for less technical, but still marketable skills like writing and critical thinking are also emerging. Western Governor’s University, for example, makes these a basic part of their degree programs. I predict that many more student-centric, adaptive, and competency-based programs will emerge in the coming years. The demand is there. A recent study reported that 4 in 10 adults without post-secondary degrees have thought about trying to get one in the last 12 months. A robust marketplace of learning platforms is emerging to meet that demand. Communities with an effective library provide many additional opportunities for retooling and self-directed education.
3. Colleges are not likely to change any time soon.
True, there is talk at traditional colleges about shifting their focus to be more student-centric, adaptive, and competency-based. And talk is really what higher ed does best.
I attended an eLearning conference in February where a prominent higher ed consultant said that faculty acceptance of the value and legitimacy of online education has not changed much in the last 10 years. The tenure system makes faculty members feel secure in the status quo and gives them little incentive to change.
Colleges have elaborate bureaucracies and diffused decision making structures. This is reflected in the 3 or 4 learning management systems currently in use at traditional colleges. They are uniformly awful from a student perspective because they were built to accommodate the needs of the administrators who buy them, not the students who use them.
A college professor friend of mine told me that his institution was really getting serious about eLearning. So serious, in fact, they had commissioned the faculty senate to create a white paper on the subject. A white paper. Well that’ll shake things up.
4. There are better clubs to join.
Many smart people are willing pay for college because it will buy membership in an alumni network. It’s true that "who you know" can make all the difference in what doors are open to you. If you’re looking for a job, though, the very best networks to be a part of are the ones that emerge among people actually doing real work together.
Competency-based programs give learners a portfolio of real work. In high-demand fields, that's usually credential enough for an entry-level position. If you were interviewing two candidates for a position, one with a portfolio, a resume, and a good reference, and the other with a 4 year degree, which would you choose? A note to candidates here: if you get passed over by the employer who went for the 4 year degree, count your blessings. Consider the following comment from Shark Tank investor Barbara Corcoran: “Most of the times I ever lost a lot of money with somebody, they graduated from Harvard.”
5. A portfolio of real work marks you as a finisher.
The most compelling reason I’ve heard employers give for requiring a college degree is that having a degree marks you as a finisher. It shows you can play by a set of rules and grit it out till you’ve completed a goal. True. I would also call the right collection of nano degrees compelling evidence of grit.
I know a guy who started a company very early in his undergraduate career. The company absorbed his time to the point that he stopped pretending to go to school. He sold the company last year for $50M. He’s currently back at BYU taking a few classes because he wants to play soccer. He has no intention of finishing a degree, but the BYU business school is eager to have him around. They would love to list him as an alumnus.
The moral of the story? Achievement trumps credential. Always.
It's a reality that our most important learning is from self-directed education. Niche Academy believes that a competitive workforce demands workers that know how to learn. We believe that effective libraries in the business of providing self-directed education opportunities to the public.