If you’ve got job-search woes, promotion troubles, or career confusion, grad school is not the answer. Over at US News and World Report today, I talk about the five reasons to skip grad school when you’re at a crossroads, and what you should do instead. Read it here.
Student debt is being compared to the housing crisis. Catastrophe? Imminent. We’re thrusting our kids into vast amounts of financial turmoil, and for what? Disaster. And while that may be true (education does need a transformation), debt is not the main issue on a young person’s mind.
“You would think that student loans are young people’s only priority,” argues New York Times columnist Charles Blow. “They’re not. In fact, a cleverly designed survey released this week by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics asked respondents ages 18 to 29 to choose between pairings of issues to determine which ones they felt were more important. Among domestic issues, creating jobs always won.”
Student debt wouldn’t be such a big deal if recent grads could find a job. Because the problem isn’t the loan, but the job to pay off the loan to start living life. You only care about paying off student debt if you’re ready to settle down, buy a house, get married, and have kids. But young people delay adulthood. We buy houses later. We get married later. We have kids later. So it doesn’t matter that paying off loans comes later too — if you have a job.
While there has been much ado about the cost of tuition – college debt has reportedly tripled since 1981 – students rarely pay the full tuition cost because scholarships and financial aid have risen as well. “For the current school year, the average sticker price for tuition and fees at a private, nonprofit college is $28,500,” reports NPR writer Jacob Goldstein. “And yet, the average price students actually pay is less than half that — $12,970. That’s almost identical to the $12,650 that students paid, on average, in the 2001-2002 school year.”
Not to mention, college debt is a deliberate choice young people make. I’m from Illinois, but went out-of-state for school. My mother pleaded with me to go in-state. Same education, lower cost. Of course I knew she was right, but every college student knows the price of higher education doesn’t simply include courses, room and board, but the experience of stepping out and being on your own. An experience I simply didn’t want to have in my hometown.
Many other young people have made similar choices. Kelsey Griffith, 23, attended Ohio Northern, a private college that costed her nearly $50,000 a year. “As an 18-year-old, it sounded like a good fit to me, and the school really sold it,” Ms. Griffith, a marketing major, told the New York Times. “I knew a private school would cost a lot of money. But when I graduate, I’m going to owe like $900 a month. No one told me that.”
You’ll have to forgive me if I don’t sympathize with Ms. Griffith. Smart enough to go to a private school, but can’t do basic math? I pity the marketing budget she’ll soon manage.
We deliberately choose to take on debt to get the best possible education. And while the same could be said of mortgage debt and our pursuit of the American Dream, unlike the the housing crisis, student loan interest rates are low, and the forgiveness level is high. If you don’t have a job, you can delay payments. If you’re experiencing economic hardship, you can delay payments. God forbid you want to go back to school and incur more debt, you can once again delay payments. The system does everything it can to help you get on your feet.
Personally, I went to a public school trading the corn of Illinois for the cows of Wisconsin. At the time, University of Wisconsin-Madison’s out-of-state tuition was the highest among Big Ten schools. The University of Illinois-Champaign-Urbana (located in my hometown) was the lowest. My debt totaled around $12,300 (the average per borrower is $23,300, not the $60,000-$100,000 outliers often strut out in news stories). I paid it off earlier this year, in part, because I’ve been continuously employed since graduation.
Many other young people aren’t so lucky. A whopping fifty-three percent of recent college grads are jobless or underemployed, and that’s why we care eighty percent more about creating jobs over addressing social security, lowering the tax burden on Americans, income inequality, combatting climate change, reducing the role of big money in elections, or developing an immigration policy.
Not a generation to be down on our luck, we’ll take a paycheck where we can get it. Recent graduates are now more likely to work as waiters, waitresses, bartenders and food-service helpers than as engineers, physicists, chemists and mathematicians combined. Steve King of New Communications Research argues “the grim job market is another key reason more young Americans are pursuing work as independents (temps, freelancers, etc.).”
Gen Y just wants to work. So let us. Provide jobs that could change the educational system, the economy, the world, instead of fussing about student loans. Then Gen Y could pay our debts, and that would be energy well-spent.
Education is stuck at all levels. Increasingly so the older a student gets. College students not only face back-breaking debt, but also come out of their four-to-six year sojourns with little to no increase in their abilities or knowledge.
In one recent study, a group of students were asked to take a standardized test covering skills students are expected to garner from an undergraduate education, and 45 percent of students “did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning” during the first two years of college, while 36 percent of students “did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning” at all over their four years of college.
Traditional models of education don’t deliver a quality education at a realistic or reliable scale – we would need thousands more teachers to appropriately educate everyone, and no one wants to be a teacher because they get paid like crap and are blamed for the dismal future of our kids and the next generation.
So when young people graduate college, the education they receive is mostly useless; we can all get the same education or better online. If we’re self-motivated.
“But how many people really have what it takes — the courage, the stamina, the native smarts, the willingness to admit mistakes without blaming others, the sheer and extreme initiative — to learn that way? The entrepreneurial gene is not widely distributed,” argues Alan Jacobs.
And we really need programmers to fuel the next phase of innovation. I work for a start-up, and my company is looking to hire multiple engineers. At every tech meetup I attend, non-technical founders are practically begging to partner with developers. And those who do hold these elusive titles are often recruited with incentives and bonuses.
Seems like a bunch of us would want to jump on the self-education boat and get after this opportunity to become one of the most sought-after titles in the world. But most people don’t follow-through (even when they have the express goal to learn programming). There is still a dearth of developers, despite the wide availability of knowledge on the Internet.
Which begs the question, is web education really the future?
In real life, we idealistically view education as “a dynamic and interactive environment in which students have daily real-world encounters with faculty and with one another, encounters which, unlike Google searches, are not limited by what you already know to search for,” argues Jacobs. “In many cases, those schools also require you to take classes you would never choose on your own, to read books you’ve never heard of, to articulate thoughts about issues so challenging that left to your own devices you’d just go do something else.”
True. But while Jacobs ultimately concludes that DIY education is “parasitic on existing universities,” (he is a University professor, after all), web education will be a force to be reckoned with.
First, we need to come to terms that free education and distributed knowledge is largely useless. Yes, a small cohort of people will take up the cause to learn a new skill or dive deep into a topic of study, but the rest of us will watch TED videos contentedly in our cubicles as our educational fill for the day.
The availability of free information is not enough. It needs to be organized appropriately, with content that is delivered sequentially over time instead of all at once. Each lesson or module needs to build upon the last in a clear path of knowledge. The information needs to be available in different formats and platforms to accommodate different learning styles and technologies (i.e., videos, transcripts, mobile, tablet, etc.).
And web education has to go beyond exceptional content. It needs leaders with expertise and authority, as well as a passion to teach. It needs learners that can use comments or live chats to ask questions and throw out ideas to see what sticks. And those learners need the opportunity to speak individually to the teacher through group coaching calls or individual mentorship.
In essence, online education needs to mirror the best of real-world education. Can it be better than an in-person experience? By far, yes. You can watch video-based lectures over and over again. You can pace modules to your rhythm. And, teachers won’t speak from theory, but success and experience. Not to mention an amazing community that will want to learn with you.
Web education can do what colleges can’t – deliver knowledge at an impressive scale and at an affordable price to change the direction of knowledge for the better. Log on.
I’ve had an education theme going this week and don’t want to give that up quite yet. The discussion on the posts has been fantastic, and I’d love for you all to take the conversation off my blog, onto other blogs and sites, into your classrooms and next to the water cooler.
I’m off to Philly this weekend for a wedding and plan on bringing the subject up to my table at the reception once they’re good and rowdy. Should make for an interesting convo, don’t you think?
Without further ado…
Good Weekend Reading:
“Learning could happen everywhere through pop-up education. Much like TED Talks, pop-up education opportunities would be produced by experts, professors, and every individual based on something they know well and can train others on. They would pop up in locations like theaters, YMCAs, elevators, break rooms, restaurants, and wherever there is wait time…”
“Mandel finds that college costs in real terms are up by 23 percent since 2000, while real pay for young college grads has fallen by 11 percent.”
“During the years Salman Khan spent scrutinizing financials for hedge funds, he rationalized the profit-obsessed work by telling himself he would one day quit and use his market winnings to open a free school. Instead, he started one almost by accident.”
“I propose this instead – have the awkward drunken sex, live in abject poverty, eat the bad food and pretend to understand Marshall McLuhan for a couple of years without the burden of having to knock out 5,000 words on Ford Maddox Ford’s ‘The Good Soldier’.
Make the choice not to rack up an IOU to the federal government to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars and have only a vague understanding of Foucault to show for it. Choose to tread your own beer-stained path to nebulous maturity unfettered by Union fees or having to actually read Ulysses (or pretend you’ve even started the damn colossus).”
- Tune in, drop out, get drunk, become a hairdresser, 7/17/09, Daniela Elser
“Despite calls to more closely link higher education with job needs, colleges are only ‘moderately responsive’ to changes in the labor markets, a study found.”
- American Colleges Lag in Meeting Labor Needs, 1/4/10, Karin Fischer
The U.S. government has poured $100 billion of stimulus money into the Education Department, but does paying more lead to better results?
“The decline of the MBA just makes sense. After all, the world continues to move. For about 20 years in American history, it was good to be a farmer. Then, it was good to work in the automotive industry. Then (and perhaps ending now), it was good to have an MBA. We’re all dreaming bigger…”
“A grand total of zero states got an A. A few predictable ones got Bs (New York, Arizona, California, Massachusetts), a scary amount got Cs and Ds, and three got big fat Fs.”
Links cited in this week’s posts:
How being educated can render one helpless, 9/08/09, Natalie Lange
Students as Customers – Not!, Edward Snyder
The Costs of Failure Factories in American Higher Education, 10/08, Mark Schneider
Yesterday’s post on how colleges are failing Generation Y explored the collapse of our education system. There were so many good comments from that post, I incorporated several into today’s post which explores some ideas on how to re-build:
1. Get rid of most tenured full-time professors.
This is already the reality. The New York Times reports that in 1960, 75 percent of college instructors were full-time tenured or on the tenure-track. Today, a mere 27 percent are.
Talented faculty employed purely on a per-course or yearly contract basis don’t receive any benefits, earn a third or less of their tenured colleagues, and are “treated as second-class citizens on most campuses,” the Times aruges. So, we need to create a system that rewards – and grants tenure – to those instructors who aren’t working full-time.
Why? Consider that “professoring part-time is already a hobby for overachieving architects, graphic designers, lawyers and entrepreneurs, all of whom can share insights from real-world experiences that full-time academics haven’t had.” Professors who solely exist in the academic vacuum will never contribute to an educational system that keeps up with today’s frenetic pace.
Instructors could divide their time between 20% research, 30% teaching and 50% real-world experience. Those same instructors would be awarded tenure to garner the respect, input and weight as a resident professor does today. What a luxurious and significant appointment that would be!
2. Create cross-curricular programs focused on foundational skills, not breadth of topic.
Carol Phillips teaches marketing at the University of Notre Dame and noted, “I work very hard to make the class relevant, but reality is that what I teach is likely to be old hat by the time my students graduate… Five years ago I was talking about BMW Films, now it’s Twitter. Five years from now it will be something else. It doesn’t really matter, the principles endure. Relevance is overrated.”
It’s quite possible that the field you work in today won’t exist in five years, or will be unrecognizable in its current form. Today’s jobs aren’t representative of a factory line, but instead require employees to make connections between fields and ideas, and be responsive and flexible to change.
No longer is your career a set of skills applicable to a single position. Colleges need to concentrate less on checking on the latest trends in their syllabi and more on foundational skill sets that will transfer from job to job, and moreover how to apply those skills in a myriad of areas.
3. Build continuing education, not grad school.
When education fails, so too do the businesses and innovations built upon its foundation. Graduates move into real-world jobs that leave them confined to cubicles, engaging in little professional development, and otherwise left to reading books, and in some cases, writing blogs for further intellectual development.
Conferences aren’t built for learning, but networking. Grad school isn’t much better. You could turn to your alma mater’s continuing education program, but the classes offered are based more on a person’s hobbies than scholarly achievement. Like, I love taking the adult dance classes, but I really wish UW offered some history classes. Maybe philosophy. The exact courses many colleges are cutting, let alone offering as a continuation after your graduate.
An educational system that views learning as continual and ongoing would go a long way towards alleviating the fears students have of picking a major, picking a career, a life path, and trying to squeeze all of their erudition into four to six years. It’s a tragic disappointment that we look at education as something to be finished. It takes the fun and curiosity out of learning, and it’s why a great number of students don’t enjoy school or are just plain bored.
Students will always have a choice of how hard to push themselves. A university’s job is to serve up the challenges when you do. This list is only the beginning; I’d love to hear your thoughts.
What do you think? Are these realistic? What are your ideas to improve education? Do you expect change to happen any time soon?
Originally wait-listed for acceptance at UW-Madison, I remember very clearly the night I finally received my large envelope from the school, with the Badger-red “Yes!” emboldened on the back flap. I was in.
And while the University of Wisconsin may have had doubts about letting a neighboring born-and-bred Illinois resident into their borders, I quickly forgave their hesitation, becoming a dedicated student to the school and its culture. I garnered a 4.0 GPA or darn-near close to it every semester, religiously “studied” at the Terrace, partied at State Street bars, and worked as the school’s top student fundraiser at the UW Foundation. Plus, I actually graduated in four years.
Little did I know, I was an anomaly.
A couple years later, the Lt. Governor of Wisconsin invited me to be part of a special retreat pondering the question, “What really matters in college?” with a specific focus on liberal arts programs.
Nearing the end of the retreat, we set goals and plans for the future. As the token Gen Yer, I was obviously eager, but our next meeting didn’t convene until a full seven months after the original weekend, and the following meeting was scheduled for four months after, and was subsequently postponed. Indefinitely.
“I’ve gone, I’ve done it, and I have serious concerns about my actual level of preparedness to contribute anything meaningful to my fellow humans,” one young blogger writes about her educational experiences.
And it’s no wonder. Education is failing a startling rate. Universities have declining assets, growing liabilities. An Ohio State economics professor reports that “students study, attend class and write papers fewer than 30 hours a week, for only about 30 weeks a year. While the typical American employee works 1,800 hours a year, the typical college student works half that amount on academics.”
Only half of teenagers who enroll in college end up with a Bachelor’s degree. This is such a failure to society’s economic potential that we could easily list public universities alongside the Wall Street firms and regulatory agencies that have irreparably damaged the American economy. But we don’t. Somehow, the failure of education is not as worthy of our ire.
Colleges, in the meantime, are scrambling to stay on top of the pace of innovation and the ever-changing job-market by eliminating majors like philosophy (University of Louisiana) and American studies and classics (Michigan State) after declining enrollments in those areas.
But even as colleges and universities rush to prove their relevance, everyone agrees (colleges and employers alike) that students are specializing too early. “There’s this linear notion that what you major in equals your career,” reports Katherine Brooks, director of the liberal arts career center at the University of Texas. “I’m sure it works for some majors. The truth is students think too much about majors. The major isn’t nearly as important as the toolbox of skills you come out with and the experiences you have.”
If majors aren’t all that important anymore, then why are colleges and universities still set up that way? Why aren’t students prepared for the real world? And why are educational institutions scrambling to protect traditional hierarchies and predict the next big thing instead of restructuring the educational system to run in parallel with innovation?
“There isn’t anything wrong with the teacher/student relationship. It’s only been around for two or three millennia,” says Dean Edward Snyder of the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. A comment so arrogant that we have to assume Dean Snyder isn’t intentionally asinine, but rather simply doesn’t want to abdicate his throne of being “in the “last [and] best position to influence [student’s] overall academic, ethical, and professional development.”
Nevertheless, the gross inadequacies of the current educational system should excite you. They should excite you as a changemaker, entrepreneur, parent or future parent, capitalist or socialist, as an optimist, and as a person who wants to learn and succeed.
The educational system is committing travesties against Gen Y. Ready to throw the book at ‘em?
What are your experiences with education? Did college prepare you for the real world? Your profession? What do you think?
Are online degrees an option?
(PS – Tune in tomorrow (Thu) for Part 2 of this post, in which I’ll offer some ideas for solutions.)