Higher Education Unplugged

Where is higher education heading?

A credential, like any common currency, is valued only because of the collective agreement to assign it value. The value of a college degree has been in question since the Great Recession, but there have yet to emerge clear alternatives for the public to rally the around. There are plenty of contenders, though, and it won’t be long before one of them crystalizes the idea for the masses that the traditional degree is increasingly irrelevant in a world with immediate access to evaluative information. _The Degree is Doomed

Or more precisely, Higher Education Unbundled.

…in the innovation economy, traditional credentials are not only unnecessary but sometimes even a liability. A software CEO I spoke with recently said he avoids job candidates with advanced software engineering degrees because they represent an overinvestment in education that brings with it both higher salary demands and hubris.

… Employers have never before had such easy access to specific and current information pertaining to a candidates’ potential. It is truly unprecedented in all of human history. And society will reorganize around it as we wake up to its power. _The Degree is Doomed

The idea is to learn what you need to learn for the job or project at hand, and to move away from the increasingly rigid bundles of ideological indoctrination that universities want to package along with an overpriced and minimally relevant education.

These alternative systems of credentialing are coming about none too soon, as modern workers experience higher levels of competition from multiple quarters, including automation.

… even if only half the jobs … are actually automated, that’s still about 23.5% of all types of jobs. That means things will get worse for everyone as A) more people will be competing for the jobs that are left and B) unemployed people will spend less money, reducing the demand for the products and services provided by the non-automated professions. And while the industrial revolution created many new types of jobs to help replace those displaced by machinery, there’s no guarantee that will happen again. Even if it does, it could take years for enough new jobs to emerge to replace the old ones. _47% of Jobs at Risk _via Brian Wang

Modern workers will need to have up to date skills and knowledge, and be quick to see which way the winds are blowing, to position themselves in the right place.

Having said all that, it is the position of theorists at the Al Fin Institute of Next Level Studies, that the greatest opportunities are for those who are able and willing to write their own tickets — people who see what is needed before others do, and who are able to create and provide it in a competent way.

Working for someone else can give a person confidence, experience, a financial base, and additional options. If that approach suits a person’s needs at a particular point in time, the flexible credentials approaches described in the articles at the top of the page should prove useful.

But if you have been raised to be a multi-skilled, multi-competent Dangerous Child, you will want to take advantage of the “unbundling of higher education” to round out your knowledge for your own purposes.

Educational possibilities are just beginning to expand. Rather than wasting one’s time arguing whether universities are doomed or whether universities are forever, a more profitable use of time might be to take advantage of the burgeoning opportunities for self-development.


800 Free Massive Open Online Courses from Great Universities __ Free certificate courses of varying length. A useful introduction to a great range of educational topics. Many (not all) courses have fixed start and end dates.

825 Free Online Courses from Top Universities Online __ These online courses allow you to sample a wide array of educational content in an essentially risk-free setting, without the campus thought police breathing down your necks.

A few alternatives to college after graduating high school __ The idea here is to avoid getting stuck in the “college is everything” mentality.

College dropouts who became billionaires __ This is just the tip of the iceberg, in terms of very wealthy people who never finished college — or even high school.

Most people in free and modern societies who are very wealthy, made their money in some sort of business setting — or inherited wealth from someone who made money in a business setting. [I understand that crony capitalism alters the equation and the definitions of “business” somewhat.]

Starting and running a successful business has almost nothing to do with getting a university degree. In fact, university educations can be serious impediments to success in business, in many ways.

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2 Responses to Higher Education Unplugged

  1. bob sykes says:

    It will be interesting to see how this plays out in engineering (and other STEM). In engineering, a license is required for certain jobs (nearly all of civil engineering), and this in turn requires a BS in the relevant discipline. BS content is controlled nationally by the engineering accrediting organization ABET. There has been pressure for a number of years to increase the degree requirement to the equivalent of an MS degree. All of this is counter to the trends you see, and the trends may be specific to computer programming. It has always seemed to me that successful programmers needed passion for detail and problem solving talent. I don’t see how most computer science courses, which tend to be rather abstract, help programmers.

    In my former life as an engineering faculty member, I thought that the great majority of my students needed the discipline of a formal course to learn. That is, they needed direction in what to study and what to practice, and they needed the carrot and whip of grades and deadlines. So, I do not believe things like MOOC’s will be of use to most students, although some will really benefit. STEM people will not be attracted to the online stuff unless it can be converted into credentials.

  2. alfin2101 says:

    Interesting, thanks. Your point about government licensing for professions such as engineering is very important to the overall discussion of credentialing.

    One workaround in some professional settings is for an unlicensed worker to do the work under the license of a licensed worker. Oftentimes, the unlicensed worker is far more qualified to do the particular task than the licensed worker.

    Engineering is in the vortex of technological transformation. A lot of things an engineer once had to know or to do are now handled by automated systems. That trend is not likely to slow.

    Everything is changing. Government and academic bureaucracies change much more slowly than the more innovative world of business, where profits must be made.

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