“Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school.” -Albert Einstein
By now, you’ve surely been exposed to the constant chatter surrounding the skyrocketing costs and quickly diminishing returns of the higher education system in the United States.
We have entered an age were millions of students are paying record prices for a degree that isn’t fulfilling the promise or purpose that the college experience entails, namely, a relevant (i.e. useful) education that adequately prepares students for a job worthy of an educated individual (i.e. not working as a cashier). Instead, graduates are finding out that their “educational investment” bought them not a competitive advantage in the workplace (as promised) but rather an essentially worthless piece paper and a huge pile of debt.
We have entered a new age where mass-produced graduates do not hold value and where the old standards of educational achievement mean little to nothing.
The educational paradigm is shifting.
We can either embrace this new environment and capitalize on the new and unprecedented opportunities that it brings or stick with a broken system that will eventually break our economy and compromise the very future of this country.
It all begins by understanding a simple promise.
The education system sells a promise; a promise to prepare individuals for life after graduation through a relevant education. However, all too often we’re finding the system doing anything But preparing young minds for the “real world.”
Yes, it goes without saying that most highly technical and professional degrees can’t be viewed in the same light. Nor am I saying that college isn’t good for anything. There are many aspects of the higher education experience (mine included) that have the potential to help young people develop as competent individuals and a contributing members of society.
However that isn’t the essential promise, nor is it the primary purpose most people choose to attend college.
No, the principle reason people attend college is to receive an education. Not just any education, but an education that will greatly increase the probability of success in the years following graduation and throughout life.
I would like to think that, on at least some level, I have a grasp on the situation at hand, as relatively short time ago I graduated from a well-known private university in the Midwest with degrees in Mathematics and International Business.
As an entrepreneur, I haven’t yet experienced the harsh reality that many of my peers are encountering out in the “real world.” For that I am thankful; yet, when looking back on my life it is obvious that my successes (even while employed) have had little to do with my formal schooling and almost all to do with attitude towards self-education and the desire for experiences over the rudimentary fact memorization that formal education emphasizes.
That’s not to say I didn’t do well in college, I did extremely well by any standard. But as almost anyone will tell you, doing well in college teaches you really only one thing: how to be good at college.
Study a few hours before tests, pull an all-nighter to write yet another heavily formatted paper, memorize the bold words and acronyms in the textbooks, try not to get too wasted with your buddies on the weekends, and you’re nearly there!
That’s also not to say I didn’t learn anything in college. However the classes that were taught well were the obvious exception rather than the rule.
In-fact, out of over 150 credit hours, there are only three classes (9 hours) that standout to me during my entire 4 years of schooling (from one of the most “reputable” business universities in the midwest, I might add). These particular classes set themselves apart by flipping the entire learning experience around and by engaging us in a completely new way. Our instructors were teaching something that they were truly passionate about and actively pursued outside of the classroom so they made a habit of combining current situations and topics with their own unique experiences in a way that forced us apply the teachings immediately. It wasn’t just another lesson in textbook theory, it was a lesson in application that made us create our own unique conclusions or insights depending on the real world situations we were presented with.
It was learning on a whole new level and exactly what college education should be.
To teachers like this, I salute you.
The sad thing was that most people weren’t excited to be in the classes that actually were worth our time and didn’t take advantage of (or even recognize, for that matter) the unique opportunity available to them in those moments.
For most, it was just another class to get through; just another 90 minutes to survive. They had already been beaten by the system before they could experience what real education was all about. Their former experiences trumped even this blatant opportunity presented to them. They were already defeated; a mindless cog just doing what they were instructed to do until the day was over and they could go home.
But therein lies the problem.
You see, I’ve seen countless individuals (dare I say, the majority) graduate alongside me without the slightest clue what was going on in the real world or how to make use of anything they have been successfully tested over. (For all the recent grads you know exactly who I’m talking about. Would you hire them? I didn’t think so…)
Even the term “learning” in this context is relative in that it is most likely only short-term fact retention, nothing more. Schools teach students that their textbook is the only thing that really matters and thinking outside its pages isn’t necessary (after all, if it isn’t in the book, then it probably isn’t on the test, and therefore, it’s not important).
That’s the problem with standardized education; it enforces and supports exactly the wrong behavior out of its subjects.
Memorization of Facts = Grades = Degree = Success
When in reality it’s much more like:
Applicable Knowledge + Willingness to Go Out on a Limb = Success
Every year an untold amount of people walk away with a degree yet have absolutely no clue what they hell they should or even could be doing in the industry or “profession” they just wasted 4+ years of their life being educated on. Then once they start working (if they get hired at all) it is often all too apparent that they are not prepared for anything other than regurgitating facts and following orders. So then they must be “retooled” and retrained in “how to think” by their employer (unless of course their employer hired them for the exact purpose of being a mindless cog, which is also quite high on the probability scale).
Sure these graduates could pass a multiple choice test and perhaps may even be able to tell you the generalities surrounding some abstract theory, but when it comes down to real value producing insights and actions they have absolutely no thoughts of their own; no ability to interpret the world. This is an all too apparent disconnect between theoretical knowledge taught in school and the applicable knowledge needed in the real world, and the major failure of the current schooling system.
If you have no idea how to implement your education towards something useful, is it really an “education” as we are told to think it is? What’s the point in the huge investment (time, money, opportunity cost) it requires in the first place?
Knowledge for knowledge’s sake?
To be completely honest, I have no problem with seemingly pointless learning. I do much of it myself. Have an interest in ______? Passionate about _____? (Fill in the blanks) Then by all means, knock yourself out. Learn all you can and pursue your passion to your heart’s desire.
That’s not the same as being brainwashed to think that you must spend a ridiculous amount of money and time to learn nothing and impress no one.
The other popular idea that been circulating recently, that college is simply a “right of passage,” is just another load of BS to rationalize a bad investment (on the students part) and keep universities in business (the institutional part), because as much as we don’t hold them to the same standards, that’s what they are, a business.
A business that increasingly relies on false promises and deception to lure in and convince young people into making a huge investment of time, money, and other often irreplaceable resources without taking a critical look at what they are actually buying. A business that takes advantage of the fact that borrowing for higher-education is one of the easiest loans you can get (also conveniently one of the only ones that doesn’t get swept away by bankruptcy).
Would you really believe that the schools don’t know this? Do you really think they would be raising tuitions so much if they knew the money wouldn’t be available?
Of course not. It would be terrible for their bottom line.
They know that popular society is drunk with the idea of “higher education” (no matter how worthless it often turns out to be) and that no matter how much people bitch and moan about increasing costs, in the end they’ll just take out a larger loan.
In the end, they always get a check.
In this way it’s not so much a business as it is a racket.
The universities get paid, the rest of us get screwed.
Now if you’re lucky you may be able to attend class at a university that more often approaches things a bit differently, such as Stanford, where the entrepreneurial culture of Silicon Valley has had an influence in the classrooms, or other (often Ivy league schools) where some of the most brilliant thought leaders of the world are able to bring their passions, experiences, and life’s work into the classroom and provide an environment where the creative process isn’t dead.
Unfortunately, for 99% of the schools out there, they can’t deliver or simply choose not to deliver a relevant education. After all, that would be expensive! Instead, most universities hide behind bold claims, manipulative wording, and terribly compiled, meaningless statistical evidence to push their agenda forward. It’s copywriting and sales propaganda in all its glory. Although when viewed behind the filter of the “college university” facade it seems harmless enough, almost as if they are organizations that has your best interests at heart instead of a business looking to expand their bottom line.
After all, is there really any difference between a college visit and (for example) getting quotes and references for a housing project contractor? They’re both selling something. They each want to convince you that what they have is the best, the most economical, the safest, etc…
Instead of educating, perhaps they just want to get you in the door and spending?
I say that’s exactly what is going on.
It’s all a facade.
A facade that is currently costing us billions every year and putting our very futures at risk.
Zombies + Debt
What could possibly be worse?
Well, I guess you could be a zombie that’s in debt? I assume that’s just about as bad as it gets.
Increasingly though, that’s exactly what educational institutions everywhere are producing.
Now I touched on this idea earlier, but I think it’s important to return to this topic and how it ties into how the world is changing (has changed) over the past century.
You see, we once lived in a time where schools produced workers for the industrial age. The jobs available for college grads didn’t require much beyond knowing a process and how the basic arithmetic or method behind it. Besides the few at the top, not much was required of the drones that worked the cubicles so schools produced them just like an assembly line mass produces parts: Good enough to get the job done and easily replaceable.
While the world has quickly changed, the universities have largely stayed exactly as they always have been. They are still mass producing mindless zombies for a world that doesn’t value the obedient worker anymore. They are maintaining their old standards of conditioning individuals to take orders and color in the lines rather than what provides value in the current world, thinking creatively and working without a guide.
This is the danger we face. Not of falling behind in standardized test scores around the world (a battle we don’t necessarily want to win) but in failing to think on our own and create a new, better future as we go.
Much to blame is the fact that universities don’t teach real world skills but simply facts about stuff. It’s easier to test on and easier to grade (factories are all about efficiency after all), which inevitably creates a huge gab between the applicable knowledge of how to actually do or apply something, and simply knowing what something is called. Universities mistake these two polar opposites for the same thing. There not.
This difference is EVERYTHING in the real world and something we need to address immediately!
We have been looking to our Universities to build the next generation of leaders, but instead, are quickly finding out that in this new world of technology and communication, what we need is less memorization and standardized schooling, and more creativity and adaptive thinking.
On one hand technology has made having the most obedient, well-behaved, and studious workers on the planet a race to the bottom. On the other hand, technology has thrown opened the doors for self-education and passionate work no matter what your background or formal credentials (if any).
People who don’t have degrees have consistently become some of the most successful people in the world. Furthermore, I would argue that most of the successful people who do have degrees got to where they’re at with little help from that slip of paper and the facts memorized because of it.
So the next question is why? Are getting better grades or completing more school the answer to America’s Problem? I think not.
Businesses no longer need huge amounts of subservient workers as they did decades ago due to new technology, process automation, and offshoring. Yet, this is exactly what schools were designed to do and is largely what they are still doing: training factory workers; people who don’t think freely but are great at following orders.
If I’m going to hire a new employee, I’m not looking for a living, breathing encyclopedia, after all, I’ve got Wikipedia to tell me what the equation for the cash debt coverage ratio is, why the hell would I pay a premium for someone who knows a bunch of freely available facts? I wouldn’t, I’d hire a cheap cog to do cog work and set them up with a Wi-Fi connection.
I don’t want employees I’m going to have to micromanage or do their thinking for them. Been there, done that. It’s a pain in the ass; almost more so than just doing all the work myself. While having a college degree certainly doesn’t ensure this sort of helpless behavior, I’m willing to bet that a large majority of recent graduates are just as clueless as the endless amounts of new graduates that I’ve interviewed, managed, fired, and have personally witnessed being pushed through the college system (in record speed, I might add).
When it comes down to it, I don’t care where or how you were educated or what degrees you have; it’s really irrelevant as long as you can do the absolute best job possible.
I hate pictures like the one below. It is an exact representation of the problem ingrained in our society and the pure helplessness that stems from the idea that the educational system will take care of you. People don’t hire college degrees, they hire intelligence and capability. Just because you have a degree doesn’t mean you are entitled to anything. The sooner we realize this the sooner we can escape this helpless mentality.
And I’m not only the only one.
Mark Cuban (billionaire entrepreneur among others) stated in an article on higher education on his blog, that: “I could care less if the source of their education was accredited by a bunch of old men and women who think they know what is best for the world. I want people who can do the job. I want the best and brightest. Not a piece of paper.”
Simply put, most none-professional degrees aren’t worth a damn. It means little to nothing, especially without supporting real world actions/proof/experience to verify its validity, which in effect, brings its value to zero (you can do that stuff anyways).
UNIVERSITIES SHOULD BE TEACHING STUDENTS HOW TO LEARN, NOT NECESSARILY WHAT THEY SHOULD BE LEARNING.
Worse yet, most of our new graduates at this point despise “learning” after having been forced an overly structured version of it their entire lives. They associate memorizing a text-book with learning and the rest is history.
That’s why Americans only read something like 1-2 nonfiction books a year on average and many don’t read at all. And I’m willing to bet that it is only that high because a few odd balls like myself read a few dozen and skew the average.
Yet there is a glimmer of hope. There are now an ever-growing number of companies completely dedicated to the complete democratization of higher education through new technologies and a complete restructuring of the learning process.
A video created by SkillShare says it all
<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/g9aPkdfK63U” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen>
Other leaders in this space include:
Then of course there are the people who take education into their own hands. The entrepreneurs, professionals, and otherwise passionate people who commit themselves to real-world learning through networking, conferences, and continuous self-education.
By now it should be fairly easy to realize that for most work outside of the professional circuit, the college “process” is simply not necessary for success, and often not even helpful, for that matter.
There will always be people willing to follow orders cheaper. What is invaluable is the ability to innovate and insights that come from a mind that has been taught to think freely.
We must take a critical look at how we approach formalized education instead of simply taking it as an obligation or requirement of life.
It’s a problem that is plaguing our world and that demands that each one of us to address several questions.
Is an education system that churns out obedient cogs our best bet for the future of our society?
-Are you ready to submit to a world that demands the inefficient sacrifice of your most important possession; your time.
-Do you want to be truly educated? Or merely have a degree that says so?
-Do you want to create tomorrow? Or merely be the pawn in someone else’s plans?
The choice is up to you…
Who do you know who would find this interesting? Or perhaps is going to school or back to school soon? Be sure to share the message, it could be one of the most important decisions they make in their lives. Use the sharing links below!
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Graham Mumm is the CEO and Chief Product Architect at ReBilder. He’s been to more than 44 countries and spends his free time reading, learning tinkering, and exploring new opportunities.