Institutes of Tired Education?
As economy lags and student debts increase, some wonder if traditional higher education will be obsolete.
As student loan debts pile up, overqualified graduates find themselves in low-paying—or no-paying—situations, and Americans begin to question the value of a college degree, students and parents are wondering if going to university is indeed the sole path to success. With more online universities cropping up on the Internet, and vocational schools gaining popularity, perhaps the answer lies in a more diverse range of acceptable choices than ever before.
The road to success is changing, but that doesn’t mean education won’t remain a valuable endeavor, say experts.
“I think that the traditional notion of higher education is certainly becoming obsolete,” Pam Rambo, Ed.D, of Rambo Research and Consulting.
“By ‘traditional notion,’ I mean the mindset that assumes that the only way to be successful in the workforce is for a high school graduate to first leave home for a four-year baccalaureate degree,” she explains.
While it is true that many graduates find themselves in careers or jobs that don’t directly capitalize on their education, that it no reason to discount college altogether, says Aaron K. Harris, co-founder and CEO of Tutorspree.
“If you look at what college teaches you, and how those skills are applied, you see a disparity in a lot of professions,” he says. “But I don’t think that’s an indictment of college itself. It’s an argument against it being the right move for everyone. That all depends on what you plan on getting out of it, and what you could be doing otherwise.”
The idea that college is a must for every person is problematic, Harris says.
“The societal pressure that everyone has to go is dangerous,” he argues. “But there will always be a group of people for whom college will make sense. The trouble you run into is when people start making blanket statements about college being worthless or critical to happiness.”
Students should be encouraged to discover and pursue their unique interests through training, coursework, or an apprenticeship, Rambo advises, adding that this path may or may not lead to a degree.
There are several options, she maintains.
“For [some students], a unique collection of college courses may suffice,” Rambo says. “Still others may do best to pursue an internship in combination with some sort of training.”
In fact, there are services like More Marbles that are altering the current model of higher education by fusing hands-on business experience with academia.
“Instead of reading a textbook about marketing all semester, student teams actually do a marketing project for the client,” explains Andrew Allen, president of More Marbles.
”We've done 50-plus projects with over 200 university students,” he adds. “[There is] definitely a trend in higher ed towards hands-on learning. Students get real skills and sometimes job offers as a result.”
The concept that technical training or two-year degrees are for people that couldn’t make it into four-year programs is also disappearing, Rambo notes, as they gain popularity.
While more options are available, the four-year B.A. is still alive, she contends. “Rather it is becoming an option in a sea of educational and training opportunities that include electronic learning to complete a high school diploma and gain college credit or earn a degree.”
”Today's students have far more choices to get where they want to go and do not have to be saddled with a large amount of student debt,” Rambo maintains.
Finances are a driving issue when it comes to deciding which route to take beyond high school, experts agree.
“College alternatives are cheaper and better at this point if you just care about knowledge, practice and pace-of-learning,” says David Lancashire, founder of Popup Chinese.
However, there are also advantages to traditional versus online education, he adds.
“Physical classes solve a number of problems—motivation, guidance—that are hard to solve online, especially if you don’t have one-on-one attention from a teacher,” Lancashire says. “And Google can make it very difficult to find good stuff online, so there is not a lot of innovation in the institutional education market; adult education is much more vibrant.”
In the midst of so many educational alternatives to the traditional B.A. track, students are essentially consumers, and must be vigilant about where they invest their money.
“It is undeniable that the education market is largely a snake-oil market: there are lots of products that claim they are educational, but most businesses spend money on marketing instead of content, so students face high prices for bad products,” Lancashire warns. “This is going to change, but at least for now college has one advantage in most fields: it is at least a known commodity in the sense that while it may not be the most effective institution for educating kids, it is far from the worst.”
Despite all the emerging educational options, education consultant Jolyn Brand contends that the value of a traditional college education will not disappear.
“Although there has been a ‘trend’ to discount the need for college, it is actually even more useful in this economy,” she maintains.
“Americans with college degrees make more money, have more security—[meaning] less unemployment—and are more likely to be happy,” Brand says, citing an article on the topic.
“Even careers that don’t require college degrees, everything from cashiers to plumbers, make more money with degrees,” she concludes. “College is the best investment of money!”
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