It’s graduation season for college seniors.
So, since this blog is often about recognizing and adapting to changing paradigms, it’s as good as time as any to bring this one up.
The primary catalyst for this post is Tom Friedman’s excellent new book, Thank You For Being Late. (Go buy it now. I’ll wait.)
Ok, thanks for coming back. So, let’s talk about the “idea” of college and, naturally, we’ll connect it to blockchains. Stay tuned for that.
The Original Paradigm
It’s not really new to say that, for years (probably since the end of WWII) the basic social contract in America was- “to go college, get a good job.”
Implied within that was, “if you finish high school and you graduate college, your formal education is pretty much done and you are in pretty good shape for a solidly middle class lifestyle.”
Essentially, a college degree was a signal to an employer that “yes, this person is responsible enough to show up at 9, leave at 5, and get the job done by following orders/processes.”
As we’ve all seen, however, the last part of that implied contract “solidly middle-class lifestyle” is far from a guarantee these days. It’s under assault by offshoring, robotics, Artificial Intelligence, and more.
Yet, while the second half of the equation isn’t holding, it doesn’t feel like society (for the most part) has started to question the first part of the equation, the input of “college.”
Now, on my personal blog, I’ve been on a “Higher Ed” is broken rant for a LONG time, but I’ll recap my main points here.
- a traditional liberal arts education IS a good thing and should be valued
- the Return on Investment on most college degrees is sub-optimal
- the debt burden prevents young people from exploring, innovating, and being as creative as they can at the time in their lives when they have the most flexibility
- college doesn’t really prepare most people for today’s working world
- there are some exceptions-but they are exceptions
Why The Paradigm Is Broken
At this point, I’ll let Friedman take over:
“Another big challenge is the way we educate our population. We go to school for twelve or more years during our childhoods and early adulthoods, and then we’re done. But when the pace of change gets this fast, the only way to retain a lifelong working capacity is to engage in lifelong learning. There is a whole group of people -judging from the 2016 election- who did not join the labor market at age twenty thinking they were going to have to do lifelong learning…and they are not happy about it.”
Sadly, our colleges (and I’ve seen this in hiring or not hiring many recent college graduates over the past few years) do not prepare students for today’s rapidly changing world.
Friedman calls it “The Age of Accelerations.” Accelerating technology (Moore’s Law), markets (globalization), and Mother Nature (climate change) that are SO fast, it recalls the Darwinian that only the most adaptable survive.
Accelerating technology (Moore’s Law), markets (globalization), and Mother Nature (climate change) that are SO fast, it recalls the Darwinian that only the most adaptable survive.
A powerful anecdote he tells is that when he began his journalism career in the late 1970s, he used a typewriter, which was essentially the same device that had been used for nearly 100 years.
In the 40 years since, the number of technologies he’s adapted to, used, and moved beyond is quite long.
And it’s getting faster.
Meanwhile, our society is fixated upon traditional college degrees that rely on “broadcast” methods of teaching (lecturer to student) and are centered in a place, instead of recognizing that now, the BEST lecturers from everywhere are available anytime and that learning can be customized and skills can be mastered anywhere.
What’s more, tenure creates complacency (under the guise of academic freedom) and no one dares question spending on education, so colleges/universities raise their rates over and over again, knowing that the money will keep coming.
It’s like The Big Short…but worse. Or should I say, bigger,
Bottom line: College-as we have it today- in the US is, for the most part, utterly failing the students who are counting on them to prepare them for the world of the future.
The Emergent Paradigm
Here’s where blockchain fits in.
The major takeaway here is that the combination of micro-customizable learning and blockchain-based certifications that can prove competencies or skills in an immutable and personally portable way offers the possibility of a full-blown “enlightenment” type explosion coming to the industry.
It not only levels the playing the field, giving access to many, it actually raises the playing field for everyone.
You aren’t bound by an institution. Your credentials can be determined and verified by an employer.
And the value of those credentials can be measured in real-time in the market.
This is early days (which is really, really unfortunate), but at least I now feel like there’s an answer to “what comes next?
My Advice to Students Today
Sadly, most of society hasn’t recognized this yet so you’re in a transition period. A few things then.
One, don’t overspend on college, particularly for a liberal arts degree. (Engineering and CompSci are an exception where name brands like MIT, Carnegie Mellon really deliver value).
Yes, there’s some ‘brand lift’ from attending a top tier school, but I skeptical that the ROI will be there. If you get a scholarship, go for it, but be intentional. Your parents graduated college before the Internet was a “thing.” Don’t accept their paradigm blindly.
Most likely, getting a college degree makes sense, so think cost-benefit and then CRUSH IT.
On top of that, OWN your education. Think about how to become a lifelong learner.
That’s the most critical.