Recently we’ve been seeing lots of articles/tweets about the College Bubble. As if this just came out of left field, it’s all of a sudden on everybody’s mind. Horror stories of students defaulting on $200K in loans with underwater basket weaving degrees, college grads making fries at McDonald’s… The latter I haven’t seen too much in my experience, as many people (especially recent grads from select schools) nowadays would rather not work then take a position they think is beneath them. I think these conversations are important and this issue will grow as a national priority in the coming year. We’re already seeing things like the UnCollege movement developing, which is awesome.
UnCollege is a group that allows young people to access all the tools to build their own practical education online and connect with others looking to do the same. The group has taken the stance that college students are “paying too much and not learning enough.” This is absolutely spot on. Other groups like Y Combinator and Peter Thiel’s Fellowship aim to give mentorship and funding to budding entrepreneurs who want to forego a traditional path. This is great too. The problem is, most people in this country have never heard of a “Y Combinator” or a “Peter Thiel.” The shortcomings of these programs is that they only cater to a select group of saavy, ultra ambitious kids. Truth is, most people in America are not hackers, and most need to learn about a field and find a trade.
Being involved in the New York startup scene and connecting with a bunch of people from the West Coast over Twitter, it’s easy to forget that there’s more to America than NY and SF. We need fundamental changes in what is seen as a “normal” path, and we need the price of college education to come down by making that market supply-demand based like any other market. At this point, colleges can charge whatever they want and people will pay it because it’s viewed as a necessary expense, and the loans are backed by the federal government. The result of this: fancy gyms, luxury dorms, bloated administration, million dollar football coaches. But more well prepared grads with real job prospects? We’ve come up short in that department.
I think Stanford and MIT releasing free course materials online, UnCollege, entrepreneurial based funding programs, all are a good start. But they do not solve the problem for the vast majority of this country. The internet is largely replacing the functionality that colleges once had a monopoly on. The knowledge can be found on OpenCulture, Quora, Veri, Wikipedia (questionable), Google. The networks can be built to some extent in online communities. The recruiting can be done on Linkedin. I was able to find a job soon after my early graduation, but I credit that largely to the network I had built in New York, not the university. The answers, on a large scale, may come from early adaptor types and hackers, but more likely they will come from mentorship, policy change, and difficult conversations between teens and their parents before they take the plunge.