I’ve been pretty down on higher education lately. Rising costs that don’t seem to equate to raising educational levels, a large amount of mismanagement of funds and schools’ increasingly brazen one-ups-man-ship in terms of building larger buildings and offering unnecessary perks to students. I don’t like it.
But I’m a bit hypocritical. I’m a graduate of an engineering program that taught me quite a bit, in buildings that were just a touch larger than they needed to be. Further, I encouraged my wife when she expressed a desire to go back to school this semester to try out a completely different field.
So why was I ok with that? Access.
In my case, access to facilities. Access to faculty capable of teaching me difficult concepts. And most importantly, access to co-ops and potential employers. Similar reasons abound in my wife’s case, though she’ll be taking many of her classes online, so maybe not the facilities.
And what about everyone else? These days, there are countless ways to learn, much in the same way as my wife will be learning. What’s more, you can do it completely free. Udacity, MITx, Coursera, OCW, Khan Academy, Code Academy…the list keeps going! On a non-educational front, you could even consider the University of Reddit or even just looking up instructional videos on YouTube! If you want to learn something, you have little to complain about these days in terms of access. If you cannot find a way to learn about something these days, you likely need to take a course on search terms.
The value these days lies in access and opportunity. And that is rapidly shrinking.
Mostly, we see this in terms of a piece of paper. You have completely the requisite courses at your school and have fulfilled all of the requirements. “Here’s your diploma, hope it gets you a job,” they say. Though many in Generation Y are finding that it’s not the case, thanks to a large number of degreeless-yet-experienced people being unable to leave the workforce.
I maintain that the employees of the future will be:
- Found and retained due to their ability to maintain a professional network
- Willing to relocate and/or commute for their work because of the niche fields that will employ people
- Judged and hired based on their experience, not their degree
- An employee willing to take on new challenges and question authority
- better than average a communicating within and without the organization
- Willing to continue self education on their own because they are passionate about the profession (i.e. engineering will no longer be “just a job”)
Yes, those are all links to articles I have written, but I wrote them for a reason. There is a dramatic shift coming, in my opinion, and I think wise engineers will harden themselves against some of these disruptive changes.
Another change I see coming in the near future is apprenticeship, at least in the USA. This has existed overseas for many years (and in smaller forms in the US). My brain can’t get past the fact of the accessibility of educational material these days and how schools no longer have the monopoly in this area. What is stopping someone from going and learning the relevant job skills from an apprenticeship program and educating themselves on the theoretical information on their own? I think this is a large shift in how education will work in the future.
If you’re a student, I would not tell you to drop out. Instead, I would tell you to seek out…opportunity. Go find the internships, ask your professors out to coffee (platonically!) and ask them about their research and how they got where they are (see also: networking), get involved with technical and professional organizations and do whatever you can to squeeze that last bit of value out of your ever-increasingly expensive degree. You owe it to the person that will be paying off your loans for the next twenty years….you.
Thanks to Wally Gobetz for the school picture.