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The Death of Higher Education – Episode 3

OK – I know it’s been a while since I posted Episode 2 (click HERE to read it for a refresher), so I apologize for that. No, all of the colleges didn’t block my internet and black helicopters didn’t start circling my house. Just got busy – and distracted. I’m trying to refocus here as I feel it’s a pretty important topic. So here we go…

In our last episode, I spoke about the supply side of things – basically suggesting that there is an over-supply (as in, way too many) college grads. I realize that is heresy, but it’s true. Well, mostly true – it has to do more with the types of degrees, but we’ll dive more into that in Episode 4.

For today, I’d like to focus on the demand side of the equation. And here is the bottom line question folks:

WTF is the obsession by employers that just about every
position requires a 4-year degree?

Here are some jobs that I would argue a 4-year degree is a waste of money:

  • Anything administrative
    • Does your admin, office manager, or related person really need a 4-year degree to be effective in their role? I’m going to bet a dollar they do not even remotely use 80% of what they allegedly learned in college.
  • Sales
    • If you are 100% a salesperson, 4 years of college isn’t going to help you other than to expand your network, which there are plenty of other most cost-effective ways to do that. Spend your time only on sales-related training, which for what you would spend on a 4-year degree, you can attend a LOT of training!
  • Most IT-related position
    • I might get shot for this one, but if you are a fellow nerd, then you should focus 150% of your time on nerd stuff. Yes, this field can be very competitive, but taking 2 years of a foreign language and chemistry sure didn’t help my programming skills.
  • All art-related careers
    • There are plenty of art-focused courses, training, workshops, etc. where they should spend their time. I’m guessing that pre-calculus or maybe European history isn’t going to give them any sort of creative edge. Or God forbid, accounting.

There are more, of course, but I think you get the idea. I’m going to give a pass (for now) to jobs related to healthcare, finances, and maybe engineering. I might address those later if I can muster up some time.

Do you see the theme here? I will spell it out for you:

S-P-E-C-I-A-L-I-Z-A-T-I-O-N

Clear enough?

We live in a world that is becoming more and more about specialized skills. Business owners are encouraged to focus on their “core” and outsource the rest. And I don’t mean outsource as in offshore – I mean contract a specialist to do it.

If you are large enough to justify hiring your non-core skills as full-time employees, then you want them to be really good at the specific thing that you need them to do. Your IT person doesn’t need to know accounting – your CFO isn’t going to leverage the art history classes they took, probably ever – your marketing staff isn’t going to be firing up the pre-calc synapses in their brain – never ever.

Why am I highlighting these examples?

Point 1 – Employers are overly obsessed with the mystical 4-year degree when they really should be focused on what skills and experience does the person they are hiring have that fit the role they are looking to fill.

Point 2 – Let’s stop wasting all of our time and dollars on courses that really make zero sense for what the student is pursuing. The whole 2 years of General Education requirements (aka – “gen eds”) is complete crap and a waste of time and money. Those kids should spend those two years focusing on their careers.

Ok Joe – take a deep breath here. You are missing two very important things;

Issue 1 – What if the student doesn’t know what they want to do?

OR

Issue 2 – Doesn’t a 4-year degree show some level of commitment and ability to achieve a goal?

I am SO glad you brought those two points up!

Issue 1 – Fair point – if they don’t know what to focus on, then how the heck are they supposed to focus? I get it – no question. In our market-based economy, that would be defined as a “need” and I am 110% certain that if it doesn’t already exist, someone would/will/already has created some sort of class, workshop, or something that can help kids figure out what career they should focus on. I am also confident that whatever is developed would be much cheaper and effective than wasting a couple of years at a college taking pointless classes and probably doing poorly in many of them. Maybe a trade school is a better fit for them? I could write an entire blog on the importance of trade schools. Maybe I will…

Issue 2 – Yes, working through four years of college does show quite a bit of commitment, no question. However, at what cost? And I don’t mean just financial cost – pretty sure I made my point already there. What about opportunity cost? If they want to have a career in IT, think about how much further ahead they would be in their careers if they focused (there is that word again) for a couple years on only IT stuff and entered the workforce a full two years earlier. Focused education, two years earlier in the workforce, much, much less debt. Sounds like a nice combo eh?

 

This is getting a bit long, so let me do my best to summarize what I think your takeaways should be here:

  • Most employers are unreasonably obsessed with the magical 4-year degree
  • There are many, many careers that I would argue absolutely do not need a 4-year degree. I would submit that the majority of careers out there should not require that.
  • We live in an economy that is all about specialization – our education business (yes, it’s a business) should reflect that. Cut all the “gen ed” crap and focus on what they want to do.
  • I think that the opportunity cost for requiring the vast majority of kids to go through four years of higher education is huge, vastly under-estimated, and generally ignored, which should change.

 

So there you go – put that in your pipe and smoke it. I can’t wait to hear your feedback, good, bad, or otherwise.

I’ll try to get to Episode 4 sooner rather than later…

 



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