If there’s one valuable thing we can all agree on having learned from our formal education it is-“working smarter, not harder” is both useful and employable advice in the ‘real world’. That is not to say that hard work doesn’t pay off, it usually does, but often falls short in satisfying long-term fulfillment. Being smarter seems to be in the limelight lately, albeit deservedly so. Nerds are trending and TED is everyone’s friend. The United States of America is the most innovative country on the globe, some exceptionally genius individuals are wholly responsible for this esteemed designation. As a result the faces of our new American hero’s include a wide range of ages and education levels including; Zuckerberg, Page, Gates, Tesla, Musk, Tyson, Greene, Sheldon Cooper (the last one was added just to see if you read them all). Armed with formal degrees and dropouts these inspiring innovators have strong opinions about the role and rewards of education and a traditional university tract into a career. Despite these differences of opinion on the usefulness or utility of a degree, both sides passionately agree changes are overdue in response to and adapting to our changing workforce and emerging generational needs.
In early 2014 a spending bill was approved by Congress granting $75 million into President Obamas “First in the World program fund for higher education innovation and reform, which will focus on competency-based education and learning initiatives.”
Now that we are approaching the close of 2014, the Department of Education has just released the annual Federal Register report on education in the US which is comprised of nearly endless higher education data and statistics. This report is also reviewed by the American Council on Education. This report includes a closer look at for-profit universities (1,400 listed) and analyzes if the quality of education provided translates into actual “gainful employment”. During the final days of President Obama's reign, he will be aggressively tightening the reigns and watching the gait of for-profit institutions to assess the overall performance or under performance of for-profit colleges. A final report including regulations that will be imposed as a consequence of the findings will be published in March (2015), for now however, there is still lab work to be done and data to be recorded.
"Graduates from an additional 900 programs the new rules capture have an average annual wage of $17,000 and owe $1,700 per year on their loans, according to the department. One in four are in default." -Inside Higher Education
Technically we are all scientists looking for a better way to do things. Even the plummeting economy has resulted in an emergence of an optimistic risk taking and entrepreneurial millennial generation. Just because traditional college pathways are no longer feasible (or reasonable) it does not mean they shouldn’t be accessible to the public masses. After all, this is why we have federal student aid, but if that borrowed money does not translate into a paying job this investment is a major loss personally and professionally.
Specifically under scrutiny is the widening gap between employers who prefer hiring skilled professionals rather than hiring based on a (specialized) degree. The Association of American Colleges and Universities reported that over 93% of employers prefer a “demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly and solve complex problems (which is) more important than their undergraduate major.”
This is where innovation and education have begun working together and while experimental show promising opportunities. Evidence of this outside the ivy covered brick wall is competency based and aimed at not just equal opportunity education but reducing student loan debt (burden) and increasing skilled, competent, professionals in the workplace more efficiently and effectively. Harvard Business Review has been addressing the potential of “competency-based education and predicts it will completely revolutionize the workforce in the coming decade.”
“Although many are still in nascent stages today, it is becoming clear that online competencies have the potential to create high-quality learning pathways that are affordable, scalable, and tailored to a wide variety of industries. It is likely they will only gain traction and proliferate over time.”-Michelle Weise, Harvard Business Review
Our academic institutions are slowly responding to these inquiries based in part on declining enrollment numbers, higher dropout rates, and the vaporous value of a frame-able degree. The popular MOOC platform, now in its second year, has reported mixed feedback as to the tangible benefits, but evidently participation and interest in this growing program continues to spread.
Aside from being employable, the hottest job title to hold right now is Entrepreneur, and in no other field are your skills immediately tested and competency results immediately felt. Rather than relying upon working your way up the ladder with a Fortune 500 company, many millennials are opting for a riskier approach of becoming or creating a Fortune 500 company.
Starting with the literal definition of ‘entrepreneur’, risk is a required trait, but calculated risk is still a smarter bet than on the long-shot (harder). These calculations of risk require an in-depth knowledge of the entrepreneurs product, service, market variables (etc.) in order to translate into a safer bet-this is where education returns as a professional asset and most importantly translates into a smarter advantage over any competitors. Co-founder and CEO of the mentor group Endeavor, Rodrigo Jordan, an Adventurer/Entrepreneur said that after 20 years, “Change making is a fine balance between taking risk and removing it.”
Becoming an entrepreneur is not just a growing aspiration attributed to millennials, many professionals in the middle of their careers have made a ‘leap of faith’ or career change based external and personal economic circumstances. The Kaufman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity reported that the number of American entrepreneurs between the ages 55 to 64 grew from 14%-23% between 1996-2012.
The goal of education should be to ignite intellectual fires, shine the light of knowledge and reason in dark corners, and most importantly be of tangible benefit to the individual making the investment in education. If the main benefits of higher education are simply gainful employment or job security, higher education no longer is beneficial or relevant to Americans. Knowledge is power, but we cannot deny the existing divergence between instruction and experience, ideally we would all have plenty of both. By adapting the structure, opening the internet doors of the world, diversifying (and including) greater variable subject matter, credible universities, such as Harvard, are not only able to widen their sphere of influence, stay connected with the trajectory of professionals, but maintain their status and desirability in a modern entrepreneurial society.
Looking towards the past we often glean valuable information about the future. More than 175 years ago, Ralph Waldo Emerson (a Harvard graduate who was dirt poor while in attendance) frequently took to close inspection of the purpose, effect, and potential benefit(s) of higher education. Emerson was critical of the institutional structure but perceptively arrived at the following (still) relevant and reflective conclusion:
“We teach boys to be men as we are. We do not teach them to aspire to be all they can. We do not give them a training as if we believed their noble nature. We scarce educate their bodies. We do not train the eye and the hand. We exercise understandings to the apprehension and comparison of some facts, to a skill in numbers, in words; we aim to make accountants, attorneys, engineers, but not to make able, earnest, great-hearted men. The great object of Education should be commensurate with the object of life. It should be a moral one; to teach self-trust: to inspire the youthful man with an interest in himself; with a curiosity touching his own nature; to acquaint him with the resources of his mind, and to teach him that there is all his strength and to inflame him with a piety towards the Grand Mind in which he lives.”
First Image by Daderot, Harvard Yard, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. Public domain by owner via Wikimedia Commons.
Second image details: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry watches a video address from President Obama to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Photo by U.S. Dept. of State from United States (Public Domain), Wikimedia Commons.
Signature image, Ralph Waldo Emerson (circa 1900) Appleton's Cyclopedia, via Wikimedia Commons.