Startup University.

So, while reading all of the doom and gloom over the mounting student loan debt, it occurred to me that maybe we are on the wrong track entirely.

Maybe we have dug so deeply into this mental trench of “higher education” that no one has stopped to think for decades that there might be another model. I don’t mean two year industrial education or skill programs, where we turn out machinists or bartenders or hotel managers, but an entirely new way to look at education.

What if instead of the $25,500 (average reported student loan debt in 2011) and the estimated $60,000 in expenses, we substituted an entrepreneurial educational program that begins in high school instead? Not for everybody, but for those who think they might have an interesting idea and who aren’t interested in the conventional college student track.

Here’s how one would work and how it might make much more sense than what we have now. Public high schools would implement an elective  program in the sophomore year that would trace the history of entrepreneurship in this country. Maybe it supplants American History for that year. Much more interesting and relevant anyway.

Juniors and seniors would be able to choose an entrepreneurial curriculum instead of American History, Industrial Technology, Math, Language or Art. I mean, have you ever learned anything useful or relevant in history, math, language or art? Courses would concentrate on topics like starting a business 101, investment and funding, marketing, consumer behavior, general accounting, equity, sales, law and economics. Lecturers could be successful entrepreneurs from the world of high technology and consumer marketing. In addition, students would begin lab projects in their junior year, focused on creating the infrastructure for their future businesses. Upon graduation, students could elect to go on to a traditional four-year college or university or opt instead to enter a startup university. They would be encouraged to take their projects with them. Where else does that happen?

The startup university could be a joint venture between our Federal government, which could divert the funds it spends on educational subsidies ($30B), the leading venture capital funds who would invest a small percentage of their new funds, and the top universities in every major city that together, could create an open-ended program that would serve as an incubator for these entrepreneurs and their start-ups. Then, high school graduates who are ready to pursue their dreams of creating their own businesses, while skipping those years of dubious value that they would otherwise spend in college, could get right down to the business of business without any student loan burden or the distractions of college campuses. Because the program would be open-ended, it would self-select winners and losers, just the way the markets do in real life. No degrees. Just startups. Like, I don’t know, one of these guys:

The experience, connections and exposures would be invaluable. The VCs and perhaps the universities would take small seed-round positions in each startup and A round stock would be available to everyone involved, including teachers, mentors, VCs, universities and incubation administrators. Students who fail in their initial attempt would be well-positioned to try again. These kids won’t need jobs.

I am sure this notion is too radical for entrenched educators and politicians to even acknowledge as a possibility, but then what does that say about our educators and politicians? Too risky. Too controversial. Too much investment at stake.  Too radical. Things are fine the way they are. The system is working. Really?

Let’s just say we get this done. Imagine the innovation that would come rolling out of high schools, and a couple of years later. Who invented Instagram? Facebook? Google? Apple? Microsoft? All in their 20′s. All in college. How many jobs? How many countries? How much impact in the world? Facebook would be the third largest country were it a country. 

Think about the simplicity of business models like Pinterest or Instagram. Instagram, a simple mobile app for photo sharing with Twitter-like friends. OK. You can apply 17 filters to enhance the cool-factor of the photo, but so what? A $1B acquisition one year after launch?  15 million subscribers? Pinterest. An online scrapbook for other people’s content? 20 million subscribers? Why would anyone want to go to college?

Upside: Jobs. Education tied directly to student’s goals. No debt. No endless credit, housing or debt bubbles. Banks no longer in control. Innovation. Entrepreneurship. Returning America to the ideals of global leadership, economic growth, individual freedom and the pursuit of wealth and happiness.

Downside: NONE.

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About Steve King

iPeopleFINANCE™ Chief Operating Officer. Former CEO of Endymion Systems, Inc. a $36m Information Systems Services company. Co-founder of the Cambridge Systems Group, the creator of ACF2, the leading IBM Mainframe Data Center Security product; acquired by Computer Associates. IBM, seeCommerce, marchFIRST, Connectandsell alumni. UC Berkeley alumni. View all posts by Steve King

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