Tag Archives: High school

Its Easy To Drop Out, But Don’t Cave To Bogus Arguments.

Today’s post is by Michael Broady, our Special Issue Editorial Contributor. The topic is, well, topical, as millions of young people just graduated from college and are preparing to figure out how to enter the work force in the next few weeks. And, maybe asking themselves whether all of that was worth it.

This week, I listened to another sound bite for an upcoming dialogue on NPR about college; the interviewee intended to argue that college shouldn’t be the go to choice for high school grads.  The idea that college may be a counterproductive life choice is nothing new. I’ve listened to the reasons why it’s a waste for probably the past 5 years – four of which I spent earning my B.A., and I’m unimpressed.

First off, I recognize the financial burden of college. Last year college loan debt averaged $25,000 per student. No doubt, that number will be higher this year.  In no way am I supporting the steady increase in tuition at both private and public universities.  That higher education is unaffordable for the majority of us is absurd, not because it’s worthless, but because it is so valuable.

From a purely financial perspective, David Leonhardt’s article in the NY Times last year shows that college graduates make close to 40% more money than high school graduates – even in job fields that don’t require high school degrees.  Another study shows that investing in a college degree is equivalent to making an investment with returns of 15.2% per year.  That number is far higher than average earnings in stock market investments or investments in corporate or government bonds.

Arguments against a college education aren’t purely financial though. There’s been a tonal shift in the discussions and I don’t like what I’m hearing. It seems that the college degree itself is being undervalued, that it has come to generally represent things stuffy and outdated. When I told a friend I’d be writing on the topic, she pointed me to an article about start-ups building sites where you can go to college for…free-ninety-nine!

The creator of Udemy lays it out for us, in case we’re confused: “It’s cool to be a drop out these days,” Bali says. “It’s the dying companies that value college degrees. You have to think beyond that piece of paper.” The same article also points to another site, Udacity, with the same goal – to give people access to courses and the power to take their education into their own hands.

This post isn’t a thorough review of the above-mentioned sites, but I did check them out.  The latter’s classes are actually free to a certain point and the classes look like they could be really useful, if you’re interested in building a website or cryptology.  The former is a bit more of a free-for-all with some classes costing more than $130 and others free.  One course discusses energy and the environment; another course tells you how to promote your own Udemy class to grow a student base – to increase sales. Even if these sites are geared more towards photoshop and wordpress tutorials, I’m a fan. I’ll probably even take a class.

Interesting as these courses are, ultimately, they strike me as supplementary to a college education, not because the info isn’t all there – I’m sure “Fundamentals of Physics” taught by Yale University’s Ramamurti Shankar covers everything a 200 level class should.  For that matter a library should have all of the physics you could want too.  The courses are supplementary because neither the textbook nor the free online class provide office hours with your teacher/T.A., or help you to build study groups, or encourage you to study loosely related topics based on a personal assessment of your likes/dislikes and natural aptitudes.

Mainly (and this is a constant but valuable response to the old do it yourself education) college is about learning to think, to process the world through selective filters, to draw connections and value the steps toward discovery more than it is about any specific equation or class.

 

Sure, plenty of people find success without college and some grads become bums.  Negative reactions to big corporations and institutions are absolutely called for and necessary; that doesn’t make dropping out of college a practical option, and I’m not a fan of loose language that devalues the kind of education college provides alongside the broken system that allows for such hyper-inflated costs to that education.

Propagating that message seems like a solid step towards lots of very well made wordpress sites with very little worthwhile content.


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.