We Need a Revolution in Education

There is $1.5 trillion in student debt in the US.

And while the price of college is increasing exponentially, so is the unemployment rate of recent grads.

Meanwhile, Harvard is laying off staff during the corona virus pandemic in spite of it's $40 billion endowment.

Guys... what the fuck is going on here?

What is College Supposed to Do?

Going into college, I had one goal in mind.

Get a degree so I can get a job.

I have to imagine that this is the mindset for most Americans. It was when I was in college. There were a few kids who seemed actually interested in learning, but at the time I couldn't make sense of it.

Why pay attention in class (or even go at all) when I can buy lecture notes for the entire semester for like $20? It's not like I need to understand the material. I just need to be able to memorize and regurgitate whatever needed for the tests or essays.

Paul Graham wrote a great essay on the gamification of our education system, but I'll summarize to that if college teaches us anything it teaches us to hack college. 

But what should college do? 

Shouldn't it teach us how to learn and why we should care to learn at all? How to think and make decisions?

Shouldn't it teach us not only how to get a job, but succeed in it? How to choose a career path given that we're going to spend roughly 80,000 hours of our life working?

Shouldn't it teach us how to live a useful and fulfilling life? How to be happy? If so, then why the hell are so many college kids depressed?

Why Are Colleges Failing Us?

I think the starting place for a question like this is to consider the incentives. 

People don't like to change their minds. Admitting that you're wrong about something is painful. In this sense, we're not really incentivized to change our minds. Especially when there are no repercussions for being wrong. 

I think this is the state we find ourselves in when it comes to colleges and the education system at large. We have a generation of boomers occupying the majority of meaningful positions at colleges and government. Prices, spending, and depression have gone up, success rates have gone down, and yet these people seem content to maintain the status quo. 

Why? Because their job security and pay are not attached to the results of their actions, because changing their minds doesn't feel good, and maybe because of some ulterior motives around endowments and student debt.

So we've got a 1990s playbook for a very different 2020 world. 

Bernie Sanders is calling for free college education for all. But is the price worth it given the results? 

The Alternatives to College

With the corona virus pandemic forcing schools to shut down and go online, I think many will question the $30,000 or so per year that they're paying for YouTube lectures and Zoom calls. 

But an online education can be very effective. I don't think my education really started until after I graduated college and began digesting videos, podcasts, books and online courses at my own leisure. 

Online educations just aren't worth $30,000+ per year. Especially when most of the content can be found online for free or close to it. 

There's really no excuse to having a lack of knowledge or skills today. IT'S ALL LITERALLY FREE ON THE INTERNET. 

You just have to want to learn.

And maybe that's the biggest failure of the education system. It reliably manufactures students who don't actually give a shit about learning anything. 

NYU business school professor Scott Galloway is imploring incoming college students to take a gap year and serve the country through the Peace Corps or maybe a Corona Corps of sorts.

What better way to learn to care than by serving others?

I love the idea of a gap year, but I would also implore young people to question whether traditional college makes sense for them at all. Some career paths require undergraduate and graduate degrees, but we're seeing tech companies hiring young people without degrees so long as they can do the work.

Again, there is so much free educational content on the internet if you can just muster up some interest and follow through. 

While I don't think online schools, courses, podcasts and books provide the networking opportunities that a traditional college will, there are likely a lot of people trying to solve for this now given the isolation requirements of our present moment, so I think this could be less of a problem soon.

And if you know yourself well enough to admit that you're just not going to do the work if it's online, and you want the in-person networking of traditional schools, try some of these IT schools that you don't pay for unless you get a job. Unlike traditional colleges, the incentives here are aligned for you to do well. And while most seem to be in the IT space, I imagine that more of these will pop up along broader fields including trade schools. 

While I don't think that traditional education will change until we get new leaders, we don't have to wait. We can forgo it altogether. I would bet that there will be impressive innovations around online colleges and online home schooling fueled by the current necessity to stay inside. Why should elite educations be limited to the lucky few? Why isn't Harvard spending it's $40 billion to educate the masses now that we have the online tools to do just that? It's because Harvard is closer to an investment bank than a college. It's time we realize that and revolt against traditional education. 

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