In a day and age where an unprecedented amount of information is at our fingertips, have college degrees become antiquated?
Never before has a college education been within the grasp of so many. Grants and student loans, online classes, flexible coarse schedules and curricula, employer contributions, and part time studies have all made access to higher education more possible than ever. But along with this, have also come skyrocketing tuition fees and a proliferation of diploma mills.
Where a college education was once considered the path-way to prosperity, now many students enter college without even remedial math and writing skills or ill prepared for college level courses. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t know someone who has earned a Bachelor’s Degree, but are clearly not competent in the subject (or seemingly any other for that matter). Even those students who do well and gain a respectable level of education often have trouble finding employment in their field after graduation. Let’s face it; college just isn’t what it used to be.
More and more people, it seems, are deciding to go a different route.
For driven individuals, the idea of spending four or more years sitting in a classroom (or online), learning the information someone else has laid out for them, being presented at someone else’s pace, all while accruing massive debt is becoming a rather distasteful prospect.
Now, I’m not saying that there is no benefit to going to college, and clearly there is a huge spectrum in the quality of education offered from one institution to the next. There will always be some people who thrive in a more structured and hands on environment. And clearly, there are some courses of study which would be much harder if not impossible to gain the required knowledge without at least some formal education.
However, it’s becoming easier every day to gain a comparable education without ever setting foot in a classroom.
Armed only with an internet connection (and perhaps a good ol’ library card) we now have access to millions of books, blogs, white papers, professional journals, legal documents, and lectures. We can find prominent leaders in our field of study and connect with them through Twitter or Facebook, in some cases we can even directly ask questions or interact with them. We can participate in online forums where we can talk to professionals currently working in the field, track industry trends, learn from their experiences and trials, ask questions. We can even form Meetup groups to find others in our geographical area who share similar interests, whom we can get together with and talk shop.
Many self-driven, fast-learning people are doing exactly that.
Traditionally, a college degree has served as proof that someone had a specific level knowledge in a specific field. Now, people can exhibit the same thing through creating a demonstrative online resume through writing blogs, submitting articles to professional publication sites, and building a reputation within their field through thought leadership and personal branding.
Faced with this new reality, that simply holding a college degree does not necessarily ensure even basic writing skills, some employers have stopped requiring degrees for job posts that previously had; instead, relying on demonstrated experience either through past employment or personal exhibition.
Undoubtedly, there are some aspects of the traditional college experience that cannot be reproduced through independent study and an unstructured environment does require a degree of self-discipline and drive. However, the benefits of learning at a faster pace, being able to focus one’s efforts more specifically, and not incurring massive debt from student loans, all while simultaneously building an online presence and resume is proving worth the trade off to many students young and old (myself included).