When you think of education, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? For most people in America I would wager school comes to mind in some form or another. Whether it’s a picture of an older professor detailing a lesson plan for a classroom, or the massive bill that comes with it these days, education is centered around the idea of a central(and most of the time physical) school framework.
Even our definitions seem to include this expectation of a centralized school being involved. But as we push towards the future, are we considering that these expectations may be purely cultural? Is it truly necessary to have a centralized form of education for our society to function properly?
Well, that depends on how you view the nature of information. The truth is in the age of technology we now have an inordinate amount of tools to learn independently. Not only do we have entire blogs and youtube channels dedicated to sharing personal knowledge, we have website programs that are free and accessible to everyone that provide the same level of knowledge a college education brings.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with them, there are at least three programs that come to mind when I think of independent education:
Khan Academy - An online database designed to provide video tutorials and worksheets to learn everything from basic mathematics to Physics and computer sciences.
edX Online - Online college courses designed by educators from top ranked schools around the world. Comes complete with study tools and eBooks for courses.
MIT Open Courseware - A catalog of MIT’s courses posted online for free. Learn the same information the college teaches, without the degree.
With the knowledge that these programs exist, it got me thinking: If all of the same information is available for free, what weight exactly does a degree hold? Think about it. If you have the same knowledge available to you for free, and you take the time to learn it, should that knowledge hold the same weight with or without a diploma in hand?
Personally, I believe it does hold the same weight. Culturally I would argue that is not the case. Especially when you consider a considerable amount of Google Users never even use the search function.
I know what you’re thinking: So what if people aren’t using google search? That doesn’t make them uneducated.
While that is true and information is absolutely available through resources other than google, it does point to a strange problem. If a service which opens the entirety of human knowledge to the general populace isn’t even being used by most of them, what does that say about the culture?
This statistic rings painfully true in the customer service sector. It’s quite sad to me how many times a day people will ask me to search for information for them when they have the exact same capability to search in their devices as well.
Ever had a person reading an online article on their phone ask you a question about that article? How many times does the person stop and remember they can search that information themselves to provide their own answers?
Personally, it’s a painfully common occurrence.
There are those of us who look at our smartphones as far more advanced a device than for just social media and games when we’re involved in something uninteresting. It really is true that anything you want to know is at your fingertips these days.
While earning an education via phone is hardly a practical matter at present, it is possible to spend time on advancing your knowledge at home. If these tools are available, what excuse is there for ignorance?
What do we then have to say about folks who have college degrees and yet still can’t figure this problem out themselves? This problem is likely rooted more in how our culture views education and information.
I still hear every day how important a college education is. Kids in town are still working absurdly hard to have an opportunity to go to the school they think will provide them a better life. Yet these tools are absolutely available to them as well.
If they absolutely had to get a degree to advance their lives, do they have to do it through a college campus? Absolutely not. I remembered a while back there is an option to test out of college courses you may already be familiar with.
Regardless of whether you already know the information, you’re expected to prove it. Using these tests, is it possible to test your way to a full college degree? Yes. It is absolutely possible.
Not only is it possible, it’s more practical as well. Let’s look at the numbers real quick.
One college credit supposedly takes 1 hour in class, and 2 hours of homework on average. A bachelors degree takes about 40 credits to fully complete. This means 40 hours of class time, and 80 hours of homework. 120 hours of work for one credit.
Most people can finish an MIT Online course in an average of 45 hours. That same article goes on to detail a student at MIT for the same course with assignments and labs would likely take closer to 135 hours of work.
So wait, you’re telling me I can finish a full course on any topic in under 50 hours? The odds are absolutely in your favor. Granted, the extra work does come with the degree, but the degree not being necessary is kind of my point.
That’s just the amount of time it would take to complete. Let’s talk money America. If you test out of a bachelors degree(40 credits), with each test costing around $100, you could earn a bachelors for only $4000. The best part: You don’t have to commit to a loan to make it happen.
Pay as you go for each test and keep yourself out of the terrifying levels of student debt that usually come with said degree. An average Bachelors degree comes with serious costs depending on where you’re coming from. If you live an learn in a public school in your home state, you can expect an average of $9,900 in debt for your bachelors.
If you’re going to a public school out of state, it’s more like $25,000. Private schools can put you back around $34,000. So you could save up to $30,000 in debt, and potentially up to 70 hours of your life by using online courseware to learn the exact same information.
Now, let’s take this information and remind ourselves that college is absolutely not completely worthless. The number of connections you can build at college through your professors and fellow students is likely what most people take away from college these days.
It’s far easier to meet people with similar interests especially when they’re going through similar struggles. I’ve met plenty of people who have used college not just for the degree, but as a place to build their future connections in the field they want to work in.
Even with the monetary and time argument against it, there’s little I can say about the value of human connection and college can definitely be a great place for it. All I’d like to point out from there, is that those connections yet again have little to do with the degree everyone is chasing after.
The goal of this article is not to make college look obsolete. It’s not even to make it look like a bad decision. It’s designed to question the value of a physical degree in our views of higher education. Should we really place so much importance on a certification?
If we don’t have some sort of certification, how do we prove our knowledge to those we would potentially work for or do business with? Sadly, that’s a problem I do not have an answer for. That problem roots too deeply in our level of trust in each other culturally.
I’ve met plenty of people without college degrees that have a greater range of knowledge than many I’ve met with a bachelors degree. Many of these people go through great lengths to prove that knowledge to others around them, and often get farther in life by building connections in the real world working than they would have building college connections.
As is the case with many things in life, the value of an education is in the eye of the beholder. However, I do believe we should shift our thinking in how we treat this endeavor considering the tools now at our disposal.