College Is A Waste Of Time And Money. Here’s A Better Way. What Do You Think?

Posted on Jun 14, 2009 - 10:57 AM PST

college-broken-homeIs the college system dead?

Seth Godin ranted about the problems with college textbooks, but isn’t the problem bigger than the books? Aren’t we really looking at a 4-year time and money drain?

I think, for many students, a better solution is to invest in them the way incubators like Y Combinator invest in entrepreneurs. I’ll show you my reasoning in this post, but I’d like to hear what you think.

What’s wrong with the college system

It creates corporate drones

Students today leave school with so much debt that they lose their independence and become pawns of whatever company pays them enough to help make payments on their debt.

What it teaches is out of date by the time students graduate

When I was in college, learning about the internet meant understanding how to search using Archie and how to browse using gopher. Archie and gopher were dead technologies the minute I graduated. That’s the problem with a 4-years school system that operates in a world that changes every 4 months.

It doesn’t teach the way people learn

I bet you that a college graduate learns more in her first year on the job than she does in all four years in college.

People learn by doing, not by sitting in a class and being lectured to.

Four years of information is too much to retain

Students end up cramming as much information about a class as they need for to do well on a test and they forget almost all of it after they finish a semester. On graduation day, most students can’t remember what they learned a month before. What they learned as freshmen is a fuzzy memory at best.

Its promise is a hoax

Colleges say that over a lifetime, graduates earn as much as $1 million more than non-graduates. But, as Forbes pointed out in an article appropriately called The Great College Hoax, “A correlation between B.A.s and incomes is not proof of cause and effect. It may reflect nothing more than the fact that the economy rewards smart people and smart people are likely to go to college.”

The truth is that college is one big party

The evidence of the massive 4-year party that college really is can be see all over Facebook.

Are there some students who study hard and learn a lot in college? Yes, but most of those students are learning despite the environment, not because of it.

We need a better model

Acknowledge the problem

We’ll never even begin to look for a solution if we keep the idea of a college education on a pedestal and refuse to question its value. We need to acknowledge that it’s out of touch.

My proposal: the incubator model

After hearing Alexis Ohanion of Reddit say how much he learned in the 3 months that Y Combinator incubated his startup I think that’s the best model for education.

Can’t we let students work on real projects, and give them experienced mentors that they can turn to for answers and advice?

Some of this is already happening

USC, for example, has a masters program called APOC which teaches community-building by giving students seed capital so they could build real communities.

And Seth Godin himself created an “alternative MBA” program where his students learned by creating companies.

What do you think?

- If you went to college, do you feel it was the best use of your time and money?

- What do you think of the incubator idea for education?

- Do you know any examples of alternatives to college that are working well?

Update: TechCrunch has an article about how lousy the system is. We need a radically different approach.

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