I have an associates degree from a technical college. Even as I was wrapping up high school with a interest in computers, I had a skepticism of computer sciences taught at a university. My four primary areas of complaint:

  • Technical knowledge rapidly goes out of date.
  • Certifications with a expiry date show mastery of a certain area within a certain time.
  • The single goal of a college degree is to get a better job (for me), and it felt like a waste of time and money for me to have to take courses that have nothing to do with technical aptitude.
  • A bachelors (or higher) degree seems to go hand-in-hand with student debt that I’ve not be interested in incurring.

Recently, I enrolled in Western Governors University, which addresses the majority of those concerns. It is one of the schools that uses a competency based model, which strongly appeals to me. It also generates certifications while pursuing the bachelors degree. It’s also, comparatively, cheap, running about $6k for an entire year of school.

Charles J. Sykes’ book Fail U.: The False Promise of Higher Education goes into incredibly scathing criticism of America’s high education system. Many of his complaints against that system mirror my own, but go into greater detail exposing the system as to having greater problems that I had expected or known. I’m not going to go into detail of his points here, but it’s a read I’d recommend and although it comes from a conservative view-point, it resonated strongly with me, and I identified six days out of seven as a liberal.

Specifically on the finances of college, which he addresses, there has been a picture going around of a 1959 receipt from San Diego State University that shows a student resident paid $41 for tuition ($340 adjusted for inflation). The Ohio State University (where I had considered, briefly, attending) charges roughly $11,666 for a resident student, presuming said student is a resident of Ohio. It more than doubles if they’re not.

Sykes spends some time in his book talking about how massive open online courses (MOOCs) are about to undermine the current collegial model, but I don’t think that he goes far enough. I think that current educational models need to be re-imagined from the ground up, K-12 and then higher education.

There are quite a few charter schools in our country that use very unusual educational models (more than I’d care to even trying to link), some of which show success and others I’m uncertain of.

But here’s one that came up in the news recently that I’m quite interested in. That’d be 42, which makes it nearly impossible to search for, so if they have a website in English, you’re on your own to find it. However, the BBC has done a piece on the new California chapter of the school. In summary, the students (who do not have to pay tuition) use online resources and peer-to-peer learning to work towards a project that they have chosen from a selection. No instructors at all.

The reason why this makes sense to me, is that it’s just like the real world. The resources that I use to do my job are my immediate peers and Internet resources. A text book would be out of date between when it was authored, printed, and then delivered to me. The information that a professor might have in her head would be out of date after a few semesters of teaching. Community college adjuncts have an advantage in this because they typically work in the field that they teach, good luck finding that at a university. So, a school in which the students succeed and fail in an environment that mirrors that of the very workplace that they’re planning on entering? Perfect.

I’m, of course, talking about technology. Will this model work for nursing or engineering or botany or anything else? Maybe, maybe not, and I don’t pretend to know. However, I do feel quite right in saying that America’s higher education system charges far too much money to provide large swaths of education that are irrelevant to the students’ eventual career path.