Could Gen Z Pass on College?
As many of you know, I have a ten-year-old girl who is about to embark on the exciting adventure of homeschooling. Education is very important to us or maybe I should say knowledge is. Knowledge on a broad list of topics driven by her interest and not only dictated by what a particular curriculum decided it was good for her to know at a given age. Knowledge that treats facts as facts, but does not tell the story only from one viewpoint, one voice. Knowledge and call it street’s smart that will get her ready for life. While she is still a long way away from college, her dad and I have been discussing the pros and cons of sending her to college. For the longest time, college was the way you prepared your kids to the work world, it was the last step you took in that journey of enlightenment before you became an adult. Over the past couple of years, however, some, including me, have started to question whether the high cost of college education is worthwhile.
College Education has become a Consumer Product
I recently watched a Ted Talk by Professor Sanjay Samuel who very eloquently explained that college education has become unaffordable for most if not all American families. The combined debt that students in America hold amounts to over $1 trillion dollars and all in the name of securing a better-paid job. Education is an investment in a better future, they tell us and we tell our kids! What it has become though, is a way to categories future workers so companies can better assess them before hiring. Education is a consumer product where teachers are service providers, students are consumers and subject matter are content. The profit is with the loan companies but the return on investment for students is questionable. Education is being upsold, he says, so that college is the new high school. The question boils down to whether or not the higher pay one gets at the end of a college degree is worth the amount of debt that got you there and the years in lost wages. Economists say it is if you complete your degree, but Professor Samuel argues that the only reason that this is the case is that wages for people with only a high-school degree have been cut time and time again.
The solution to this problem according to professor Samuel is for parents and students to treat higher education like a consumer product, in the same way, the ones profiting from it have been doing for years. What if there were an app that could calculate for you an income-based tuition linking your future income to how much your tuition will cost? Tuitions, after all, should not all be the same for all degrees. An engineering degree uses much more resources than a philosophy degree but the cost of tuitions is the same even if the engineering students will earn considerably more than the philosophy ones.
Supply and Demand
The solution to the education problem Professor Samuel presents is very intriguing and I for one, as a parent, would love to be able to help my daughter figure out her investment. With changes driven by technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning the “value” associated with the degrees might differ in the future. Sadly, though, education has become such a business that, as it is often the case when there is too much money at stake, things change slowly.
Companies are breaking with Past Requirements
Continuing the consumer market analogy, another problem I see with education is one of supply and demand. For many years, both here in the US and in Europe, corporations have been looking at degrees as the first pass for sieving through candidates. So to meet this demand of candidates with higher degrees, supply had to step up and more and more students took on college, masters, and doctorates. This created too much supply which caused many to be underemployed in their profession vis a vis the degreed they held.
When discussing our daughter’s future with my husband, this circle of supply and demand was my biggest concern in giving college a miss. What if when our daughter applied for a job she was the only one without a degree?
Fortunately, for my daughter and her Gen Z pals, things are changing and companies are breaking with past requirements. Recently, job-search site Glassdoor compiled a list of 15 top employers that have said to no longer require applicants to have a college degree. On that list, there are tech companies Google, Apple, IBM, retailers Home Depot, Lowe’s, Whole Foods and financial services Back of America and Ernst & Young.
Change might bring Less Debt, more Diversity, better Skills
The list of jobs offered by each company on this Glassdoor compilation is not as comprehensive as I would have hoped but it is hopefully the first step. Considering candidates with hands-on experience through boot-camps and vocational courses open up the opportunity to have a more diverse workplace by widening the hiring pool. Such a move is not just good for increasing diversity but also to ensure that the people you hire have the most up to date skills. Especially when it comes to technology things move so fast that your skills might be in need of a refresh by the time you end your four-year degree. Gen Z is very much a hands-on-generation already, just look at the many YouTube videos that teach how to do things from gaming to cooking. And you never know, if learning will not have to be linked to income alone, Gen Z might be so lucky to rediscover the pleasure to learn for learning’s sake, not for money’s sake.