Is University Necessary?

I was in an interesting conversation yesterday with a successful entrepreneur.  He graduated from the University of Rochester in New York, and was asking questions about our KIVU Gap Year.

The question on the table was to evaluate the necessity of University education.  And most of you know that The KIVU Gap Year boasts of 100% of the students who complete our program go on to further their education in some form or another.  Whether they go to Community College or a top tier 1 University, we believe The Gap Year is only the beginning.  But my new friend basically challenged it by asking a simple question, Why?

The Culture of Higher Education

It’s no secret the culture of Higher Education, at least in the first two years, is a dismal failure.  University professors from all over the country constantly tell me secretly a Freshman Year at University is just an extension of High School.  Add on the newest politically correct environment where students get offended and protest the University teaching controversial ideas, it’s almost like University has become a fight between students and administration with more often times than not, the students on the winning end of the argument.

So what’s the use?

If University becomes a place that merely confirms our own worldview, then haven’t we crossed the line between higher education, and…well…babysitting?

My new friend asked,  We only have 70 plus years on this earth.  Why in the world do we spend nearly a decade trying to figure out who we are and what we want to become?  If you’re not going to be a Doctor, a Lawyer, an Accountant, or some regulated profession; aren’t we all just trying to figure out how to engage in the world around us anyway?  

I thought about it for a little while, and if we’re just talking about the culture of the University, I tend to agree.  Why do we spend so much money on the first two years of University to provide students with a $10-$120K party?  Do we really see the ROI on this kind of investment?

The Evolution of Culture

My friend made a point, We’ve gone from this agricultural agrarian culture to an industrial culture to an information culture and now we’re in this grey un-identified culture of marketplace.  We needed the information centralized on the earlier evolutions, but today you can learn just about anything you want anytime you want online.  So as we de-centralize the information, don’t we need to be a culture of entrepreneurs who know how to make lists, get stuff done, and get out there in the world to create their own future?

If students don’t know how to have skin in the game and learn what it means to make money and use money, then they’ll be late to the new game, and the University is just postponing the inevitable.  I can’t hire many of the University graduates I interview because quite frankly, they just don’t know anything.  They know theory, but very few of them have any kind of experience in the real world.  Ask your business degree students how many of their professors actually ran a business?  If they answer none, What good is that?

I pushed back a little and tried to argue the University is also about a place where we develop whole human thinking.  We give people knowledge about varieties of topics in an incubator where students can grow and become people who see the world in a comprehensive way.

How’s that working out for students trying to make a living?  He answered.  I have P.h.D. friends who are as poor as a church mouse, and I have entrepreneurial friends making millions without having a degree.  The point is, the culture were living in doesn’t necessarily need the degree.  We require the degree as a filter to interview people, but in all reality, you can make the world the way you want to make the world with just a little access to online learning.

I was stumped.

So what do you think?

As a reader of education, and a consumer of information, what do you think about the necessity of the University is?

We quantify commodities like gas, coffee, and cars.  We know how much those things should cost because we buy them at a pretty regular basis.  We don’t know much about the cost benefit of the University, primarily because we only pay for it once or twice when our kids get to school.  AND, the cost of education has risen hundreds of times faster than every other sector of the economy.

I’m not sure exactly where I sit on this just yet.  I still see value in students declaring a major, and learning on sight, but my friend made some really great points.

I guess it boils down to the old debate between information and experience.  Which one is more valuable in today’s marketplace?

Currently, I’m inclined to think the experience someone has helps them engage in today’s cultural economy, but without the foundation of information, it may be terribly difficult.

Today we’re in a grey period.  In 10 years, this idea that someone has to have a degree from a University will begin to be challenged at every angle of our society.  My friend ended.

I guess we’ll see.

But until then, I’d love to hear what you think.

6 Comments

  1. 100% agree! Our system of higher education is outdated, and change just can’t come quickly enough. When all the knowledge in the world is available in my pocket (on my smart phone), it’s no longer about knowledge acquisition – it’s about synthesis, evaluation, and application. Actually, this mentality has been prevalent in our company for a long time. And as stated on our website, “We hire smart people who fit our culture and have a capacity and motivation for success. Experience is always a plus, and while college diplomas and GPAs might indicate discipline and motivation, specific degrees are less relevant.” Unfortunately, change will take a generation, as our educational institutions are self-serving and continue to “invest” in sports teams and buildings while raising the cost of education and simply pushing the debt onto naive students. But that’s a whole different conversation…

  2. In my experience, I have always been told growing up that -A college education gives you an advantage in getting a better job and in the process helps you to grow up and begin to take on more responsibilities. Today, I believe that living life wherever you are and hopefully on your own away from mom and dad, makes you grow up and mature. College is no guarantee to a better job but a ton of debt that will take years to get rid of. Yes, a resume with a degree will help in getting more interviews but it is not the only way to land a job.

  3. I think it depends on the mindset and intent of the person going into it. Many people have dropped out of college and gone on to make impressive careers, while another majority finish and only end up leading mediocre lives. I think it’s really the education system that needs to change because now people are paying upwards of $100,000 and aren’t seeing the return at the end of their investment. What a person gets out of any experience tho is completely dependent on work ethic and whether or not they’re heart is in it or in “lament” terms, whether they’re connected.

    This video explains everything I truly feel about education: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U

  4. Another thing is expectation. People go into college expecting results and great jobs, but if you’re not getting involved with as many things that pique your interest, finding internships and fellowships that fall in line with your passion, and becoming besties with your professors, colleagues and advisors, then you may not have anything to show for your degree than the fact that you can read a book and regurgitate the information on piece of paper, but I suppose that’s most 9-5’s anyways.

  5. Sorry if that last comment sounded a little bitter or harsh, but after years of watching friends work in offices lost in bureaucratic bullshit and paperwork, I often wonder how much of our time is lost filling out paperwork and sending useless emails when we could be using that time physically helping the people we intend to help.

  6. Andy…of course we know we can talk about this, but what you wrote (common thinking among so many…) is some of the problem: I guess it boils down to the old debate between information and experience. Which one is more valuable in today’s marketplace?

    Either/or thinking is chasing us backwards in so many places in the world. Entrepreneurs seem to innately understand concepts that creatively adjust and interact with “both/and” thinking.

    That is where, at the elementary/middle school design of a place like Anastasis Academy in the Denver area is leading the charge on how we learn and what we will do with it, now, aNd into the future. Inquiry based/experience learning is what brings human flouishing that invites learning for now…and the future. This direction sets the tone for learning any time, anywhere…and thus helps to create the future as it arrives day by month by year by decade by century.

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