Schooling is not equivalent to learning, a fact that is becoming all too obvious in the modern workplace.
College graduates are often dismayed that, after spending four years attending classes, they lack the practical knowledge necessary for real-world success. Employers commonly weed out job applicants by requiring a degree, making it necessary for potential workers to attend school and put themselves thousands of dollars in debt for knowledge they could have acquired elsewhere.
In many cases, the system simply isn’t working.
A recent Smart Money article from Jack Hough proposes that the traditional college degree ought to be done away with altogether:
“The student who secures a degree is increasingly unlikely to make up its cost, despite higher pay…The employer who requires a degree puts faith in a system whose standards, you’ll see, are slipping. Too many professors who are bound to degree teaching can’t truly profess; they don’t proclaim loudly the things they know, but instead whisper them to a chosen few, whom they must then accommodate with inflated grades. Worst of all, bright citizens spend their lives not knowing the things they ought to know, because they’ve been granted liberal arts degrees for something far short of a liberal arts education.”
Those are radical words. But, Hough may be on to something.
Do Schools Have a Monopoly on Learning?
Colleges can and do help students learn. However, schools aren’t the only place where learning can occur. In fact, most learning happens outside the walls of academia – in the workplace, the home, and the community.
When employers require college degrees, it sends the message that schools have a monopoly over learning. Are people not qualified and capable of studying on their own? Should learning come with a warning: “Do not attempt this at home”? Of course not.
Punished by Fancy Initials and School Seals
Ideally, a college degree would be a simple representation of a person’s learning and ability. Unfortunately, it’s morphed into something much more enticing and harmful to a student’s psyche.
A recent book, Punished by Rewards, discussed how elementary and secondary students were harmed by the implementation of rewards-based motivation systems. When students were controlled by rewards (i.e. sticker charts, recess coupons, etc.), the rewards became the primary motivator for their actions.
Take a student who loves to write stories. He does it every day simply because he loves imagining adventures and playing with words. Now, tell the student you’ll put a sticker on the chart every time he writes. Instead of writing out of love, he’ll start writing to get the stickers. Once you take the stickers away, he’ll stop writing all together. The extrinsic motivation has actually caused him to lose his passion.
A college degree is the ultimate form of extrinsic motivation for adult learners, and it can destroy a person’s love of learning.
A college degree is the carrot schools use to entice people to pay $40,000+ to sit in classes and follow a pre-designed curriculum. Students know that the degree can help them get better jobs, make more money, and find respect with their peers.
When students “work toward” a degree, they become more focused more on the outcome than the process. The degree becomes the reward and the ultimate goal. Any learning that does occur is simply a byproduct of the race to the finish line.
Degree Alternatives: The Knowledge Transcript
If we stop relying on the college degree, employers will still want a way to evaluate applicants. People will still want a way to prove their knowledge and experience.
Hough, from the Smart Money article, believes that a knowledge transcript could be used as a degree alternative. Basically, anyone who wanted to prove their knowledge could take an affordable national test and list it on the transcript. He explains:
“This knowledge transcript will care nothing about where a student has learned, how much he spent or how long he took. It won’t care whether he was 12 or 60 when he proved he knew algebra, or how many times he failed before succeeding, or whether he knows important people. Employers will have better proof of what students know. Policy makers, too. Students won’t pile on debt. They won’t be mislead by a college degree into believing they know more than they do. They’ll become true stewards of their own lifelong education.”
This idea is a start in the right direction. But, it puts entirely too much weight on testing. Like the completion of a degree, the completion of a test is not necessarily the best proof of authentic learning. Some people are good test takers, some people are capable of extensive short-term memorization, and some highly-knowledgeable people have neither of these skills.
Perhaps a knowledge transcript could list other accomplishments: projects a person has completed, articles they’ve written, volunteer work they’ve done. A portfolio-based system would be more individualized and harder for employers to evaluate quickly. However, learning itself is highly individual. If employers want the best for their money, taking the extra time to consider the whole person will be worth the effort.