By Corinne Spears and Ryan Craig
There is no doubt that 2018 was an innovative year. 3D metal printing became more mainstream, altering the way many think about the future of manufacturing. AR went from a vague promise to tangible developments in software and hardware. In medicine, researchers created a cancer-detecting liquid and developed AI that detects Alzheimer’s six years before human physicians.
One thing that did not change in 2018 was higher education. Colleges and universities continue to look like they did in the 60s, only with higher tuition and worse student outcomes. If the music business worked like higher education, we’d still be listening to music on 8-track tapes: the Walkman wouldn’t be invented yet, let alone streaming on noise cancelling, wireless headphones.
It is no secret that traditional higher education is ripe for disruption. The average graduate leaves college overwhelmed by student loans ( $1.5T+ in the U.S., nearly $40,000 per graduate) and underemployed (nearly half of today’s graduates leave college underemployed – meaning in jobs they could have gotten without the investment of time and debt in a degree program – and two-thirds of these remain underemployed five years later).
Particularly for careers in tech and data science, traditional higher education is completely failing to adequately prepare students for successful careers. Universities and colleges have been brutally slow to develop new courses and programs. One reason why is that faculty are rarely (if ever) incentivized to do so. No one becomes a college professor because they want to devote their professional life to equipping young people with the skills employers require for entry-level jobs.
Students are often left with outdated curriculum options and college enrollment is subsequently dropping. Last year only 34% of colleges met their annual enrollment targets. Instead, college alternatives are sprouting up all over the country with more relevant curricula that meet the needs of entry-level jobs that are increasingly “tech” in nature.
While formal education makes sense for some careers (e.g., surgeons, lawyers), a host of new professions don’t require an expensive degree to be successful. For these professions, college alternatives are crucial to ensuring cost-effective and relevant content is delivered to students.
In the new book A New U: Faster + Cheaper Alternatives to College, we document the growing importance and relevance of these college alternatives. While A New U does not argue for less postsecondary education or discount the value of a traditional college education, it does challenge students and parents to understand the financial consequences of opting for traditional degree programs, particularly at non-selective colleges and universities that may opt to charge selective-level tuition.
The book outlines a number of promising faster and cheaper alternatives (250+ in total), such as bootcamps, apprenticeships, and staffing programs with embedded Last-Mile Training. These options provide students with the digital skills, soft skills, and industry knowledge that traditional colleges and universities overlook.
Bootcamps are the most popular college alternative, with 37,000 graduates last year alone. One of the bootcamps cited in A New U is The Data Incubator’s Data Science Fellowship Program, which offers an 8-week data science bootcamp in 3 cities across the US. With a robust and fast-paced curriculum, 82% of job-seeking graduates were hired within 6 months.
Apprenticeships are another growing alternative to college, providing on-the-job training opportunities combined with formal education. A New U cites Techtonic as an example, which is the first Department of Labor recognized apprenticeship program for software developers. Learners – actually employees, because they’re hired and paid from day one of their training program –gain on-the-job experience early in their careers while employers benefit from reduced risk, because they’re not asked to hire apprentices until apprentices have proven they can do the job.
We expect the shift towards faster and cheaper alternatives to accelerate in the tech sector, as well as in healthcare, financial services, and other sectors where entry-level jobs are increasingly “tech” jobs. Employers seeking tech talent will be rewarded by looking beyond traditional colleges and universities.
Corinne Spears is an associate at University Ventures focusing on opportunities within education to employment pathways and healthcare education.
Ryan Craig is Managing Director of University Ventures, and the author of A New U: Faster + Cheaper Alternatives to College.