University degrees as social "hacks"

 

A "hack" is a workaround, a shortcut, an approximation. Hackers develop alternate methods, some legal, some not, to obtain desired information not otherwise available.

The word may be new, but society has used hacks for a long time to ease social interactions including commerce, politics and education. Money is a hack, an approximation for real goods or services to be delivered. Credit ratings are hacks, so are dress codes and diplomas. They are all shortcut symbols indicative of something sought after: the likelihood that debit will be repaid, that values are shared and that certain KSAs (knowledge, skills & attitudes) are in place and available to the employer.

As the world becomes more connected and big data more universally available using the college degree hack will no longer be necessary or even acceptable.  Big data provides real evidence of real performance.  Real-life demonstration of KSAs is ranked as critically important by 84% of business leaders in a recent Gallup poll, as opposed to only 28% indicating that a candidate's college degree had any real significance.

So what are ambitious learners, and their parents, to do? The first realization should be that present education structure operates anachronistically in unconnected silos (K-12, colleges, universities, post-graduate or professional education) with little workplace integration at any level.  

Doing well in any particular eduational silo is not actually the goal.  Learners are actually embarked on a journey from kindergarten to the workplace, often serial workplaces.  Misaligned educational silos are a hinderance on this journey. Many if not most learners also lack guides or interpreters sufficiently fluent in all the codes and hacks that will be encountered along the way.

This misalignment and lack of effective guidance is how we end up with persistent mismatches between trained people and available jobs. Graduates often cannot find jobs even though they have the badge of a college, university or professional degree. Meanwhile there are jobs, even careers paths, lacking sufficient people for years at a time.  The result is a diservice to the learners, to workplace effectiveness and ultimately to society.  Examples would include the persistent  lack of first line primary care providers in the US pushing specialists into primary care roles by default with over medicalization, over-testing and over-intervention as a result.  

Costly degrees misaligned with available career opportunities are not a supportable business model for either learners or post-secondary education. We know how to do better.  

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