Universities will be a casualty of Covid-19. Many will not survive the wake of this virus. Essential skills will dominate formal education post pandemic. Was a shift to skills over education already in place? Have universities priced themselves out of reach? Have some colleges become a political echo chamber for a contracting audience? Mike Rowe (Dirty Jobs) has been espousing the decline in education value for years.
“We’re lending money (we don’t have) to kids who can’t pay it back; to educate them for jobs that don’t exist anymore. Bad idea.” – Mike Rowe
According to Rowe, we are asking teenagers to make life-long decisions and borrow tens of thousands of dollars for an education that cannot guarantee a high-paying job. People are beginning to see this dichotomy. More importantly, young people are realizing this too.
Colleges have had a long-term comorbidity and coronavirus will be the proverbial final nail in the coffin. Is it arrogance or ignorance? Let’s get real. Universities have become political. If you have a certain political ideology, you either fit in or you don’t. There is no longer an appetite for diversity of thought on most campuses. Parents have started realizing it and high school graduates are starting to take notice. Why should I go to a college that doesn’t accept my orthodoxy? Why should I spend considerable money (that I don’t have) to study at a place that will never value my point of view?
The decline for universities has been gradual until recently. In the beginning, universities were a place that challenged students to think differently. The tipping point occurred when colleges became an echo chamber for a singular point of view. Diversity of thought is no longer accepted on most campuses. Administrators have known this; however, the momentum has been far too great. Professors started realizing one ideology is accepted and another is not. This resulted in a herd mentality on most campuses. Once the herd becomes too large, it is no longer controllable. Enter the cancel culture. Today, universities are cancelling anything that does not fit the popular narrative.
In recent years, colleges started diluting skill-based jobs in order to allow more students to enter and graduate. Can’t meet engineering standards? We will add another degree plan that you can indeed pass. In other words, students started attending college to graduate; not to learn a skill in order to find a job. A narrative developed over time. Get a four-year degree (in anything) and someone will hire you. That may have worked for a while; however, when the job market becomes flooded with degrees rather than skills, the law of supply and demand rules. Too many degrees mean less demand. It is axiomatic. More college graduates equal less value. In short, universities became too greedy. Increase enrollment at all costs was the call from the administration building. Budgets swelled and administrators became addicted; knowing they would see a day of reckoning in the future. Enter Covid-19!
The giants in education remain arrogant. Harvard is charging full tuition for online classes this fall. It’s comical. With an endowment in the billions, they will likely survive the pandemic. Harvard is betting the “H” on the sweater is enough to entice parents and students to spend (borrow) hundreds of thousands to have that name on a resume. Is it worth it?
Smart parents and students are waking up. Skills are the education of the future. Building or repairing skills are in short supply. Healthcare skills are in demand. Engineering and information technology skills are in demand. Teaching skills are needed. Americans are waking from the intoxication of formal education. A diploma without a skill is no longer valuable. I will go on the record today. The 20s will be the decade for skilled workers. From the ash of this pandemic, a different generation of young people will rise. College for the sake of college will become the path least taken. Students (and parents) will refuse to spend one-hundred thousand dollars to land a job barely above minimum wage.
Trade schools and technical colleges will regain value with the mainstream. Demand for skills will increase along with value in the eyes of the community. As the current generation of skilled workers retires in large numbers, demand for entry-level skilled workers will grow exponentially. Currently, the fastest path to a six-figure income is through trade schools and technical education, guaranteed!
College alternative like Praxis are emerging. Never heard of Praxis? For twelve-thousand dollars, students gain skills over six to twelve-month boot camps in order to get hired. Their year-long program combines business training with job placement, dedicated job support, and lifetime access to a thriving community of young professionals. Don't pay until you're hired is their promise.
Today, people entering the workplace must showcase skills to get employed. In the past, college was a differentiator alone; but today many universities have been flooded with degrees that don’t build skills for work. Society is still addicted to the idea that a four-year degree is essential for success. I get it. We have been drinking this idea for years and the hangover is real. The pandemic has created a new reality for what is truly essential in our communities. Can you provide power to my community? Can you repair my air conditioner? Do you have the skills to design, build, or maintain anything needed by other people? If so, you are essential.
Should someone choose trade school or Harvard (insert any large university) for education? Pick the trade school. Here is why. It will cost you much less and provide you much more, short-term. You are less likely to be punished for your belief system. You will incur less debt and you can always take online classes in the future. Consider your education as ongoing in life. Learning a trade or skill is not a terminal education. You can build on learning as you determine what ignites your passion. In other words, you can learn to repair wrecked cars today and still learn how to own and operate a body shop tomorrow.
Here is one last thought for parents. I too was stuck on the popular conveyor that leads our children directly from high-school to college to a job. The conveyor is now broken yet parents are still lining up to spend hard-earned money or worse, borrow significantly to follow the crowd. If you have the money and your child desires the college experience, I say go for it. It can truly be awesome. Who wouldn’t want to spend 4-5 years hanging with friends and discovering life? However, be honest with yourself. If what your child chooses in college does not build skills that are in demand by society, you are funding an extended vacation. When the vacation is over, they will likely return home with that diploma. Keep their room ready.