An Alternative Education

A movement to find alternative ways to learn skills is underway. For many high school graduates, the cost of a typical college education is too expensive. The price tag of a college degree has increased significantly, including degrees offered by public universities subsidized by states. In a past blog, I discussed how free online courses (MOOCs) have attracted many students – several million students have signed up for them since they were introduced two years ago. An article in the Wall Street Journal, Startup Takes Aim at Old-School Ways, discusses how an organization offers low-cost tuition ($395 a class) to provide a “dual curriculum in the humanities and trades” where students learn transferable skills that will be useful in any discipline and specific technical skills like graphic design or carpentry[i]  – building skills this way fits nicely with a Skills Based Approach. A missing piece in the puzzle is establishing credibility as an educator a kin to the accreditation process for universities.

In an earlier blog, I discussed how online badges are going to be a powerful way to establish credibility with skills. If an educator establishes credibility with employers, then their online badges will have weight. Well established companies have their reputation backing the validity of their online badges; for example, an early career professional brandishing an online badge from Oracle for managing network hardware may not need a college degree. Considering the startup mentioned above, their concept would be far more effective if they can establish credibility with the community – perhaps by issuing their own online badges or preparing their students to get online badges from other sources.

There are ways employers can evaluate the skills of candidates that does not hinge on a college degree. First, create an assessment test and use the results to understand their level of expertise with certain skills. Second, evaluate samples of work that demonstrate their application of a skill. Third, read blogs or social media interactions (especially Twitter) to learn more about their insights and knowledge (which is also a lens on their personality). With these suggestions, it is possible to make evaluations without using a college degree as the focal point.

I heard of another interesting way an employer evaluates how well a candidate might perform on the job. Plan a typical day that a candidate might experience and have them come in and work the day – essentially let them sink or swim. An employer takes this approach with their stronger candidates and pays them for the day and the investment is well worth it. The employer gets immediate feedback regarding the proficiency of the candidate’s skill set and witnesses how they fit into their corporate culture. Again, this is another evaluation that does not depend on a college degree.

In these last two paragraphs, I talk about how an employer can evaluate candidates who do not have college degree. I am not trying to disparage the benefits of a college degree, but rather supporting the concept of the startup mentioned above: an alternative education for students who cannot afford a college education. Students who finish learning from this startup should have opportunities to showcase their skills and preparedness to join the workforce and compete with professionals that have a college education.

[i] Belkin, Douglas. “Startup Takes Aim at Old-School Ways.”  Wall Street Journal, 04/03/2013.

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