3 Reasons For The Declining Value Of A Degree

In an earlier post, I talked about the impending demise of the professions.

Doctors and lawyers are among the most prestigious and sought after professions.  And many people are willing to sacrifice much time and money to get into those professions.  These people have to go through an arduous educational trek to reach the summit.  It is difficult and not many people can achieve it.  But for those who arrive, a bright, lucrative and comfortable future lay ahead.  Or so we are thinking.  Imagine graduating at last with a professional degree, but saddled with a huge student debt, and not being able to get that lucrative offer.

By the way, this happens with non-professional degrees as well.

What will this also mean for the educational institutions that offer prized pieces of paper called diplomas and degrees?

This leads me to the first, of three, reason why we are seeing a shift away from paper and towards performance.

Reason 1: Disappearing Corporate Jobs

In the past, corporations hired the best and the brightest by looking at their paper credentials.  This was a quick and easy way to filter out the lesser applicants.  After all, it was assumed, if you made it to graduation, then you have what it takes to follow through.  And it was also assumed that you have the above average IQ needed to succeed.

But in a time of vanishing corporate jobs, along with the rise of the Gig Economy, where more and more jobs are freelance in nature, things are changing.  In a Gig Economy, skills and performance become more important than credentials.

When I was looking for online courses on UDEMY (a provider of online courses)  for example, I purchased courses based on content, price, social proof (i.e. ratings and reviews) and previewed videos to see if I liked the way the instructor taught.  I didn’t care too much if he had a PhD or not. And many of the instructors on Udemy are freelancers.

Udemy is an example of a MOOC, Massively Open Online Course.  Other examples are Coursera, edX and Skillshare.

And even for the corporate jobs that remain, questions are being raised about the need for a degree to perform well at these jobs.

Reason 2: Shrinking Lifespan Of Knowledge

As the pace of change quickens, knowledge has a much shorter shelf-life.  So by the time you graduate, what you have learnt may no longer be useful.  You need to be learning throughout your working life.

In this scenario, where there may be no end to learning, does it make sense to spend a big chunk of time, money and effort to get a degree and postpone employment?  Or does it make more sense to pick up the needed skills just-in-time to perform?

Can traditional education adequately meet the employer’s need for graduates that are “plug and play”?  It gets more difficult with each passing day.

Reason 3: Technology Enables More Convenient And Objective Testing

This is supposed to be one of the major the roles of the Institutions that confer a degree on us.

The degree provides an indicator of the ability (or potential ability) to perform.  But this role too can be taken over by technology.

Now we can tell a prospective secretary’s typing speed half a world away as she taps on a keyboard connected to the Internet.

We can track delivery times, inventory and sales all in real time across the globe.

A software programmers code can be analysed by another software.  Same with a piece of journalism.  Think Grammarly, an app that corrects your grammar.

Sophisticated systems are able to closely track and analyse an athlete’s performance and contribution in a game or competition.

And remember what I said about choosing which course on Udemy to purchase.  Technology was able to give me accurate information about the quality of the instructor and course.  I did not have to look at any paper qualification.

Therefore, serious questions are now being asked about the value delivered by traditional Institutions of Higher Learning at such a hefty price tag.

I believe these are the 3 main reasons the shift to performance from paper has begun.

So what does this mean for Education?  And for the Educators?

While traditional educational systems and educators will face a struggle, this new world offers non-traditional educators, who excel at teaching, all sorts of opportunities!

Will continue this in talk in another post.

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