Higher Education is the next publishing industry

I think higher education is heading for a train wreck that is at least as bad as what newspapers are going through now. The college degree is analogous to the value of information that you get from a reputable journalism source like the New York Times. You pay the New York Times to read the information that they put together. Certainly journalism and the act of putting-together-information plays a bigger role than just giving me news to read, but people aren't willing to pay for those other roles. At the end of the day I want news to read. There is a lot of news to read that is free right now. So the New York Times starts to crash and burn. The "other" roles of journalism suffer and perhaps die or are perhaps picked up by other institutions.

If the value of a college degree is called into question even a little bit, then the whole higher education enterprise is going to go through a major shake-out also. How might that happen? Perhaps employers will no longer require them. Perhaps a different sort of qualification will become more central to employers than a college degree. Perhaps a new entity will begin to deliver degree-like things that employers suddenly realize are no less informative about the quality of an employee than a degree is. Universities do more than just deliver degrees, but most people don't pay for those other roles. What most people pay Universities for is a degree, because a degree is a ticket to the job interview.

When a degree costs $80K it seems like there is an extremely strong incentive to generate alternative validations of knowledge than a college degree. Let's say an employer would start taking a certification that costs $20K to get and involved a student taking a bunch of tests, but being offered no formal instruction.

Why would anyone pay $60K more for information when it is available for free on the internet?

There are certainly some degrees that will remain obviously valuable, like a degree from MIT or Harvard. Just like there are some publications that people will still pay for, like Consumer Reports. I pay for Consumer Reports because I want unbiased evaluations of things that I want to purchase - a difficult thing to find on the Internet. But the reason people will pay for an MIT/Harvard degree isn't for access to unbiased information, its because of the access to the people. It's worth it to have spent 4 years partying with the people at those places and working with the faculty there, not because of what you learned but because you now have access to amazing talent when you start working.

I wonder whether most Universities offer $60K worth of value in that way

Here's a blog post that catalyzed me to rant:

bMish's Global Economic Trend Analysis: PhD's In Distress and the Unsustainable Cost of Education

"Whole chickens on sale, and a loss leader at that were $.21 lb. You can sometimes find them on sale for $.49 lb. You can easily find them for $.69 lb on sale.

Since 1971, chicken prices on sale have approximately tripled, the minimum wage has roughly quadrupled and the cost of tuition at the University of Illinois has gone up by a factor of 24.

Something is out of whack and it is not chicken prices or the minimum wage. Currently, I do not think I could finance myself through college playing poker on weekends against farmers in Cayuga Indiana, nor do I think anyone else could either."

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