Last week, I was proud to be one of the few non-traditional higher education institutes representing our own at SXSWedu. We were on the docket to bring awareness about coding in high schools, but we were also there to represent the alternate forms of education to say we are here. And we’re here to stay.
Bolstering our efforts the Monday of SXSWedu, the White House announced TechHire, a poignant and timely affirmation of the need for nontraditional higher education. The U.S. is seeking new opportunities to train and educate our people in tech, and the White House recognizes the dire need for such work.
However, in the midst of all this need, one thing I saw at SXSWEdu was the lack of innovation in the field of higher ed—not within higher education institutions, but within the field as a whole. Schools like Mobile Makers Academy tend to scare traditional higher ed institutions, and there’s no reason. There will always be a place and need for college degrees, but what we’re missing is the big picture: four-year degrees aren’t the only option. We need a variety of solutions, and here’s why.
We need diversity
We (the royal we in the field of training and educating adults) need to provide multiple, quality access points to careers. Not everyone can bear the financial burden or gift away time to the “black box of education.” We have a diverse population of people in this country, and we have a social responsibility to provide solutions to them all.
Cost in time and money
A common argument against this: everyone needs a well-rounded background to be an effective problem solver and competent citizen.
I love the guiding principle that having more well-rounded individuals leads to a great nation. But if we agree that well-rounding our society is a common good, why are we force-fitting our people into one, singular education model? What about those who cannot afford the $50K or two to four years? We need to do better. Society deserves better.
Another common argument against evolving the traditional model is Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours (2008, p. 40):
"The emerging picture from such studies is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert—in anything,” writes the neurologist Daniel Levitin.
However, we at Mobile Makers aren’t trying to make master developers in 8 weeks. We’re trying to make developers. Additionally, why must the 10,000 hours be found only in the classroom?
Our educational ecosystem should meet the needs of each field, not what we want the field to need. Not every market requires a college degree. Let’s be as diverse as our markets; let’s give them what they need.
Measurements of success
Our cultural educational point of view needs a revamp. We need to value the student’s definition of success. Just like the markets, not every student wants to work in a field that requires a college degree, and we need to stop bullying those who pick an alternate path.
Diverse options empower a person to make choices based on their measuring stick. When we say “everyone needs to go to college,” we disparage those who took an alternate path and are making a fine living (say, plumbers who make $50k a year).
Diverse education gives our nation the ability to empower jobs that are currently being bullied into extinction.
Growth of Cultural Richness
Not every educational problem can or should be solved by a college degree. It’s myopic to think that there’s a panacea for the needs of those looking to learn. We live in a diverse world with diverse needs. Our educational ecosystem should reflect that.
Rather than collaborating, it seems some sectors of traditional higher ed are fighting nontraditional education innovation. It’s ironic, considering traditional universities encourage their students to develop curious minds, but aren’t interested in applying that innate curiosity to their own field. I hope that innovative new initiatives like Mobile Makers Academy and other bootcamps, the White House’s TechHire, and more can help open the doors to education that is truly for all.