Wednesday, August 31st, 2011...11:25 pm

Education Needs To Learn Something New

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I’ve been hung up lately on the idea that college, especially private schools, are a financial rip-off. I am having trouble understanding the actual direct value of a $125K (and increasing) undergraduate degree. Even if there are real benefits, I haven’t met many students that realize them.

I’m not a big fan of traditional, structured education. I didn’t buy into it as a student. I never felt like it correlated to the real world. I thought that the best way to learn and get ahead was to do worthwhile projects outside of the classroom. I still do. I’m also an avid reader and feel as though I’ve learned the most from good books. Perhaps this is why I’m now in a profession that isn’t really dependent on scholastic achievement.

Education hasn’t changed all that much in generations. 1) Do well in high school 2) Go to the best college 3) Move on to graduate school (depending on the career path). The cost of law school or business school is also high but at least there is an easier way to quantify its value by calculating the post-grad school options. But do you really need an expensive undergrad degree to enroll in these programs? Seems like we can pack all the fun and education into 2-3 years, save our youth some serious time and money, and get on with life.

That’s not the only thing that should change. Technology moves so fast that people need to stay more educated and learn new skills throughout their career. Education should never stop. I’ve never understand why school and learning is just for young people. I’ll happily defer part of my college education till later on in my life (when I’ll need it more).

Peter Thiel, PayPal co-founder, hedge fund manager and venture capitalist in Silicon Valley, believes we’re all in the midst of a higher education bubble because it is “overvalued and intensely believed”. The education bubble is about security and insurance against the future. Pay to go to a good college and you will be set for life. Premiere colleges don’t focus on their level of education but rather at their level as “prestige” as a way to rationalize ever-increasing tuition. Thiel is taking aim at these institutions by launching the Thiel 20 Under 20 Fellowships. The fellowships are granted to the most talented students under 20 years of age and pay them $100,000 over two years to leave school and start something instead.

Here are some other cool new developments in education.

  • The Khan Academy by Salman Khan is a free website with over 2400 videos covering everything from arithmetic to physics, finance and history with practice exercises and worksheets to boot.
  • The Encyclopedia has been democratized. Back in the day only the rich kids had World Books in their bedroom. It’s called Wikipedia.
  • A new startup in NYC called Skillshare is a community marketplace that makes to easier to learn anything from anyone. Skillshare believes peer-to-peer education in is the world’s greatest universities. Their platform helps make the exchange of knowledge easy, enriching, collaborative, and fun. I’ve attended a few Skillshare sessions and eager to teach my first.
  • General Assembly in New York City is a center for technology, design and entrepreneurship that offers educational programming, space, and support. It create learning opportunities across a community “inspired by entrepreneurial experience”. It’s kind of like everything you don’t learn in college.



    Look around the world and you will see other countries and cultures that are doing a better job at education than we are here in America. It’s amazing how India has mass-produced an education system that is uplifting their entire country (at least that’s my take on it). It’s fascinating to me how accessible education is to people around the world who want to learn on their own (for free!)

    FYI – I attended the University of Michigan. I had a blast. Formed amazing life-long friendships. Loved living in Ann Arbor. Partied. Spent two productive years in their business school. Tried to take advantage of all that the school had to offer. But I’m not sure how much it was actually worth. Just because it was as fun as summer camp doesn’t mean it was priceless (at least not economically). In fact, I often think of the opportunity cost. What would I have accomplished if I did something else with my time and my parents $100K besides college from the formative age of 18-22. Could I have invested my tuition money and then even earned enough money on top of that to support myself (an important life lesson!). Could I have traveled the world? Joined the Peace Corps? Experienced eight different 6-month internships to cultivate my life passions. I’m not sure. But I’m left thinking the next generation should and will do it even better.