Disrupting Higher Education

Disrupting Higher Education

I’m calling it now: I’m not sending my future kids to college.

Instead, they will learn useful skills they enjoy, identify problems, and build solutions through online businesses to solve those problems. Instead of burying themselves in soul-crushing debt, they will be building a better world, with a four-year and debt-free head start.

This is one of just a few controversial predictions I have for the next 10-20 years that, if discussed at a dinner party, would elicit fiercely negative responses from most people.

Why this is controversial is not so different from why the automobile, over a century ago, was controversial. It simply takes time for society to adjust.

Seeking Equilibrium

It’s human nature for us to instinctively cling to the status quo.

It is familiar.

It is comfortable.

It is predictable.

It is equilibrium.

We push back on anyone who tries to disrupt our quest for equilibrium, without realizing that such a quest has only been made possible by the generations before us who disrupted their equilibrium.

We are traditionalists at heart, and this fact is evident more than ever when faced with an uncertain, uncomfortable future. But look at how far we’ve come! In the last 20 years:

  • Medical advice has become available digitally and, in most cases, instantly
  • Amazon delivers everything from clothes to food directly to our doorstep, at the push of a button
  • Most work has become location-independent
  • Newspapers have become irrelevant
  • Shopping malls are on their deathbed
  • We have computers in our pockets
  • Taxi cabs have been replaced by random people picking you up in their personal cars

Imagine if the traditionalists always had their way!

Disruption is Progress

Disruption, in any form, comes with a hefty negative connotation. If someone disrupts your focus, if someone cuts you off on the road, or if a lightning bolt hits your roof, you’ll most likely react negatively.

But not all disruptions are bad. Disruption is the necessary catalyst for positive change. Challenging conventional wisdom is how meaningful progress is made.

It is the troublemakers, the nonconformists, and the rabble-rousers who end up pushing the world forward. And it is the conformists and the complacent among us who say, “because that’s the way it’s always been done,” who will be left to play catch-up.

Like holding onto our fuzzy blankey from childhood, we cling to the irrational belief that what we experience today is how it should be, and how it will be in the future. Whether it is for self-interest (nobody wants to lose their job), or self-preservation (exploration comes with too much risk), we are overwhelmingly averse to disruption, no matter the potential benefit.


The Elephant in the Room

Every industry has their fuzzy blankey—the unreasonable belief that what they provide is exactly what you need. After all, they wouldn’t be in business if they didn’t have one.

Of all industries, none is more attached to their fuzzy blankey than higher education.

With growing public awareness of sky-rocketing tuition and the increasing need for universities to bring their courses online during the pandemic, we are beginning to see through the veil that has been held in front of our eyes for so long.

With tens of millions of Americans on the hook for trillions of dollars in student debt, it is clear that this path is simply unsustainable. But universities are well aware of this trend, and continue to double down on tuition hikes due to their lone competitive advantage: accreditation.

Accreditation only means as much as the amount of people seeking it. Those who don’t—the non-conformists and troublemakers—are the ones actively creating the future of education. “Proudly unaccredited” Seth Godin and his altMBA, David Perell’s Write of Passage, Tiago Forte’s Building a Second Brain, and Unparalleled Live, are at the forefront of this new wave of lower cost, higher value online education.

The higher education establishment is no longer in the driver’s seat.

The Divergent Nature of Higher Education

There is an untold, unspoken, dirty secret of higher education that most people don’t realize. The laws of supply and demand that you might have learned in a classroom do, in fact, apply to the classroom.

There is a divergence that happens after college graduation. The moment the transaction of “education” from institution to student occurs, two things happen:

  1. The institution’s value increases as they will go on to graduate more students in the future. (Higher graduation rates)
  2. The value each student gets from their “education” decreases almost immediately after graduation or shortly after they get their first job, as more students graduate with the same skillset.

How are we to comprehend this?

There are a couple factors involved in the university education transaction:

  • Whether the student actually uses the information they learn can extend the value of their education further into the future.
  • Whether the real value of the “education” originates in the subject matter or in the institution itself.
    • Why do people go to Harvard? To learn specific information about a subject? Or to say “I went to Harvard?”

(This argument excludes engineering, medical, and other more technical fields where access to information alone is not sufficient.)

If you say the value of a college education is in the information, then why go to college at all? If you’re not going to be a doctor or an engineer, for example, the information you might need is widely available online, at zero cost, at any time. It is up to you to make the most out of it.

If you say the value of a college education is in the institution, then this exposes higher education for nothing but an overpriced status symbol. We have been paying exorbitant amounts of money for nothing but a piece of paper with the University’s stamp of approval.

It’s clear, the establishment wants to have their cake and eat it too. They want you to believe that the value of their brand of education is top-notch. While we, the student, get buried in debt and the value of our education, like a new car off the lot, devalues the moment we leave campus.

Higher education has had us wrapped up in their fuzzy blankey for years, offering only two doors forward—pushing brooms or pushing papers. To be average, stick to the binary plan society has laid out for you. Employment or unemployment. College degree or mop floors. Get in line or sit on the couch. There are only two doors, and there will only ever be two doors.

But there is a third door. There always has been a third door, but no one has taught us, and up until now, few have listened.

Take the Third Door

The third door

If you think your only path forward is to pore over every word in your resume, upload it onto Indeed, apply to the same few options that tens of thousands of other people are applying for, and pray for a phone interview, then you are terribly undervaluing yourself.

To escape competition, you will need to at least step through the third door. Through this door, you will find risk, accountability, and initial uncertainty. But you will also discover a world of opportunity beyond your wildest imagination. You will discover your true passions, your true purpose, and provide authentic value to a world in desperate need of it.

The third door is the internet. Build your own website, produce content, learn to code, build software solutions for common problems, or build an online course teaching a skill you have mastered.

The internet offers leverage. The internet offers serendipity. The internet offers scalability. These are all things you can’t get through the traditional path of overpriced college education, resume workshops, and a set hourly rate.

On the internet, your work is your resume. Your education will come through building, creating, and doing. Not by waiting on someone to give you permission.

If I knew, 11 years ago, what I know now, I might not have enrolled in college. I might have saved myself six-figures of debt, 7 years of time, and immeasurable stress, all for a piece of paper that has since gone on to collect dust and student loan interest.

The mistakes I’ve made in higher education, combined with a full appreciation of the opportunities the internet offers is why I am certain my kids won’t be enrolling in college in the 2040s. And neither will yours.

Your Choice

As we face this sea change in education and beyond, you have a life-defining choice in front of you:

Are you going to be the traditionalist, fiercely defending the two doors of the status quo?

Or will you be the troublemaker, the nonconformist, the rabble-rouser who dares to step through that third door and pushes humanity forward?

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