Last year Aidan Cary, a bright high school student in Hampton, applied to the University of Virginia and other prestigious universities in the Northeast. But he ended up attending a nearly unknown institution, MissionU, for a very different kind of educational experience.
At MissionU, based in San Francisco, he is enrolled in a one-year, data-science program. He studies between 40 and 50 hours per week and visits high-tech companies in the Bay area as part of the educational experience. And he pays nothing up front. Instead he will repay MissionU with 15% of his salary for three years once he lands a job paying $50,000 or more.
As the Wall Street Journal writes, MissionU is part of a broader movement toward an alternate model of higher education:
A new breed of longer programs such as MissionU has begun to pop up. In California the Holberton School and the “42” program recently opened, and in Indianapolis the Kenzie Academy has begun its second class. While they remain focused on digital skills, they also add a smattering of general education courses—in areas like problem solving and teamwork—and market themselves as college alternatives.
“The degree is dead. You need experience,” says the website for Praxis, a five-year-old digital school based in South Carolina.
These new-breed institutions represent a new challenge for traditional four-year institutions of higher education. Unlike private career schools, MissionU, Praxis, and the Kenzie Academy aren’t targeting an adult population seeking workforce degrees and certifications — they’re targeting youngsters like Cary who would have gone straight from high school to college.
The value proposition is huge: You invest only one year of your life studying before you enter the workforce. The year of intensive study costs as little as $22,500 spread over three years, and only if you make a job paying $50,000 or more. If the program costs you more, it’s only because you’re making more. Plus, the colleges practically guarantee you a job at the end of the line. Cary figures he will come out $250,000 ahead compared to the traditional route.
And what do students lose compared to the traditional four-year, residential college experience? Well, they’re actually expected to work 40 to 50 hours a week, which may preclude a fair amount of partying and goofing off.
They also don’t get an accredited degree. But sheepskins are mainly valuable for signalling to the job market that someone is intelligent enough, diligent enough, and conformist enough to endure the four-year degree-earning process. Instead, Cary will earn a skill in great demand that will land him a job in a technology company, most likely in the Bay area. Once he enters the workplace, the sheepskin credential becomes superfluous — from then on, he’ll be judged by his job performance.
He’ll lose one more thing. While alternative colleges can teach a person how to work, they don’t teach their students why they are working, the Journal quotes Gardner Campbell, an English professor at Virginia Commonwealth University as saying. Without that context, he says, graduates of MissionU-like programs run the risk of becoming well-paid drones.
Ah, poor Mr. Cary will miss the value provided by the vaunted liberal arts curriculum. He can console himself that most graduates forget the vast majority of what they studied within a few years. Also, if Cary’s parents are like many others who find traditional universities to be teaching not the “liberal” arts but the “politically correct” arts, they may be perfectly happy to spare their child a learning experience increasingly resembling an indoctrination camp than an institution encouraging wide-ranging exploration of thought.
Can these alternative institutions be replicated, or do they cater to a narrow slice of elite students? After all MissionU is highly selective — its acceptance rate is in the single digits, comparable to an Ivy League school. Cary scored in the top 5% of the country on his SAT and graduated in the top 10% of his high school class.
As long as critical skills are going begging in the workplace, I see no reason why these “alternative colleges” can’t proliferate. They offer a fantastic value proposition compared to the four-year college. The only real barrier is the brain-dead preference of H.R. offices for the credential of a four-year degree. But I expect that employers’ desperation to hire employees with critical job skills will overcome that prejudice.
Traditional higher-ed institutions don’t comprehend the degree of animosity they have engendered in the marketplace. First, they have made college nearly unaffordable for the middle class. Second, they have created learning and cultural environments that are ideologically hostile to roughly half the population. Their value proposition has become “Give us your children so we can indoctrinate them with alien values, and by the way, give us all your money.”
That’s not a viable long-term business model.There are currently no comments highlighted.