The Future of Education

When I was growing up, one of the few certainties in my life was that I was going to college (for our British readers, this means university).  The day I was born my late grandfather gave me $1,000 USD, which was set aside in a college fund that my middle class parents diligently added to for the next 18 years.  As I graduated high school, this fund had grown into enough money to pay for all four years at a state (public) school, or roughly two years at a private university.  I chose the private education route and managed to graduate (by the skin of my teeth) four years later with approximately $50,000 USD in debt.  I was fortunate to have parents and a family who prepared for my education, and I have been blessed with a career that meant I could pay off my loans in just a few years. All in all, it was a sound investment.

Today, that story would almost be impossible.

When I graduated in 2003, tuition was roughly $21,000 USD per year.  Today, only ten years later, it costs over $35,000 USD per year to attend a high quality liberal arts university, and many (if not most) charge more!  Graduates routinely carry over $100,000 USD in debt, and if they happen to find a spouse from a similar educational and socioeconomic background, this sum could easily be double that amount.  Fun fact – student loans are the only form of debt in America that can’t be discharged through bankruptcy!

Higher education in America, particularly private higher education, is in the midst of a massive bubble that is unsustainable by anyone’s definition.  In the UK, this is mirrored to a somewhat lesser extent by the fact that tuition is now required for university in England.

A similar but slightly different challenge exists in developing economies as millions begin to look towards education as a way to better themselves and their children.  Massive emerging economies such as China, India, and Brazil are joined by other developing countries around the world facing the challenge of not having enough higher education resources and opportunities.

Americans and the developed Western world increasingly can’t afford higher education.  Can you imagine staring at a tuition bill for a year of education that is approaching your expected starting salary?  This is quickly becoming a fact of life for those pursuing many liberal arts degrees in most private schools across America.

Citizens in developing economies increasingly can’t access higher education.  Can you imagine competing against literally millions of others to get access to a university?

Both problems are essentially access related: one is financial, the other logistical.

Something has to give, and the access gap is increasingly being filled by specialised training, certifications, on the job training, and skills based education.  These courses and programs are more focused, shorter term, and generally higher value (due to their focused and specific nature) than traditional higher education.  Even if you dispute the higher value view, most will concede that focused instruction based on acquiring relevant, current skills throughout your lifetime is probably a better approach than an one-time, intense four year program.

All of these things combine to set the stage for a dramatic transformation in how we access and pay for that learning over the next few years.

This is one of the reasons I’m extremely excited about the prospects for the company that I have the privilege of leading.  Our software helps training providers (whether an internal training department, commercial training company, or non-degreed training division) manage their operations, reduce their internal administration burden, and increase their course bookings.  These training providers can use our software to do more with less while opening up the possibility of delivering their courses online to ever growing audiences.

It might appear somewhat ironic that many of us working at Administrate didn’t finish university or perform well academically, yet we’re dedicated to furthering the mission of educators around the world.  However, all of us deeply value education and educational experiences – in fact, most of us cite the delivery mechanism of a traditional university as one of the main reasons we dropped out or performed poorly.  Courses were too abstract, couldn’t be immediately applied, or we got tired of sitting in school for years.  Being able to pick and choose from high quality, lower cost education options would have suited many of us much better, and we believe that this will be the future.

In the United States, for-profit education often a pejorative term, but if you stop to think about it, high quality training programs and providers are all around you, providing huge value to their students.  We have clients that provide training on everything from CPA exam prep to the safest and best way to construct building scaffolding to internal corporate leadership training.

Most feel that their university degree had very little relationship to the skills they use every day, but most recipients of the training our clients provide feel the courses were relevant, high quality, and used every day in their careers!  When we consider how quickly technology and skills are changing, is this really a surprise?  Why do we expect a 4 year education to last us for the next 30+ years anymore?

There are a lot of big problems in the world and efficient delivery of education has to certainly be considered one of them.  We believe that facilitating providers of relevant, high value, ongoing education is one of the core solutions to this problem.  We’re very excited to be part of the global educational revolution!