In economics, individuals act based on the idea that the benefits of their actions will outweigh the costs. An individual will forgo one option for another and the benefits he or she could have received are called the opportunity costs.
A prime example of this can be seen in students’ decisions to pursue higher education.
Instead of working and making money, students take time to study and spend money to get an education.
One of the forces driving students pursuing higher education at colleges and universities is the hope that the high cost of schooling will eventually be outweighed by the benefit of high paying jobs students will land after graduation.
Unfortunately, in order to graduate, students are accumulating, on average, $29,400 of student loan debt. Of the graduates who obtain jobs, about half don’t even need the degrees they just spent four years obtaining. Furthermore, although 96 percent of chief academic officers at traditional institutions think they are preparing students for the work force, only 11 percent of business leaders agree, according to the Clayton Christensen Institute. And then there are some students who go to college without a plan for their future career and, by graduation, they still are unsure and consequently, jobless.
So there is a problem.
Education doesn’t equal employment in the ways some individuals hope.
For the price, it is possible that current traditional higher education isn’t meeting the needs of students who want to find jobs.
Some people believe that to solve this problem, we should turn to technology. Online classes cut the costs of education significantly. Currently, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are a hot topic as a potential solution. This less expensive option can help with the debt problem.
But perhaps debt isn’t the real issue.
Perhaps at the heart of this predicament is the fact that students aren’t learning skills. After all, a diploma is just a piece of paper which lists a degree that comes when students pass a certain number of courses. A diploma says very little, if anything, about what a student can actually do.
Skills are what employers seem to want. Graduates must have learned facts, theories and processes. But they must be able to put skills to work, as well.
Another potential solution is a shift towards vocational and technical schools at which students learn specific skills for their careers. There are even online options for this. This system is called online competency-based learning.
Ultimately, in the end, it comes down to this: one size does not fit all. For some, a four-year traditional education at a university is the best option. For others, perhaps a vocational school may be a better fit. Still others may prefer MOOCs or online competency-based learning or something else entirely.
Regardless of which system they choose, students should learn how to learn. They should be knowledgeable about how to think for themselves and problem solve, and not just be able to fill in bubbles on an answer sheet.
Education for education’s sake is still important, but depending on an individual’s career plan, there are different ways to be successful.