On the education bubble, being unemployable and in debt
Earlier today, I came across this blog post from Penelope Trunk via LinkedIn. Penelope Trunk is an American businesswoman, author, and blogger. Her work focuses on the intersection of work and life. In her post “The Strongest Careers are Non-Linear” she makes the argument that colleges charge tons of money for school and then graduates are unemployable and in debt. Colleges are responding by becoming job preparation centers. She, along with Frank Bruni, Opinion Editor for the New York Times, claim this maneuver is a waste of time and resources. She suggests the following instead:
1. Skipping college.
The real issue we have with admitting that college is not a path to the work world is then we have to ask ourselves why we send our kids to high school. There is plenty of data to show that teens are able to manage their lives without the constraints of school. The book Escaping the Endless Adolescence is chock full of data, and a recent article by my favorite journalist, Jennifer Senior, shows that high school is not just unnecessary, but actually damaging to teens who need much more freedom to grow than high school affords.
2. Focus on internships instead of school.
Kids should be working in internships in high school. Because the best path to a good job is a bunch of great internships. But great internships don’t go to people who need money. They are mostly for young people. Yes, this is probably illegal and classist and bad for a fluid society. But we will not debate that here. Instead we will debate why kids need to go to college if the internships are what make them employable? Kids should do internships in high school and by their college years, they are capable of real jobs where they are doing work that people value, with cash.
You cannot take this route if you’re saddled with huge student loans. You can’t take this route if you’re inundated by homework in required subjects you don’t care about. You can’t take this route if you have no work experience when you graduate college. It’s too late. (Don’t tell me you need to go to school to learn, okay? People just do not believe this anymore.)
I was reading the Fortune list of 40 under 40 and I was struck by the career history of Kevin Feige (number 11 on the list). He’s president of Marvel Studios at age 39. He wrote that he interned with the Superman movie director as a film student and that was the last job application he filled out. That’s because if you get an internship with someone great, and your performance is great, your network will cover your employment needs for a very long time.
3. Start a company instead of writing a resume.
I’m struck by Marissa Mayer (number 3 on Fortune’s list) whose announced acquisition strategy is buying small, cheap companies. Which is, in effect, buying the team. Silicon Valley calls these acqui-hires. She is looking at young people who start companies that are not necessarily successful in terms of product or sales but successfully market the founders as visionaries, self-starters, and hard workers. You can’t show those traits in school, so if you have those traits, you slow yourself down by going to school where you cannot exhibit your best, marketable traits.
4. Refuse to present yourself in a linear way.
Do any workaround that lets you forgo the linear obsession the standard resume format. Because linear presentations favor people who have long, rule-following careers – which don’t necessarily make you look good anyway. I could write a post ten thousand paragraphs long of all the new things people with nonlinear work histories are doing to get jobs.
People use twitter as a resume, according to the Wall Street Journal, which requires only that you publish ideas, not any sort of academic experience.
Young people are selling stock in themselves – paying out dividends for decades at a time.
Agents represent workers who pick and choose projects that match them rather than signing on for indefinite amounts of time. The Harvard Business Review calls this supertemping. Business Week calls it going Hollywood.
But here’s the big takeaway. A fundamental shift is taking place, where the path to getting a job is massively circumventing college credentials. And, at the same time, the American public is fed up with the insane debt that college are expecting new grads to take on in order to graduate. (Good essay: How College Ruined My Life.)
If you are not going to school in order to “fit” into the adult world, then why are you going to school? The love of learning, presumably. But school reform pundits are 100% sure that kids will choose to learn if you put no constraints on them. They will just learn what they want. Best example: The MIT program that gave iPads to illiterate kids in Ethiopia, and they taught themselves to use it, program it, and read it in English. No teacher. No curriculum.
The biggest barrier to accepting the radical new nature of the job hunt is the reverberations throughout the rest of life. If you don’t need school for work, and you don’t need school for learning, then all you need school for is so parents can go to work and not worry about taking care of their kids.
Although this is an interesting perspective, it would seem that there are certain careers for which one would need formal schooling, like becoming a doctor. There are also inconsistencies with her argument. First she claims that student should skip high school and college and, instead, focus on internships. Next, she says that students should focus on internships in high school and get paid positions in college. So, which is it?
What are your thoughts? As educators or for those who work in education, does this argument have validity or not? Please explain your position.