Clay Shirky
Nov 8, 2015 · 2 min read

The other shoe drops when broader society begins to accept non-accredited education (like General Assembly, Code Academy, etc) in addition to accredited education (major Universities). Or: accredited universities become cheaper.

David, yes. This.

The huge risk for the degree-granting institutions (like NYU, the one that employs me) is that the central social fact of our existence is an agreement about the value of a degree as a unique qualifier.

The jury is still out on the long-term effect of MOOCs, but one thing we now know for certain — the unbundled value of the content of an Ivy League classroom is $0. Similarly, the earnings premium for getting an excellent education but falling one credit short of a degree is smaller — considerably smaller — than the premium for getting a mediocre education with a degree. The market is saying that certification, not learning, is the thing worth paying for.

There are still fields where there are alternate-to-college certificates (physical therapy) and even quasi-collegiate training programs (cooking schools.) There are still fields where you can apprentice and work your way up (restaurants). But the big arc of work in the U.S. since the early 1970s has been to group it into two categories — ‘pays well, requires degree’ vs. ‘pays badly, does not require degree’.

Associate’s and Bachelor’s degrees became the omnibus certificate for that sort of sorting function, where every profession from funeral home management to motorcycle repair acquired college-level classes.

What businesses like General Assembly, University of the People and and Udacity’s Nanodegrees are arguing is that a college degree is nothing more than an anachronistic answer to the information asymmetry problem of assessment. They are trying to offer alternate ways of solving that problem, creating new (and competitive) means for assuring employers that Person X is qualified for Job Y.

If employers come to buy this argument in any number, the premium for all kinds of degrees, from Associates Degrees in health care to an MS in Computer Science will come under significant pressure.

Clay Shirky

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