I have always believed in the value of higher education. Like in any other family, I was raised to believe that higher education was the golden key to a future of endless possibilities. Higher education was the difference between mediocrity and excellence.
The tsunami of changes in our economy driven mostly by technology has thrown cold water on that age-old belief. Suddenly there appear to be cracks in our higher education system. While technology has become increasingly integrated into our economy, traditional schools are not preparing students with the requisite technology skills. Instead, it is online coding schools and coding boot camps that came to fill in the gaps. It doesn’t help that young college dropouts are creating apps that are as quickly acquired by billion-dollar corporations as they are written. Suddenly, it seems that university degrees have lost their shine; they are no longer the sought-after certificates of attainment, if they are needed at all. There is a disconnect between reality and the fictitious world in which I was raised.
What impact does the new economy have on our traditional way of learning? Just like the automobile industry dominated the economy throughout the mid-20th century, we are currently going through a phase where coding skills have overshadowed other skills and professions that are less “cutting-edge”. Many in the automobile industry never went on to complete higher education; unionized jobs provided a comfort blanket that shielded workers from pursuing higher education opportunities. It was not until the collapse of the automobile industry that many finally saw the limitations of a career that was detached from higher education. It may be true that some technology entrepreneurs never saw the need to complete school and set the tone for a younger tech-savvy generation. There are also a good number of coding schools that guarantee jobs without a higher education. But what happens when these technology jobs are no longer available as when the economy enters another phase? Or when the technology sector is challenged by the forces that befell the automobile industry?
There are many reasons that higher education will stick around. Technology isn’t likely to displace the need for a well-rounded education. A short-term focused education serves as an immediate solution for the job market of today. However, we have no way of predicting what the future holds or what the economy will look like ten years away. What is important is that we need to keep learning. A higher education affords the opportunity to think, read, and write critically and examine what historical lessons we can draw from the successes and failures of the past.
A higher education may not produce the next billionaire tech entrepreneur. What it does produce is the ability to ask new questions rather than just following the flow. This ability is what separates mediocre from excellence.