“Think Different” about the College Completion Problem

Literally dozens of government entities, foundations, and other organizations are concerned about “the college completion problem.” The problem in a nutshell is that people go into significant debt to go to college, dropout for a variety of reasons (good and bad) without graduating, and are left with nothing to show for their trouble except the debt.

In the popular framing of the problem, the value of a college degree is your ability to convert it into employment. (This is not a rant about the extra-employment value of education. If those were the droids you’re looking for, you can go about your business. Move along.) I simply want to point out that the convertability of a degree into employment is an artificial construct. Degrees are the gateway to employment only because the companies doing the employing say they are. But the universe doesn’t have to work this way.

For example. Imagine a Job Description that reads “BS in Computer Science Required.” Now imagine that same job description reading “Basic experience in Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, and Hadoop Required; Coursework Accepted.”

There are very practical reasons why employers ask for degrees rather than courses. One of these is the fundamentally broken state of the transcript. Many employers (understandably) won’t trust an unofficial transcript. However, employers also aren’t willing to pay $15 for every potential employee applying for a job so they can get an official transcript. Likewise, no job candidate is willing to pay $15 for every job they apply to so that potential employers can see an official transcript. So the transcript, which contains much finer grained data than “degree: yes/no”, and would actually be more useful to employers, is essentially useless as things currently stand. Hence companies’ reliance on the degree, and one of the reasons degree completion is the gateway to employment.

The typical approach to the college completion problem is trying to make sure everyone graduates. But one way to think different about solving the college completion problem would be to jailbreak the transcript so that any and all college experience could be evaluated and valued by employers. This would simultaneously let employers make better hiring decisions AND help people who have some college experience (whether or not they completed their degree) convert their college experience into appropriate employment. After all, if I really need a ML/AI/Hadoop person, what do I care if they had to drop out of school after 2.5 years as long as they have the coursework I need them to have?

I’m working with some friends on implementing this idea of jailbreaking the transcript and extending it (badges interleaved with courses on your meta-transcript, anyone?). More on this to come.

3 thoughts on ““Think Different” about the College Completion Problem”

  1. One idea is to use Project Tin Can (see http://scorm.com/tincan/) whereby schools become (one of many) certified emitters of “I did that” credentials (finer-grained than degrees). Then if you had “socially-connected collectors” where individuals control subsequent release into their networks or directly to potential employers, you’ve not only jailbroken the transcript, but atomized it into relevant competencies.

    Consider an “achievements or digital portfolio” service within (say) LinkedIn or Facebook that you control. You’d then have a single place into which to request the release of certified artifacts from your university (or an MITx or Khan) along with any relevant educational or occupational achievements coming from non-universities. You choose which credentials to share with¬†a potential employer. They choose which ones are relevant to them (and can click-through to see if something you claim is authenticated by the name-brand emitter attached to the credential).

    The issuing institution only has to provide a durable certification process (with revocation f it feels a need to control how long an artifact is “good” for). It doesn’t have to staff offices to ship out complete transcripts. Similarly, you could even put your own artifacts (uncertified by an external agency) as part of your portfolio of digital creditentials. Artists and musicians do this to show what they can do. The employer can which credentials matter to them and can choose how heavily to weight the certified third-party attestation.

    Hope this helps your thinking about the problem!


  2. College completion problem arises because people get disappointed with the results of the education which is too expensive and does not guarantee a job. So people figure that if they drop out they would have more success. However misleading that is!

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