Education is an interesting thing for the Professional. I’ve discussed it several times. The Bachelors is a black hole that hasn’t gone away and seems to suck more would be professionals every year. I have also discussed how that the mistakes we make with the BA are trickling up market into the Masters Programs.
In my blog post about the masters programs, I end the post by saying:
No matter if it’s the Master’s, MBA, or Doctoral Degree; we really have to be very careful if we are going to invest in the highest levels of education. Education is very good, but only if it changes us or if it opens real doors. If it’s just a checkbox that everyone has, maybe there needs to be something different we can do to truly stand out, and to get to where we all want to be.
The biggest challenge isn’t the actual education, education isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. For the most part learning things changes us and it’s usually for the better. When speaking to people about the topic of college I always make the joke about not going to school to get a degree in basket weaving. But what if that basket weaving knowledge teaches us patience? What if it teaches us to look at how small simple problems (a single weave) can be manipulated slowly over time to reach large complex solution, like a basket, or even a basket business? These are both amazing perspectives that can be of tremendous help in life. The problem in this scenario isn’t the knowledge in basket weaving. The challenge is the the answer to the question: Will the investment of four years of school inclusive of meal plans, housing, social commitments in time and money, opportunity costs, etc ever get an ROI from your farmers market basket business? The answer is probably not. I just can’t think of any basket weaving jobs that pay 60-120K a year with paid time off, health care, and all the other employer provided necessities of life. But what about those other skills that you can learn with the Bachelors of Arts in Basketweave or BABW, like patience and seeing how small solutions can equal large solutions. Surely a project management firm would understand this and hunt out and recruit the graduating class of basket weavers every year, right? Surely a BABW = a PMP? Uh, nope. Not even close.
This in a nutshell is why education can become a serious life trap, if you invest in the wrong thing, you are trapped to payments for the long term. It’s like buying a car that’s a lemon and not being able to sell it or return it. There are no lemon laws for your BA, or Masters.
That being said, what if you could learn how to basket weave by yourself, without a degree. Well the reality is that’s how many people have done it. They watch someone else learn, go get themselves a pile of sweetgrass and start weaving. No matter if they make some ugly baskets or become so good they wind up in the smithsonian, they didn’t have to get a degree, they didn’t have to have someone certify their knowledge.
Ok, let’s flip this around to business. What if you could get that business knowledge by yourself without spending all that money on a traditional University? Now, i’m not against Universities. I work for a college and understand the nuances and benefits of the institution. My critique is in the systematic way in which the concept of college is sold by the universities to unsuspecting youth and the cultural acceptance that there is only college and the military as viable options after high school. It’s a self fulfilling prophecy that has lead to trillions in student loan debt mastering many subjects that don’t lead to good job opportunities.
We live in the information age. If you want knowledge there is Youtube videos, podcasts, industry centric websites, books, facebook groups, toastmasters clubs, online courses, etc. The list is endless and in many cases the information on any subject is readily available. For many of us it’s sitting there in our pockets. So if a job posting requires an MBA and ten years in the widget business, we can just go on an interview and tell them about the last ten years we have been engaged in truly understanding the XYZ widget market. We can discuss how our knowledge far surpasses someone out of school with an MBA and how we can truly make an impact in the widget business. They are going to hire us on the spot, right? Well no.. first off you don’t get the interview. HR automation and modern communication technologies means that you don’t get past the HR filters that are programed to not spit out any resume for consideration without MBA. So that leaves us with having to go back and get that crazily overpriced MBA, right? I think I have found one solution… for the private sector anyway.
While researching I came across an online school called University for the People (UoP). It’s designed as a sort of open source university. No tuition, all online, minimal testing fees (compared to a traditional online program). They have just started offering an MBA. The big twist here that UoP has over other online classes and knowledge sources is that it’s accredited… kinda. In February 2014 UoPeople received accreditation from the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC), a U.S. Department of Education authorized accrediting agency. That’s enough right? The description certainly uses the word accredit enough times so it has to be legit. If the federal government says it’s good, then it’s good, right? Well I did some more fact checking.. And the answer is a bonafide maybe.
You see I reached out to some private sector companies and some public sector institutions. The private sector didn’t give a crap. The bottom line was that the MBA got you through the HR filters. After that it was all about experience and the interview. That’s it.
It’s a bit more complicated when it comes to academia. To overly simplify there are accrediting bodies in academia that are all built around accepted practices in a region or a field of study. So if you want to teach in business administration class at a community college with your freshly completed MBA from University of the People, there is a real chance it won’t happen. You degree will not be accepted by the department head no matter how thorough your education is because it wasn’t from a college that was approved by an known accrediting agency. It’s the old deal of “you gotta be in the club to play”. This shouldn’t shock anyone.
Don’t forget the colleges and universities tend to be filled by very smart people. They completely get that education is going to be totally disrupted by the internet in the same way that travel agencies were destroyed by travelocity, Priceline, et al. or that taxi industry is going to be destroyed by uber. Only accepting knowledge credentials from approved accrediting agencies is a way for the colleges to keep circling the wagons and maintain the systematic and ever growing cash cows of students funded by student loans, government subsidies, etc… Sounds a bit like a mature industrialized industry, doesn’t it?
If you want to work in education at any meaningful level, you gotta pay to play. I think the UoP people get that and that’s why their first Masters was an MBA… because there is no way there would be any value at all in offering a Masters in Psychology. Aside from personal enrichment it would be a complete waste as the degree would never get the graduate into a traditionally accredited doctoral program or get them a job.
The other side, well that’s interesting to me. Everyone is looking for the purple squirrel. That’s the whole point of HR automation, look for exactly what the organization needs through the massive volumes of applicants. To become that purple squirrel you have to have more and more check boxes checked so you have the right mix that’s included in the search term. In the private sector all the HR professional cares about is having the boxes checked to send the resume to the hiring manager.
I could go on more and more, but I think I should get to the point. The reality here is that there is a window of opportunity here. The window is the emergence of low cost ways to get understood credentials that are ‘good enough’ to get you to the interview. Once things like MBA’s from UoP start to gain in popularity, then greater and greater percentages of people will have them. Then it becomes one more thing that you need to compete in the job market for the ever shrinking number of upwardly mobile positions in middle management. But for now, if you got the time then the price is right. It maybe a good thing to keep in your basket of career tools. I would know because I really know baskets.
Mike Peluso, BABW