Degree or No Degree
"Why shall I go to university?", the nephew asked Eduardo. Eduardo stumbled. He had so many ideas in mind but he knew that his nephew didn't care too much about money and career. So, many answers he was about to argue would not be helpful.
Edu started by sharing with his nephew that there ARE alternatives to degrees like micro-credentials, boot camps, industry certifications, and apprenticeships. While those might create short-term benefits of jobs, Edu shared with him the main reasons why he feels that today there might be no shortcuts to degrees.
The value of a degree generates interesting discussions. The discussion got reinforced during the pandemic in which many universities had to deliver courses online even though they were not prepared. Tuition fees were seldom adjusted to the surprise of many students. This triggered the value of degree conversations.
The most used argument in this discussion is the skills gap. Employers are complaining that universities need to prepare students for integration into the workforce. Students learn too many academic concepts without being able to apply their knowledge. Hence, some industries have launched their certification programs like Google, AWS, and Salesforce. In Germany, the apprenticeship is a pathway that combines industry-related academic sessions with hands-on learning in companies. The apprenticeship comes the closest to closing the skills gap.
Here is what makes a university education worth the investment:
An academic degree journey teaches skills to research, analyze, synthesize, and reflect critically. It provides conceptual knowledge that sets the base for future knowledge acquisition. While shorter qualifications might have more job-relevant skills for a particular role and industry, degrees are designed around a quality framework and set foundations that are ignored by other credential providers.
Social connections & Interactions
The experience at any university is often claimed to be "the time of one's life". It's a formative period without boundaries set by parents or guardians. It's a period to mature, to find a role in society. It's time to make mistakes. All this PLUS building the connections and interactions that will impact life in future years.
Little thought is given to the possibilities of an international career. When it comes to working overseas, the level of academic achievement is critical for many authorities to award a working visa. It is a proxy for the level of potential income and the ability to sustain oneself in the new country. With international mobility being a way of professional growth, they should not be limited by not being able to obtain a relevant working visa.
Employers are the ultimate gatekeepers. An education's goal is to find employment or obtain the skills and confidence to establish a company. As long as companies require degrees as a minimum requirement for certain positions, the balance tilts towards DEGREE. The degree requirement allows companies as well to filter candidates more rapidly. Though it certainly might support degree inflation, it is easier to set a degree requirement for job roles to limit the volume of applications.
According to the Burning Glass Institute, however, there is a noticeable trend in the US to more and more organizations not requiring a 4-year BA Degree. This trend might be influenced by the talent crunch and is used as a base to widen the talent pool in certain industries.
Eduardo had a hard time convincing his nephew. Though the education landscape is changing and more alternative qualifications are getting accepted, it is still a far stretch that non-traditional qualifications challenge the existence of degrees.
The future might be a more flexible higher education system that allows pathways and alternative quality frameworks to interact with the established system to allow stackable degrees.