Higher Education: It’s Not That Bad!

Higher Education

Much has been written lately about how American higher education is doomed. And I’m certainly no apologist, having heard horror stories from recent grads about career counselors with no job experience and student debt that piles up even faster than rejection letters. So last week, when I walked into a San Jose State classroom with busted A/C and Wi-Fi on the fritz, I wasn’t expecting much…

And that’s when my Mind. Was. Blown.

Getting a chance to speak to about 50 students in Michael Brito’s Social Media course, it suddenly dawned on me. Every negative stereotype about higher ed is just that – a stereotype. For instance:

Higher Ed is doomed because it’s too expensive… When I asked students about tuition, the full year came in at just a hair over $7K. A significant investment for an 18-year-old to be sure, but one that favors access over perks and that comes in at just 1/6 the price-tag of a certain more well-known institution down the road in Palo Alto.

…which means the rich get richer. While there may be a huge college attendance wealth gap nationally, the students staring out at me represented a veritable cross-section of society – different ages, backgrounds, and life experiences.

Higher Ed is doomed because classes are taught by out-of-touch faculty… Prof. Brito is no ivory tower hermit. In fact, teaching is just a personal passion for him. His day job is managing WCG – one of the world’s top communications companies and a firm that his students would love to work for!

…to disinterested, grade-grubbing students. While Millennials have been tarred in the media as “deluded narcissists” who feel entitled to a good job without working hard for it, the San Jose State students were seriously DEEP. Instead of just asking how to make their profiles look good, they wanted to know the “Why” behind the “How.” For example, one young woman asked whether students should list political or religious activities on their profiles, which led to a great debate around personal convictions vs. professional expediency. And sure, lots of students were Tweeting during class – but they were Tweeting their insights from the conversation!

Higher Ed is doomed because it doesn’t prepare students for jobs… Not only does Prof. Brito talk about his real world experience, but his entire course is directly relevant to the world the students are about to enter. As a marketer, not a day goes by that I don’t think about social media. And now these students are about to enter the workforce with 10x the expertise that I’ve ever had in this area.

…and, ultimately, it doesn’t help students get them. Though one could easily imagine an entire generation of Art History major baristas based on recent media coverage, the data doesn’t lie. San Jose State has sent over 1,000 alums to work at Apple, for instance – including 600+ Millennials alone. Which gives them about 200 more iAlums than that aforementioned august Palo Alto institution… 🙂

So what does all this mean for higher education? If it’s not entirely doomed after all, where should we go from here???

Well, my friends, I’m happy to say that I’ve finally seen the future of higher ed. And guess what? It’s not a MOOC or a gadget or even a fancy brand name. It’s something that’s already, quietly working every single day – smart, passionate teachers helping a diverse group of students get hands-on with the critical topics of tomorrow, at an affordable cost.

That’s what the future of higher education looks like.

We just need to look past all the hype and negativity to see it clearly.

Jeremy Schifeling
About the author: 

 Jeremy Schifeling is the Founder of Break into Tech, based in San Francisco, CA.  Previously, Jeremy was the Vice President of Marketing at Fidelis Education, and held management positions at LinkedIn, Apple and American Express.  He has his MBA from the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, where he’s currently an MBA Career Coach, “paying it forward to the next generation of Wolverine MBA’s”.  Follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter.