Getting a degree and an education

The two times I've been a college student, I walked away with a degree AND an education. Both my B.Arch. and M.B.A. programs gave me opportunities to instruct others and prove to myself that the best way to learn something is to teach it to another. Both degree programs involved working together with peers on projects with lots of meetings outside of class time. I learned as much from fellow students as from the formal instructors. Because there was so much action and interaction involved in the learning processes, I got a clearer sense of my own aptitudes, passions and values. I discovered how much I differed and how much I had in common with others I found compatible with me, interesting to me and understanding of me. 

Since then, I taught college courses for a dozen years. I did my best to ensure that the students enrolled in my courses got lots of takeaway value from my instructional designs. I could not, in good conscience, merely cover the material, test students on the assigned reading, or give lectures that were as boring to give as to receive. But I saw the results of other classes they endured and heard some of their horror stories. Many students were getting a degree without getting an education. The only thing they would have to show for their 4+ years of academic credits was their diploma and transcript -- all credential with no credibility! 

I suspect the increasing number of college dropouts is partly the result of this failure to provide an education. It becomes evident to enrolled students that they are getting no value beyond the piece of paper at the end of the line. It no longer appears worth the phenomenal expense, long term debt and anxiety while attending college. I believe many of those dropouts who dropped out to minimize the rip-off still desire a real education. If they cannot get both a degree and an education, they will settle for a useful, customized and experiential education.

This morning I notified the Penn/Milken contest administrators of my intention to submit an executive summary and business plan to "provide an affordable second chance to the growing number of college dropouts". I have in mind a social learning system that will provide a very valuable and enduring education without the credentials they've already lost hope of attaining. I will argue this is a far better bargain than those college graduates who walk away with the reverse result: the diploma without an education.


  1. I am finding with the new educational standards implimented in the 1990's that my students are looking to me to "give them an education." Throughout my 20 + years of teaching, I have had students accuse me of "not teaching them" but rather forcing them to learn from other students (I should somehow impart my extensive knowledge to them, what do other students know?).

    Surprisingly, I receive comments from students AFTER they have left and gone into the workplace, commenting on how much they really did learn from me, even though they didn't realize it when they took my course.

    The problem is that our educational system is short-term result oriented and is becoming more and more judged on "learning-outcomes" designed by those outside of the educational process or the workplace. Hopefully more inititives like the one you are applying for will change that.

  2. Thanks for the link to your related post. I'm delighted to learn of the pattern you saw in Hungary -- where the dropouts became entrepreneurs while college graduates continued their dependency on authorities in hierarchical employment.

    I've also experienced that belated appreciation for the value of a class I've taught as you have. I suspect it fit your pattern of preparing students for employment challenges before they've experienced them, and their only appreciating the preparation once they succeed in their new jobs.

    I've enjoyed more immediate appreciation for the way I've taught a class whenever I've questioned the value myself. I've said to many classes "I've been thinking about what good this class could be, if any, to you", "I wonder how this class will appear to you when you look back on it after you graduate", or "I've answered for myself why I think we're going to all this trouble together, but I don't expect you'll answer 'why bother?' the same way I do". By making the value questionable in their minds, the value to each personally becomes clear to them during the class term. It appears they even make it more valuable to themselves by investing more in it or perhaps simply believing it to be exceptionally valuable.

  3. I usually try to give them some context as we do something that they are not used to in class (usually they're whining or asking why they need to do such and such). I will give them examples as to how something is applicable to the real life. Likewise, I have contradicted the text book. In both cases, my students look at this that I don't know what I'm talking about.

    This ability to "know everything" is something that new graduates don't have a handle on. They believe that because they have that piece of paper, now they know everything they need to know. If you try to teach them how to learn in the workplace, they don't see that as a value of the degree they are receiving.

    On the other hand, I think those that forgo a college education know that they will have to always be learning and as a result, are better prepared to enter the workforce and stay updated than those that leave school feeling that they know it all (and should have a high level job instead of an entry level position).

  4. Thanks for the followup on both our blogs. Your take on the advantages the dropouts can realize is very encouraging to my project.

  5. Nice Post !

    Thanks for sharing your learning experience with me. It sounds very interesting experiments.

    Great going keep it Up !


    Toronto Education

  6. Thanks for the kudos! Good luck with your project too!