Is College Still Worth It? | Jason Lange | TEDxWilmingtonED

As technology continues to accelerate change, will the traditional college model be able to keep up? Why might college no longer be worth it for many of our nation’s kids, and what might they consider doing instead? Jason Lange is the Co-Founder and President of BloomBoard, an education technology company focused on empowering educator success through personalized, competency-based learning. Prior to founding BloomBoard, Jason worked in finance as an investment banking Analyst and then as a private equity Associate before going to graduate school. While in graduate school, Jason worked as a Summer Associate at NewSchools Venture Fund, where he supported the development of the initial edtech investment thesis for the NewSchools Seed Fund (now Reach Capital). Jason received a BA in psychology and philosophy from Yale University, an MBA from Stanford University Graduate School of Business, and an MA in Education from Stanford University School of Education. This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at

I grew up in a fairly average place out cookie-cutter homes and sprawling suburban subdivision when i was six years old my mom went away for a business trip you just didn’t really ever happen but she said she’d have surprised me when she got back like any little kid i was super excited about getting some new toy and so you can imagine my confusion when she reached

In her bag and she pulled out a harvard sweatshirt now that’s why i didn’t know anything about harvard little in college for that matter but little did i know that this would actually begin years of indoctrination to the idea that college and the ivy league in particular was the be-all end-all to success in life in so fast-forward 30 years with all the benefit of

Hindsight and as a pretty average kid from chicago i’d rarely admit that i’ve effectively won the lottery see i was super fortitude to go to yale for my undergrad and then summer which i’m pretty sure i only got into because i could play football in high school just don’t tell them and then years later i got into stanford for graduate school i got a master’s in

Education and an mba from stanford business school and so not only have i had amazing success and fortune academically despite the fact that i’ve actually reactive about $200,000 in debt along the way yeah exactly but i’d actually readily acknowledge that the vast majority of my success in life can in some way be linked back to the fact at the moment i got into

Yale i fundamentally changed the trajectory of my life i can invest in banking which was right out of college as a psychology major from there i got into a private equity investing from there i got into stanford all of which can be rude in the fact that i had been validated by a single elite institution and so what’s surprising for me today now 36 years old 15

Years into my career ten of which i’ve actually been in education directly is that animals and now in the middle of dealing with all the chaos that comes with having four kids of my own and thinking about their futures is that i almost guarantee you that not off one of my kids leaving go to college first let me acknowledge the privilege that i have in making that

Statement so as a white male who’s been to these amazing schools clearly my family will benefit from my experience but that said i don’t think it changes the fact that over the past 15 years as technology has accelerated our ability to almost anything in life we’re starting to see an amazing shift take place in the currency of validation there so what do i mean

By currency of validation will see for centuries the world’s actually been a pretty opaque place it’s not like we had any really good information to try to figure each other out no one has been following us around posting videos on the internet of everything we do until now and see this transparency has done fundamental things to change the fabric of our culture

So now you can upload and document anything you do in life almost instantaneously and turns out showing off is now the foundation of several of the world’s largest companies and so this transparency is starting to fundamentally change how we vet and assess and validate people around us and we’re starting to see a change in the types of question we use to validate

People from where did you go to school to more what have you built lately can you show me what you’ve done and the shift in the currency of validation actually has fantastic implications and that can democratize expertise far greater than any time in history before see we’re moving from a place and a time we’re learning and knowledge was guarded by these reverent

Institutions and we’re moving to a place we’re not anyone regardless of socioeconomic status or demographic can actually set same information at a fraction of the cost so i thought it’d be helpful don’t lie why this shift in the currency of validation of happening why should we now be questioning the value of college when it’s been held sacred for so long so first

Not surprisingly its cost the latest college board data puts the average cost of a four-year college to be anywhere from $100,000 to a core million dollars all in and that’s only if she graduate on time and these costs become even more dramatic if you consider them against a simple question which is how many actual real-world skills did you learn in college that

You could apply immediately in your career when you graduated for instance when i graduate with the masters in education i went to become a substitute teacher for a while and i was sort of shocked to realize that i actually only really learned three or four skills from that entire degree then we’re gonna help me manage a classroom full of kids in the chaos and

Their learning and this actually leads to the second probably the most profound shift facing colleges today which is the shift from seat time based learning to competency-based learning so see time based learning is the traditional model we’re all too familiar with regardless of what you actually learn what’s measured is how much time do you spend sitting in your

Seat competency-based learning on the other hand describes the type of learning where regardless of how long you sit but it’s one hour or five hours or 10 hours what’s measured is whether you can actually demonstrate competency of a specific skill via some sort of portfolio of artifacts or documents or videos or even on the job directly and this is actually where

We can learn a lot from the research in the teacher development space where i’ve spent the past ten years of my career see several years ago two amazing researchers named joyce and showers did a fascinating meta-analysis where they compared various types of learning to the transfer of that learning to a job application in this case in the teaching context and what

They found is in a traditional lecture environment we have theory and discussion that’s it happening in classroom only about 5% of students can take that information and turn it into demonstrable new skills in that same classroom environment lectures aren’t great and turns out only about 0% of those students can actually transfer those skills into their actual

Job context down the road now if you add to that lecture some demonstration some practice some feedback which probably typifies 90 plus percent of the classes today in colleges that aren’t lectures now what they found is that you get 60% of those students can actually demonstrate new skills in that same classroom environment which is better but not great but

Unfortunately only 5% of those students can actually transfer those skills to their job application down the road and so this data has to be a little bit terrifying if i’m holding a tuition bill right now and i’m expecting to be able to transfer any of that learning into my future career so now interestingly enough what the research also found is that you if you

Add to that learning environment an actual apprenticeship type approach when you take a job embedded coach who can actually give you direct feedback on what skills you’re working on in that environment now and that’s an area 95% of students can demonstrate those skills back in that classroom environment and most importantly 95% of our students can then transfer

Those skills in their job application down the road but now imagine how much our existing universities and colleges would need to change to actually make this shift to this new approach to learning happen not to mention the sort of bridges to industry that they need to build to make it happen effectively and so it’s really exciting is that we’re right at the start

Of a brand new shift we’re a bunch of new low low cost alternatives are becoming mainstream that are directly embedded in the job market so whether its technical boot camps like general assembly or hack reactor or even some of the more competency-based mba programs like all time ba or even more the tactical course marketplace is like glinda or udemy all of these

Alternatives are not only much lower cost but they’re actually super pragmatic in terms of building the skills that employers directly value because they’re working with employers on a regular basis to make sure that their content aligns with their job postings what’s even more exciting is many of these alternatives are now starting to break apart the complexity of

Expertise and the breaking apart into much more modular pieces that make that learning much more accessible than ever before and i actually think we’re only getting started there’s no reason to think that’s soon enough the biggest employers in the world the boeing’s the toyota’s the google’s won’t simply soon enough define what projects and skills they want to hire

For and post all of that to the internet for anyone to engage with and it seems pretty clear that they’re gonna prefer to hire people who’ve demonstrated mastery and competency in those skills than people who’ve gone through a traditional college experience now i’m sure some of you would argue that a broader liberal arts education actually serves a broader purpose

A bigger purpose than skill building primarily to inspire a level of learning the problem here again is i think it’s incredibly hard to imagine that we should or can expect any institution to inspire a level learning in just four years especially with a student population that’s so much a no offense and then i actually challenge you that a true love of learning

Needs to be continuously developed throughout our entire lives starting when we’re really young and i’d be willing to bet that many many of us could have actually gotten a ton more value other dollars we spent on college if we’d actually save those dollars and spent them several years down the road when we were a bit more mature it could actually take advantage

Of the learning i said we know i would have the other one of the other big arguments i hear in defense of the existing system is well college is actually just a means of purchasing a network see it’s the people it’s the alumni that matter which is really hard to defend it’s true and certainly for the elite schools in the top tier their networks they will always be

Able to justify their elite status by pointing to their impressive networks the problem here once again especially for any schools not in that top echelon is that technology is closing the gap for admission to these networks by making them much more open and accessible and specialized than ever before so if you want to do if your incident education technology you

Can go spend $25,000 on a master’s in education and it’s a great way to buy a network of a bunch of people that are really interested in that same space but to be honest edtech like any other industry in the world is actually pretty tiny once you’re in it and so not only does that mean that a really broad network it’s just not that much not that not as useful

Anymore given the demands of specialization today but it also means that your best way nowadays to get network into an industry is just follow all the relevant linkedin groups and hashtags in the space and then reach out to every ceo and thought leader to get their thoughts on whatever you’re working on see it turns out people are much more accessible than colleges

Have ever been and so why does all this matter to you and if college is really no longer worth it for my kids what would i hope to do that instead not staying home not make that clear see i think this matters to pretty much everyone regardless of if you’re an employee or a leader or most importantly a parent the change in this currency of validation is going to

Be meaningful to you and your families as employees it means we need to stop settling for jobs where we don’t feel like we’re growing because if you’re not growing i can guarantee you that many of the people you’re going to compete against for your next job are as leaders it means we need to stop sending our teams to conferences and workshops just to learn about

New ideas that they’re never gonna implement and we need to focus the conversations with our team on the demonstration of learning not the consumption of it and as parents it means we need to stop pushing our kids into activities just for the sake of activities because going forward the depth of application is going to be so much more valuable than the breadth of

Participation we have to recognize that the world today is accelerating moving and changing faster than ever before in history and unfortunately the university institutions around us can simply no longer stay ahead of what’s best for our kids many of them simply cannot or will not keep up and therefore as parents is our job it is our responsibility to do everything

We possibly can to prepare our kids for a future that’s gonna be vastly different than the one we grew up in a future in which the act of building and doing and creating is the most valuable currency of all it reminds me of my favorite steve jobs code when he said everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can

Change it you can influence it you can build your own things that other people can use that’s the most important thing and while yes we as society have a ton of baggage there’s historically limited what someone was eligible to do based on whatever level of access he or she could attain but we’re moving to a world where the act of building and doing is no longer

Reserved for some entrepreneurial elite and we’re the body of skills that make up truex tee’s is starting to be uncoupled and modulized in a way that makes it much easier and accessible than ever before it actually reflects probably the single greatest lesson i’ve learned in my entire life which i didn’t perhaps learn from any particularly reverent institution in

Which i now spent every day trying to teach my kids and as that the the act of learning something new of doing something meaningful something different the act of creating an expertise or building something even starting a company is no longer that hard or risky and it certainly isn’t any harder or riskier than working grueling hours for not great pay just with the

Likelihood of having your job outsourced to some new automation down the road see i think we’re at an amazing moment in history and then a hundred years from now society will look back at this time and say that was the beginning that was the beginning of when the rules for success fundamentally shifted and when technology finally became good enough to us control

Over over each of our own destinies we are just at the beginning and therefore a society the single most important thing we can do as parents is to teach our kids that they can learn anything and they can do or build anything the rest including whether or not they go to college will be up to them thank you very much you

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Is College Still Worth It? | Jason Lange | TEDxWilmingtonED By TEDx Talks