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Bernard Marr discussed, in his April 20 LinkedIn post, the yawning skills gap in the tech sector, with just 11% of hiring organizations believing that colleges and universities are providing graduates with the needed skills.

Perhaps we are placing too much hope in colleges and universities. Maybe the whole idea of a degree is part of the problem. We are long past the days (if they ever existed) when all the participants in an economy had an attend-school phase, acquiring the skills needed for work, followed by a career phase, spent using those skills. Universities and their degrees represent expensive, long-fuse efforts to meet the demand for skilled workers in arenas that shift over time. Back in the 1960’s, engineering was all the rage, attracting and huge numbers of students. The process was like a large ocean liner, built and dispatched to meet a real need, but incapable of rapidly shifting course. It was the tail end of a boom, and engineering went into a relative decline. Colleges and universities produced an oversupply of engineers — an oversupply that was temporarybut affected job perceptions for some time to come.

The need for life-long learning has long been evident: Marr also quotes Randi Zuckerberg (the sister of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg):

“Make sure you never get too comfortable or complacent — because in tech the landscape is changing every two to five years and the skills you have now are not necessarily going to be useful in five years. … Make sure you’re always learning, keeping up with your skills and just because you’re graduating with a computer science degree, don’t think those skills are going to be useful in five years.”

The students we see at Statistics.com (we offer 90+ four-week courses in analytics, data science and statistics) know this. Thousands of students, mostly paying on their own (we do not participate in government aid programs) come to us to build their analytics skills over the years, topic-by-topic. We started online in 2002, with small classes focused on specific statistics topics like “Generalized Linear Models”, “Data Mining”, “Resampling Methods”, “Designing and Conducting Clinical Trials (for Managers)” that are taught by expert instructors (often the author of a leading text on the subject), and the students have access to the instructor during the course. We have expanded and now offer a full data science curriculum.

Other education providers have started to respond, as shown in the growing popularity of “bite-sized” education bits that allows people to target skills gaps more precisely and at less cost. Bootcamps offer the promise of gearing up to enter a whole new career in a few months. MOOC’s (Massive Open Online Courses) present a cafeteria of options for motivated self-learners who don’t need to interact with an instructor.

Life-long learning opportunities will continue to expand, and the nation’s bank of employees’ skills capital will grow. As the opportunity and the need to learn new things assume more and more importance, you would think that the value of the college degree as credential would recede. Richer and deeper measures of individuals’ suitability for jobs will take on more significance.

And yet brands die hard, especially in education. Consider David Malan’s Computer Science course offered at Harvard several years ago (CSCI E-50) — it was available for free through EdX, or you could pay $75 for an EdX completion certificate (provided you successfully complete the course), or you could pay $2200 and get Harvard credit — for the same exact course.

Will the power of the university brand recede? Herbert Stein, economic advisor to President Nixon (and originator of the advice column “Dear Prudence”), famously wrote that “if something can’t continue it won’t.” And Purdue’s purchase of Kaplan University, announced today, is a hint that the dinosaur is adapting.

Originally posted here

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