Online courses will revolutionize higher education when learners can earn low-cost credentials that lead to jobs, writes Kevin Carey in the New York Times. Carey is the author of The End of College: Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere.
. . . traditional college degrees are deeply embedded in government regulation and standard human resources practice. It doesn’t matter how good a teacher you are — if you don’t have a bachelor’s degree, it’s illegal for a public school to hire you. Private-sector employers often use college degrees as a cheap and easy way to select for certain basic attributes, mostly the discipline and wherewithal necessary to earn 120 college credits.
However, Carey believes alternative credentials such as badges will break colleges’ “near-monopoly” on job qualifications. And most students go to college to get a better job, he writes.
Not so fast, responds economist Bryan Caplan.
Degrees signal an array of traits: not just intelligence, but work ethic, conformity, and more. “Harvard dropout” tells the job market, “This person was promising enough to get into Harvard, but so lazy and/or non-conformist that he wasted this golden opportunity.”
Conformity to social norms is a valued job attribute, adds Caplan. “Employers focus at least as much on workers’ general competence and people skills” as they do on specific skill sets.
He’d love to believe Carey is right, but he concludes “the status quo has a massive built-in advantage” because of the importance of “conformity signaling.” Furthermore, “governments at all levels annually cement the status quo’s advantage with hundreds of billions of dollars of subsidies.”