The Death of the Bachelor’s Degree

David DeWolf

I’ve commented before on the disruption that is simmering in the education sector. The sector is ripe for innovation; it’s an industry that hasn’t changed in a meaningful way in, literally, hundreds of years.

On the surface, it would be easy to speculate that the slow pace of technology adoption within the sector is fueling this change. Far from it. Soaring costs, plummeting results, and a massive amount of consumer debt are the real drivers.

Simply put, education in America has been commoditized. The value of a bachelor’s degree has eroded significantly.

On one hand, employers view a bachelor’s degree as the price of entry and are weighing one graduate against another. On the other hand, there is a growing sentiment among employers that graduates are ill-prepared for the workforce, and as a result, they discount the value of a formal education as compared to experience.

A survey of 500 hiring managers by recruitment firm Adecco, found that a majority–66 percent–believe new college graduates are not prepared for the workforce after leaving college. Anecdotally, I can say that the percentage in the technology field is much higher. I can’t remember the last time I spoke to an executive that felt as though, in general, recent graduates are well prepared at the onset of their careers.

Despite this plunge in pedigree, college tuition is soaring and students are leaving with, on average, $25,000-$30,000 of debt, an amount that’s increasing at a clip of 5% per year. This is silly. In all other industries, as a product is commoditized the price goes down.

Combine these economic realities with the growing popularity of MOOCs and other innovations, and it’s easy to see how eventually the entire education sector will be disrupted. We’re not talking simply about technologies optimizing the current learning experience.

Disruption within the education sector will turn the entire learning experience on its head. Ventures such as are already experimenting with providing college credit from outside the classroom. How long until similar ventures figure out how to replace the bachelor’s degree altogether?