by Dawn Casey-Rowe

It’s graduation time–a good time to think about the future.

There’s an increasing move toward “uncollege” in education today. Spurred on by the nation’s recent economic troubles and the heavy burden of student loan debt, the “uncollege” movement is producing thinkers who feel education is a life-long endeavor and that students don’t necessarily need structured, formal college-level education to succeed. Advances in technology, like MOOCs and online learning such as Khan Academy, Udemy and Coursera can provide solid learning opportunities for little or no money.

Social learning like Learnist allows people to continue learning for free. This combined certainly costs much less than a traditional four-year college degree. Additionally, many students fail to graduate in the traditional four years, which means that they add an additional year’s tuition onto the already-heaping pile of debt. This debt is not forgivable. Students–or their parents and co-signers–must pay it back. In some cases, parents report that they have put their retirement funds into their kids’ college education, something leading financial analysts do not recommend.

In my classroom experience, I have found many students who do not understand these obligations. More than one student has asked me, personally, to cosign college loans, not understanding the gravity of that commitment. Then, there is a slew of predatory lending to contend with as well.

The alarming trend for post-recession graduates is that they find themselves in a highly competitive environment with employers demanding skills they may not have attained in their chosen degree. In business and education, in order to be successful, we plan backwards–I must define my stated goal, then deconstruct it to know the resources, instruction, staff, or materials I’ll need to get there. I must have a series of action plan steps. Oftentimes, students do not think in this way when going to college. They simply study things they love without a plan, which hurts them at job time.

Should students go heavily into debt to be highly qualified and career ready? How do you define skills and certifications? Must they be earned by traditional methods? Could badges provide these credentials? For example, is my study of Mandarin using Rosetta Stone less measurable than my Russian language studies in the traditional college setting? What defines real, measurable, and authentic skill as recognized by an employer?  What skills and qualifications does the real world demand?

How does education evolve to address these critical questions?

This is a debate that affects many. Noted entrepreneurs have spoken out on the issue, stating college is overpriced and that the “school of hard knocks” does a better job teaching. Entrepreneur Peter Thiel, who helped fund Dale Stephen’s “UnCollege” endeavors, also lectures at his alma mater, Stanford. There’s a real split on this question. Public education in the nation is under indictment, with many saying that students enter college unprepared and in need of remediation. These featured Learnist boards address this highly contentious subject. Please weigh in with your thoughts, opinions, and contributions to these boards.

Learnist-app-logo-digital5 Resources That Wrestle With The Question: Is College Necessary In 2013?

Debate: For the College-Bound, Are There Any Safe Bets?

College was once seen as a ticket to success. If the post-recession economy makes it less so, as grads continue to list themselves as “underemployed,” what can the college-bound do to bolster their chances of success? Professor Maggie Messitt discusses trends and employment forecasts, helping students to think through some college and major choices that may give them a leg up against the competition.

College: Is It Necessary?

A growing number of experts are saying college is completely unnecessary, and that technology is leading us into a learner revolution. Are MOOCs, internships, “Gap Years” and self-directed learning the way to go, or are they just red herrings?

Failure to Graduate College on Time

A stunning 54% of students fail to graduate on time. This has a cost to families already burdened with student loans. How do we ensure that students going to college are picking achievable and practical majors and receiving the guidance necessary to obtain their degrees on schedule?

Consider Career & Technical Education

Career and Technical Education has had the reputation of being lower level–the types of schools for those who weren’t headed for college. Nothing could be further from the truth. CTE is making a comeback with a generation of students who want a headstart for STEM education, trades, and entrepreneurial careers. It’s often featured by celebrities such as Mike Rowe, and nationally, the debate to give even more funding to CTE schools is on the table. Think about it–when was the last time you needed a skilled tradesperson, and how much do these services cost? There’s a real opportunity and scarcity in many of the traditional trade areas, and STEM demands more people with tech skills. Those trends will just keep increasing–it’s simple supply and demand economics.

Choosing and Paying for College

College may be one of the largest investments an individual makes in his or her future. Too often students choose colleges based on emotion. This is unwise, especially in today’s economy. Choosing a college must be a business decision. The ivy on the walls and the “feeling” must not be the only considerations. This feature helps lay out some options that families might not consider when thinking about a four-year investment in college.

Please join in the discussion on any of these boards. Like Learnist on Facebook and follow LearnistTweets on Twitter!