Are Apprenticeships Better than College?

Yale University courtesy of Wikipedia.

Tom Clement, Senior Development Manager at Serena Software, earned a math degree, completed law school, and quit his legal career to learn C programming and a new career. Was his 7 years of schooling wasted? He suspects so because there are more direct ways of learning a profession than attending college. He points out that in some states, you could be licensed to practice law based either on formal education or an apprenticeship with a lawyer. Should apprenticeships be used more often rather than colleges?

I ask this question because college is not merely a bad investment, but a colossal waste, a form of collective insanity. College students are usually less interested in learning and care more about earning a credential and maximizing their grade point averages. If students learned valuable skills, then most graduates would be working in jobs related to their degrees. Instead, about half of recent graduates are unemployed or working at jobs requiring no college degree.

College teaches conformity rather than innovation. I am a successful investor because I refuse to conform; my contempt for mainstream thinking was a liability to earning a degree but is crucial to my success. Conformists blindly follow the Efficient Market Hypothesis stating that it is impossible to consistently achieve greater than average returns, endorsing The Wisdom of Crowds, preferring the intelligence of the collective to individuals, rejecting the obvious truth of Neitzche’s dictim: “In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations, and epochs it is the rule.”

Thiel Fellow Dale Stephens, head of UnCollege, asks us to revive apprenticeships:

Imagine that, instead of college, you worked directly in a field that interested you, learning how someone before you has been successful in that field. Learning the critical responsibilities that are only learned from actually doing, no matter how much theory you understand. Imagine if you lived in a community with other inspired, ambitious apprentices, where after work you’d get together and share your experiences with one another.

E[nstitute], a New York City based organization, will provide fifteen fellows with apprenticeships and living space in NYC. The cofounders of E[nstitute], Shaila Ittycheria and Kane Sarhan, are focused on providing E[nstitute]’s 15 fellows with the knowledge necessary to adapt to an unpredictable future. The fellows will be placed in positions to learn and work directly from some of New York City’s most innovative entrepreneurs.

E[nstitute] will serve as a building block for future entrepreneurs and innovators by teaching its fellows how to create a tangible result from an idea—to take the back of a napkin and turn it into the next Twitter. Most of know that ideas are abundant—what’s often lacking is the discipline and knowledge to turn that idea into a business, organization, movement, or whatever it is that you want to build.

It’s great that a few organizations — the Thiel Fellowship, now E[nstitute] — are providing apprenticeships and resources for alternative sources of education, incubating ideas and proving that college is not the only path to an education, much less to success. It’s a start. But this needs to scale.

Related posts:
PayPal Founder Challenges Higher Education Bubble
Software Publisher Proves College is Unnecessary
The Confession of a College Professor
Should David Karp Have Dropped Out of School?

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