2017 FOURTH PLACE ESSAY

The Brick and Mortar Failure

by Isabel Braun, Age 17
Submitting Teacher: Jamie Smith


In 1974, a promising young student dropped out of Harvard University to begin a computer software business, a dubious emerging field. After years of writing complicated computer coding, a prominent technology authority hired him, and just a few years later, he became the world’s youngest billionaire. Bill Gates’ story is one of few; a story about the possibility of self-made success, rather than traditional college-made success.

            Over forty years later, few Americans follow in his footsteps. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, over two-thirds of 2015 high school graduates enrolled in college. But with technology’s ever-growing monopoly on learning, is a college education necessary? Employers have certainly not reaped the benefits of more educated employees. In a survey completed by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, just 26% of employers say that the college graduates they hire are “well prepared” for critical or analytical thinking. Clearly, the traditional brick and mortar college experience is failing the next generations of employees, employers, and learners.

            Previously, education solely took place within the walls of an institution, taught by scholars who could be found nowhere else. But now, owing to the advent of technology and its increasing scope, learning can take place anywhere. Textbooks, once only available from college bookstores for a couple hundred dollars, are fully uploaded online. Anyone can search WikiHow to learn how to knit, fix a car, or build a robot. Khan Academy, an online learning tool, produces videos and lessons on almost any subject. John Stossel previews Hacking EDU, a conference gathering attendees from every corner of the world to build new products with technology. Kirill Satanovsky, one of Hacking EDU’s co-founders, explains the conference’s popularity, commenting that “technologies are evolving so rapidly, and schools can’t keep up.” Hacking EDU is a success story of integrating technology and education.  How can America engender more of these stories?

            The work begins with business owners, who must change their attitudes towards hiring. A March 2016 survey, conducted by online job site CareerBuilder, found that an increasing number of employers now hire college-educated workers for jobs once held by workers who only had a high school diploma. Business owners must stop tossing aside every resumé that lacks a check next to “Bachelor’s Degree”, and begin to focus on the individual. If a prospective employee has the necessary skills to become a computer programmer, why does it matter whether he learned his trade in a university or from a Youtube video? Are his skills somehow less valid? What if he spent the last for years fixing broken computers? Currently, the student who spent four years writing essays about broken computers is given the job. While technological revolution is quickly shaping our educational landscape, employers seem slow to adjust.

To aid the process, politicians need to stop pushing college as a “must” for all high school graduates. Senator Bernie Sanders promoted this idea during his run for President, even claiming that public colleges should be tuition-free, as college is now “the equivalent of a high school degree.” Putting aside the nonsensical notion of “free” college, further involving the government in education will only complicate matters even more. In fact, government intervention is what caused high school diplomas to quickly lose their value. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that federal education spending has increased 375% since 1970, yet test scores in every subject area have stagnated. Clearly, more money is not the solution. Hacking EDU co-founder Alex Cory targets the issue, lamenting that America will fall behind “with all this bureaucracy.” Politicians should instead embrace innovation by removing barriers to starting a business through cutting taxes and easing regulations. If a high school senior knew that he could begin a business with no paperwork and few, if any, taxes, then of course he would choose that path, laced with potential benefits, over the traditional college route which could very likely doom him to the life of an office employee.

            A movement away from college will not threaten educators, it will make them even more necessary. Online education websites, such as the afore-mentioned Khan Academy, constantly require scholars of a broad variety of subjects to create lesson plans, videos, or lectures. These jobs will be more flexible, could be completed from home, and will produce more productive students.  If technology completely eclipses traditional learning, millions of dollars will be saved, as learning can take place from home, erasing the need for school buildings. Technology’s takeover of education will result in more content workers, more profitable businesses, and more enriched students.

            Shifting the focus from superficial qualifications and instead towards concrete achievements will result in more productive employees better equipped to meet their employers’ demands. This shift begins with government officials to promote ingenuity rather than uniformity, and requires business owners to review job candidates holistically. Technology evolves, and it is time education did as well.