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Exploiting The Unbundling Of Education

by Loknath Das


Four out of 10 recent college grads in 2019 are in jobs that didn’t require their college degree. Student loan debt is at an all-time high, as it has climbed to more than $1.5 trillion this year. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate is hovering at 3.6%. What is happening? There is a jobs and education mismatch.

Satya Nadella, CEO at Microsoft, recently said that every company is now a software company. Where does software run? It runs on the cloud. So what does the cloud jobs market look like? It looks terrifying. A recent survey showed that 94% of organizations have trouble finding cloud talent. Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of Chase, says, “Major employers are investing in their workers and communities because they know it is the only way to be successful over the long term”.

Let’s break down the state of education and jobs for the majority of the market:

• Education is too expensive.

• Students are getting degrees in fields that are not employable.

• Even degrees in relevant fields (computer science, data science, etc.) are struggling to keep up with the current needs of the rapidly changing jobs market.

• Many professionals don’t have the time or money to attend traditional higher education

• Alternative education formats are emerging (unbundling).

• Even traditional higher education programs are supplementing “go to market” resources straight from the industry, like certifications.

What is unbundling? James Barksdale, the former CEO of Netscape, said that “there are only two ways I know of to make money: bundling and unbundling.” Education has been bundling for a long time, and it may be at a peak.

The cable television industry bundled for quite some time, adding more and more content and increasing the bill to a point that many consumers paid $100-$200 a month for TV. In many cases, consumers only wanted a specific show or network, like HBO, but it wasn’t an option. Fast forward to today, and we may be at a peak unbundling of streaming content with options like Disney+, Netflix, Amazon and more.

What are the similar offerings in education? Cloud computing providers are creating their own education channels. It is possible to study cloud computing in high school, get certified on a cloud platform and jump right into a six-figure salary — and the cost is effectively zero. The education content and these cloud computing credits are free and maintained by cloud vendors. This is a one-to-one match with education for jobs. It is free, and it is not provided by traditional higher education.

Likewise, many massive open online courses (MOOCs) are providing smaller bundles of education, equivalent to, say, an HBO subscription to a premium slice of education. These formats offer both free and paid versions of the subscription. In the case of a paid version, often the paid components are a narrow slice of services that a traditional college offers: career counseling, peer mentoring and job placement.

At the elite level, the top 20% of universities, the current bundle makes a lot of sense. The economies of scale create compelling offerings. For the bottom 80% of universities, there may be dramatic changes underway, similar to what has occurred with brick-and-mortar retail.

Let’s get to the exploit part now. There is a crisis in matching current job skills to qualified applications. Self-motivated learners, whether in high school or with 20 years of experience, can use free or low-cost learning solutions to upskill into the jobs of the future. The turnaround time is much quicker than a traditional two- or four-year degree. In a year of sustained effort, it’s possible to enter many new technology fields.

For students in graduate and undergraduate programs in hot fields like data science, machine learning, computer science, etc., you can create our own “bundle.” By mixing the benefits of your institution’s economies of scale and the unbundling of elite training, you can leapfrog the competition. I have had many students that I have taught machine learning to in graduate programs thank me for recommending they add an online bundle to their current degree. It made them uniquely relevant for a position.

Likewise, there is a surprising formula for undergraduate students in liberal arts that could be exploited. In talking with hiring managers about the skills that are missing in data scientists, they’ve told me that communication, writing and teamwork are most desirable. English, communication and art majors can and should grab a tech bundle and add it to their degree.

Here are a couple of ideas for what to look for in a tech bundle: Does it have an active or passive platform? An active platform allows you both to consume the content (videos and books) and also write code or solve problems against it. Is there a community associate with the platform? Community-driven platforms allow you to associate with mentors and share your achievements on social media.

The days of getting a degree and expecting a job for life are over. Instead, lifelong learning, using a variety of tools and services, is the future. The good news is this is a lot of fun. Welcome to the brave new world of education unbundling.


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