Bloomberg Línea Ideas — Around four million Brazilians who have a higher education degree are unemployed. The most recent data from the country’s Institute for Educational Research (INEP) indicate that 59% of students who entered college between 2010 and 2019 dropped out. While baby boomers and Generation Xers believed that a degree was an indispensable path to employability, more recent generations are questioning the real usefulness of going to college.
There are two factors that are driving this scenario: tuition fee inflation and taking on debt to pay for education.
In Brazil, half of students, or about one million people, are defaulters in the student financing program (FIES), which has a total debt of 72 billion reais ($12.9 billion). In the United States, the data is even more alarming, where student debt amounts to around $1.5 trillion. Furthermore, in both countries, remuneration after graduation is well below expectations.
Inflation in tuition fees is rising faster than the consumer price index. Over the last decade, tuition fee increases in higher education have been about 15 percentage points above Brazil’s already high inflation. In the United States, tuition grows on average twice as fast as general inflation.
When weighing up these figures, a natural question is: What is the value of a degree?
The first theme of debate is related to the design of the education system.
Close your eyes and imagine yourself in a classroom. If we do this exercise today, or did so 100 years ago, we will probably have the same image: A teacher up front and several students sitting listening to him or her.
Our educational experience is intrinsically centered on teaching, rather than focusing on learning. We have access to zettabytes of information in the palm of our hand, but the learning model still follows the mold of receiving information from a teacher - the classroom of the era of the industrial revolution. The student plays a small role inn his or her journey to knowledge. Moreover, we hardly listen to students throughout their passage through college. How many colleges measure net promoter score, or customer satisfaction, during a course?
Technology is extremely underused in education. All students progress at the same pace in class, learning the same things. We could use the computer to help us on our adaptive journeys for each learning curve. A passage in Clayton Christensen’s book ‘Disrupting Class’ made an impression on me: We put the computer in the classroom, but we still present our projects in Powerpoint, just as we did on cardboard in decades past. In my first programming class in college, we did the exam with pencil and paper.
And one last point to mention is the speed of adaptation.
The existing educational playbook cannot keep up with the pace of change in the job market. In technology, for example, new languages, versions and frameworks emerge at lightning speed, while official curricula continue to follow outlines that were defined many years ago. Moreover, there is a classic estimate from the World Economic Forum that says that 50% of the jobs of this decade do not yet exist. If we continue to teach in the same way as we did in the past, are we prepared for the future?
The value of academia for the advancement of research and technology is undisputed. However, a large number of young people entering college do not pursue this path. In the United States, research conducted by UCLA has shown that the main reason 85% of students enter college is to get a good job.
In Germany, instead of following the natural course of college, around half of all young people attend two- to three-year vocational training courses with the aim of training for a specific occupation. This approach results in one of the lowest youth unemployment rates in the world.
The dynamics of the pandemic have made us rethink the future of education. I believe the time is right for us to consider new forms of education at scale that maximize employability and freedom of choice for individuals.
This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editorial boards of Bloomberg Línea, Falic Media or Bloomberg LP or their owners.