Colleges don’t reach the scale that is needed to provide more opportunities globally. What kind of new institutions would solve this challenge and eventually render colleges obsolete?
Given the strong feedback loop that “protects” college education, it is hard to conceive anything that could make it obsolete.
For instance, the content part of the college bundle is already widely available on the internet for many years now. Today, anyone can watch free YouTube videos that are true master classes of the most intricate subjects. There are several great online courses available for free as well.
Despite all of these, colleges seem to be enduring as strong as ever.
A great candidate for vector of change is computer tech. New innovations are being created and spreading faster there. These transformations could open opportunities for new initiatives to win against traditional (and slower to adapt) educational institutions.
Around Computer Science interesting badges are emerging in Kaggle, HackerRank, GitHub, and Stack Overflow. These are communities open for anyone to join that offer leaderboards where top-ranked participants get reawarded for their achievements. They are twists to the classic college badge.
Firstly, since they are online and software-based, the funnel is wide open. Being permissionless and highly scalable makes it possible for the “best” to rise from anywhere in the world. Contrast that with the classical admission committees.
Secondly, achievements are publicly visible. It is much easier to verify if the holder of a certain badge really knows his stuff, simply look at his code. Another advantage of these achievements is that they are not an A in a given Linear Algebra exam. They are actual projects, things out there in the real world.
There are other initiatives where the filtering process still relies on (centralized, less scalable) committees but that nevertheless seem very worthy angles of attack. Thiel Fellowship and Y Combinator come to mind.
From what I can tell from far outside, these two do seem to have more powerful feedback loops than the online-only badges. They do feel like fully-featured clubs themselves. I guess that might be the case because:
They likely offer deeper social experiences for participants that result in stronger networks
They may do a better job in the promoting their brands and badges across society. For instance, getting media to talk about their members, having the members to proactively shout out to the world that they have that badge, getting high-profile people to endorse them and their members, etc.
It does feel like the next generation of clubs should try to merge these approaches: cast the net wide open in a scalable way plus work hard on brand and network in order to have desirable badges as widely as possible.
In fact, after first writing this piece in 2018, I have recently come across Pioneer. They seem to be working on the exact problem of creating a new kind of “club”.
Most of it is online and software-based but they are also being very thoughful about the social experience, brand and network dimensions. Check it out, it seems like a fantastic initiative.