Education has long been linked to national economic competitiveness. Most debates have focused on what subjects are taught - and many in the US correctly argue we need to further invest in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) teaching. That is important, but we also need to revisit not just the ‘what’ of education but how it is delivered, especially for the modern student. In the US, 40% of college students are now over the age of 25, and – according to recent data from Chegg’s State of the Student report – a quarter of students have a child.
They also have different expectations. Today’s students order a Lyft when they want to go from point A to point B rather than waiting for a cab. They stream shows on Netflix and songs on Spotify, rather than wait for the next episode to air or their favorite song to come on the radio. Today’s students are living in a system that is different from the one I grew up in – and our educational system hasn’t caught up.
The fact is, 44% of recent college graduates between 22 and 27 work in jobs that do not require a college degree. Few course curricula reflect the current trends in technology. Traditional college programs are rigid and confining. For the 73% of students who work while in college (according to Chegg data), attending class five days a week at a specific time is challenging, if not impossible. Operating within a constraining educational system can be a bit of a culture shock, especially for the younger generation who grew up in a time where so many things are available on demand.
Students aren’t studying in the afternoons after class or on weekends; our internal data shows that the typical student’s primary learning time is 9pm. And while our data demonstrates that one of the primary ways students access material is on their phones or mobile devices, many professors still prohibit students from using these devices in the classroom.
Simply put, today’s educational system is incompatible with the needs of the modern student.
Online education has long been championed as a way to scale education to those who cannot access traditional institutions. Students in India can take robotics classes at Harvard through EdX, while rural villages in Ghana use video to access quality teachers. However, with the costs of higher education continuing to rise, online education also represents an opportunity to dramatically lower costs. Allowing students to learn when and where suits them allows them to stop choosing between ‘learning and earning’, and lowers the burden on traditional institutions that are not designed to cater to thousands of learners.
Most students go to college to become a positive contributor to society and an active participant in life. But we’re letting them down. In the US we are expecting students to borrow tens of thousands of dollars to earn a degree to go to a particular place at a particular time to learn. This is in an age when everything in their lives, such as entertainment, transport and food, comes to them at any time of day.
Rather than telling students to borrow the money and hope there’s a job that will help pay off their debt, we should be using technology to both reduce their costs and to accelerate the time from learning to earning with on-demand education and curricula that prepare them for the jobs of the future. In many ways, the idea of going to a certain place at a certain time to learn seems anachronistic. Why can’t we binge watch our education?
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The millions of students who use our services do it because they can learn better, at more convenient times, the way they want to. We need to realign the educational system to enable students to learn the same way they do everything else in their lives.
As the US election cycle gears up, all candidates are discussing how college education needs to be less expensive, more relevant and more productive. It needs to represent the diversity of students we are serving today and must prepare them for the jobs employers need to fill, both today and into the future. We need to reduce the cost of college so students can participate fully and freely in society after they graduate. Technology is the solution.