Academic Inflation

We are experiencing academic inflation. This is a theme I can’t seem to shake and its something that I think is only getting worse. Much worse, so long as our educational institutions keep up the status quo.

If you break it down, the logical train of thought should go something like this:

  1. Go to school
  2. Do well
  3. Graduate
  4. Get a job
  5. Make lots of money
  6. Live your life

Somewhere along the road we ended up at a place that looks something like this:

  1. Go to school – if you can even get in
  2. Take adderall to do well on tests
  3. Do well – assuming the class isn’t beaten up by a ridiculous curve
  4. Graduate
  5. Not qualified enough to get a high paying job so repeat steps 1 – 4 (or you just want more job security)
  6. Graduate
  7. No jobs, student loans, and you realized you were passionate about something completely unrelated to the previous 8 years of school
  8. Take a crappy job, make money and pay off your loans or pursue your dreams as an unemployed entrepreneur
  9. Live your life

I’m obviously exaggerating a bit (or am I) but you get the idea. I think we are at that moment in time when people are beginning to realize that education is more about practical experience and less about theoretical, mental gymnastics that spit out a piece of paper after 4 years.

This excerpt from a recent TechCrunch article called Peter Thiel: We’re in a Bubble and It’s Not the Internet. It’s Higher Education. really spells it out and I really think Peter nails it.

“A true bubble is when something is overvalued and intensely believed,” he says. “Education may be the only thing people still believe in the United States. To question education is really dangerous. It is the absolute taboo. It’s like telling the world there’s no Santa Claus.”

The post than goes on to say:

Like the housing bubble, the education bubble is about security and insurance against the future. Both whisper a seductive promise into the ears of worried Americans: Do this and you will be safe.The excesses of both were always excused by a core national belief that no matter what happens in the world, these were the best investments you could make. Housing prices would always go up, and you will always make more money if you are college educated.

And this couldn’t be further from the truth. Just ask any recent college graduate and you’ll know what I’m talking about. Fortunately, there are some very smart people doing some very smart things in the educational field but at the end of the day, this will be a battle between cultural expectations and measurable results. After seeing innovations like the Khan Academy, which is in my opinion one the most important advancements in information technology and education, I’m confident we’ll move beyond the status quo and into an era that rewards results, innovation and happiness, and not elitism, cultural norms, and degrees.

Below is a video by Salman Khan, founder of the Khan Academy and perhaps one of the soon-to-be most important figures of our generation.

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  • Are we also experiencing literal academic inflation? I’d like to share an interactive visualization (static image below) that I think can add another dimension to the discussion. It compares the cost of education against several other items, including housing, fuel and gold. What you’ll find may surprise you.