The average borrower is wearily walking away from college with an estimated $26,000 in student loan debt. That statistic alone is enough to prove higher education needs a shake-up; LinkedIn C0-Founder Reid Hoffman wasn’t too far off. That was, until he thought his social networking site could come close to replacing a college degree.
Hoffman penned a post Monday called “Disrupting the Diploma,” harping on how “we need to take what now exists as a dumb, static document and turn it into a richer, updateable, more connected record of a person’s skills, expertise and experience.”
His point is hard to argue. Employers use diplomas as a means of measurement, and have taken a fond liking to the traditional four-year degree, despite its disappointing results. After all, the costly credential doesn’t make finding qualified graduates any easier, but rather highlights how important internships are. Experience trumps a glimmering GPA, but will an evolving LinkedIn-like profile ever replace the storied diploma?
Of course, Hoffman had to suggest it. What kind of founder would he be otherwise? In his eyes, the 21st-century diploma would allow students to apply credits from a variety of sources, including massive open online courses, internships or peer-to-peer learning platforms. Degrees would be updatable—so flexible that new credentials could always be added, thereby reflecting the scope of students’ skills and expertise.
Really, what his argument all boiled down to was a jumbled world of badges. Hoffman’s “networked diploma” would contain “an increasing number of icons or badges symbolizing specific certifications,” and could “link to transcripts, tests scores and work examples from these curricula.”
Sounds idyllic, right? Students could make smaller investments in their education, saving both money and time, because they would be judged not by degree, but by credentials. What Hoffman is proposing, however, is a résumé, not a diploma. His complaint is why we have his social networking site in the first place.
But, that’s just that: LinkedIn is LinkedIn, not a college degree. University Pages be damned.
The issue is clear. Students could be pocketing a C in every Ivy League-level class they stroll out of, yet ultimately walk away with a Harvard or Brown degree. Why not be able to take “Introduction to Computer Science” from Harvard on edX or “Archaeology’s Dirty Little Secrets” from Brown on Coursera and save the thousands of tuition dollars?
Well, students can, but at the end of the day, that doesn’t replace a diploma.
Hoffman said it himself: “College isn’t just for training young people for the world of work.” College is for maturing, becoming a person, living away from mom and dad for the first time in 18 years. It’s for extracurricular activities, honing in on presentation skills, working peer-to-peer, acquiring knowledge and having the freedom to both make mistakes and learn from them.
Should MOOCs be considered for credit? Yes, if they’re accompanied by a certain level of verification—an area platforms like Coursera, edX and Smarterer are all working toward or innovating on. Until this is more set in stone, employers will have a harder time taking online learning seriously. Is that a problem with the degree, however, or with hiring companies?
As much as Hoffman’s suggestions would be ideal to see embedded in the diploma, it can be just as easily reflected in a résumé. Mashing together courses from this online platform and that won’t replace all the aforementioned “other” that accompanies a college education.
As Hoffman argued:
To make this style of learning more practical, we need certification for it that employers will grow to trust and value even more than they do traditional bachelor’s degrees because the efficacy will be so much better.
But the actual degree is only a stamp of approval graduates toss at the top of their résumé. Considering how much they paid for it, it should be more than that, but that’s what we’re working on; that’s why President Obama is striving to shake up higher education. Colleges need to up their offerings so the value of the degree improves. Although students will still need more than a degree to be employable, they will also need a place to highlight what they accomplished in college. And that, Hoffman, is why we need LinkedIn. So, thanks for that.