Charles Murray is making college & education bloggers question if he’s right when he claims college is a waste of time for most people, but once I made it past the provocative headline, I realized there’s a lot of good ideas inside the article.
Essentially, Murray proposes extending the certification process used in accounting to all other common college majors. Final exams would be standardized nationwide and would provide a useful and comparable metric for an individual’s knowledge of that particular topic.
The particular advantage I see is that self-taught students might be able to skip years of tuition bills. People will varied & overlapping areas of interest could demonstrate proficiency in all of them at once. Cross-over specializations could help corporate hiring managers conceive of new potential roles inside their organizations and business model.
Of course, any suggestions of heavy tinkering in higher education prompts an inevitable debate about the nature and purpose of education.
I tend to agree with VillainousCompany: employment isn’t the only purpose of college – or even the main purpose. I don’t think a liberal arts degree would go away suddenly just because students could also choose to test test their way to achievements in specific topics. But unfortunately, not all employers will give smart, hard-working grads a chance to learn about calculating mortgage risk unless those grads have specifically majored in one of the business degrees that probably never once mentioned actually calculating loan risks.
There’s even a civic purpose for the liberal arts education – and this wouldn’t go away either if certifications became available for more liberal arts subjects. What it does do is provide an alternative path for students who are primarily concerned with a means of achieving higher employability while allowing more new education models to compete – including my personal (biased) favorite, the self-motivated & independent student.
Certification tests will not get rid of the problems associated with differences in intellectual ability: People with high intellectual ability will still have an edge. Graduates of prestigious colleges will still, on average, have higher certification scores than people who have taken online courses
What they will do, is allow students from local public universities compete on skill standardized skill assessments with students who who attended other colleges. Students like myself with liberal arts degrees would be in a prime position to quickly and easily pick up multiple certifications thanks to the logic skills, study skills, and even test-taking skills learned in college.
I don’t think there would be any sudden changes in the number of students enrolling in college – just another employment-based incentive to pick up books in subjects you didn’t major in.