SLC Economic Development Workforce Development Manager Jake Maxwell offers this latest blog on training for the skills and knowledge that our Salt Lake City business owners need. As always, we’d love to hear your feedback.

After witnessing the success of a school in the Silicon Valley area called Udacity, I am inclined to wonder, is the traditional college system on its way out? To explore the answer to the question, I like to ask myself “who consumes the product” and “what do these consumers want?” Udacity has broken education into tiny parts and is offering “Nanodegrees”. Industry is eating it up, hence the bold endorsements on their website by companies like Google, Amazon, IBM, and the list goes on.

So back to my questions about consumption. Traditional college is beholden to the governing body of accreditation. This requires schools to keep forcing the consumer to purchase the general and elective credits they may not need. The consumer, generally young people, are now much more informed about products and return on investment and they are also much more inquisitive about what they learn, why they are learning it, and how it applies to their lives. Unfortunately, many of the courses required of students do not look great in this sort of testing procedure. As a result, in some ways, parts of college have become the flip phone, or watching the opening credits on Netflix, or hailing a taxi cab. The issue is the student is still paying a lot for it and they are catching on.

In a recent report by Gallup, asking the “consumer” of traditional college what they want, the answer was overwhelming “skills and knowledge for a good paying job”. When Gallup asked the CEO’s and even the school trustees if colleges are preparing college graduates for these good jobs, the answer was overwhelmingly grim. So if students are incurring debt for the job they more often do not get, and industry does not feel students are able to hit the ground running, then why do kids keep going to these schools? Is it the prestige, the family legacy, the ability to say you attend where your favorite football team plays?

There is good news. While Udacity has figured out how to supply the consumer with the granular level, directly applicable knowledge needed for their industry partners who inform the curriculum, some Colleges are catching on and are trying to push the bounds of their accreditation requirements and “disrupt” the college experience. The question is, who will win this credentialing arms race to speed up our workforce into the numerous open jobs, and which model is making industry happy with the output?