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Higher Ed Bubble
At Google, It Pays to Have Passed on College

Here’s a hiring practice we’d like to see more companies adopt: Google is increasingly taking on employees who lack college degrees. According to Business Insider, as many as 14 percent of some Google teams’ members never went to college. Google’s Senior Vice President for People Operations, Laszlo Bock, explains the reasoning behind this policy:

“One of my own frustrations when I was in college and grad school is that you knew the professor was looking for a specific answer,” Bock says. “You could figure that out, but it’s much more interesting to solve problems where there isn’t an obvious answer. You want people who like figuring out stuff where there is no obvious answer.”

After two or three years, performance at college is “completely unrelated” to performance at Google, because the skills you learn are so different and you change so much, Bock says.

The conventional wisdom on college, which says that everyone needs get a degree to find a good job, is hurting the U.S. It’s dragging down the economy by keeping capable people out of productive employment just because they lack a diploma. It’s also propping up a higher ed bubble that’s doing little more than weighing students down with debt. As Peter Thiel pointed out in an interview with TAI, the university system often encourages people to not think clearly about their future and their career:

The education bubble is predicated on the idea that the education provided is incredibly valuable. In many cases that’s just not true. Here and elsewhere people have avoided facing the fact of stagnation by telling themselves stories about familiar things leading to progress. One fake vector of progress is credentialing—first the undergraduate degree, then more advanced degrees. Like the others, it’s an avoidance mechanism […]

A student doesn’t know what to do, so he learns stuff. When I taught at Stanford Law School last year, I asked students what they planned to do with their lives. Most were headed to big law firms but didn’t expect to become partners and didn’t know the next step after that. They didn’t have long-term plans about what they wanted to achieve in their lives. I think the educational system has become a major factor stopping people from thinking about the future.

The jobs of the future are going to be increasingly tech-based and service-related. They will bring new productivity and dynamism to the economy, but we will need to develop creative new ways to train people to perform (or even invent) them—including MOOCs, shortened degree programs, and career trajectories that don’t involve college. Bock and Thiel are exactly right that existing college curriculums aren’t preparing students for the kinds of jobs that are likely to be available during their lifetimes. Kudos to Google for providing an alternative path.

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  • ljgude

    As a retired professor, one line stopped me dead. The one about the professor wanting a particular answer. A professor is supposed to be able to get students to think for themselves and should be overjoyed when they come up with things he himself didn’t know. Unfortunately Baccalaureate level education has degenerated into high school and become expensive indoctrination. .

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