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I once had a debate with a friend over the future of jobs. My premise: the college degree will ultimately be worthless. I’m not suggesting that it will literally be worthless. However, I do posit that it will be far less valuable than it is today. I won’t get into all of the details regarding why I believe this.

Instead, I will say that I believe relying on a degree in 2021 and beyond is a terrible strategy for virtually all majors. Why?

Because education is effectively free and the ROI (return on investment) is limitless. Meanwhile, a college degree has diminished value due to double-inflation. Double inflation effectively means that more degrees are introduced yearly by colleges/universities (as a marketing gimmick for parents to demonstrate value and progressiveness).

Because there are more degrees, the value is lowered (based on a standard model of supply and demand within economics). More students with the same or similar degrees means that the value of that degree isn’t high. This is why engineers and software developers are generally paid handsomely. Most people don’t prefer to do this type of work which means the demand is higher than the supply. This creates scarcity (i.e value). When you’re more valuable (to the marketplace), employers will pay more. That’s about as simple as it gets.

Now, while I do believe that there are a handful of degrees that are valuable, college tuition consistently increasing at a rapid rate still presents virtually all majors as having a bad ROI (when you factor in personal opportunity cost, life enjoyment, country-wide economic opportunity cost in the form of young people being innovative, etc). Instead, I believe with platforms like YouTube giving education away for free, achieving the highest ROI will be afforded to the individuals willing to sit down and be disciplined and essentially self-teach. There are two reasons why being disciplined and learning how to teach yourself is The Most Effective Strategy:

  1. If you can self-teach, you can learn for free while saving the most money

  2. In scenarios in which the market shifts and some skills become more valuable while others are obsolete, he/she that can adapt quickly will triumph over those that have to go back to school, pay for more education, and hope the education isn’t outdated by the time their done.

“This only works for liberal arts but not for engineering or the hard sciences”, my friend countered.

Not true, in my opinion.

We, as a society, cling to the notion that only select individuals can learn science and math and, by extension, the hard sciences/engineering. This is fundamentally false. Anyone is capable of learning anything. Most people don’t learn new skills because of a lack of interest rather than a lack of intellect.

We all know that kids can soak up information like a sponge. In other countries, kids are trained to default to the hard sciences at an early age. In order for this to be possible, we’d have to accept that either other countries are intellectually superior to us (which lacks any valid proof) or realize that our methodologies are simply different. As Naval Ravikant puts it, this is simply a “Tyranny of false expectations”.

We project status in those that can practically use science and math. Like anything else, it’s simply a skill. And ALL skills can be learned by ALL humans (unless they have a brain injury or cognitive disability that prevents a certain degree of rational thinking--which would be the gross minority of the population).

“But how would an employer know how good you are without a degree”, my friend counters once again. Easy. Demonstration.

Imagine this thought experiment: Person A wants to be an engineer at Super Engineering Company. He is 27. He went to Harvard but only has good grades. He’s never built anything and never truly designed anything (beyond what was instructed in college). Person B want to be an engineer at Super Engineering Company. He is 27. He did not go to college but is self-taught. He learned from a combination of trial and error, rigorous reading, and from one-on-one mentorship from several family members who are well-renowned engineers at their respective companies. Person B has also designed and created, from scratch, several robots and gadgets that are arguably better than some of the products that the company he’s applying for has produced. He’s been learning about how to be an engineer on his own for 10 years. Realistically speaking, which candidate do you think looks more appealing? I’ll let you decide.

From a capitalistic perspective, no employer with a good head on their shoulders would pass on someone with experience and demonstrable value. This is the secret sauce that college students seem to miss when they complain about being unable to get jobs. The assumption is that a college degree should entitle you to a great job. Understand how a company functions from a capitalistic point of view (which is how the owner, managers, employers, etc will see it by default). They need employees that can produce and make the business money. They want to minimize risk by hiring candidates that cost them money (in the form of a salary) while not producing income. As a potential candidate, you’re far better off learning how to do the job ahead of time and simply showing your work instead of relying on your degree (which doesn’t effectively display any true, in the field skills.

I could go on forever about this topic but I sense that over time, more companies will break the pattern of hiring based on college degrees, which will allow people to receive employment based on true skill and credentials. Personally, I think this system would work better as it’s more merit-based than our current system. Of course, if an employer hires based on skill, output is increased because you’re weakest employee can still perform at an adequate level (assuming you hired correctly). Let me know what you think about this concept. Do you agree? Or do you disagree?

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