The tension of knowledge versus credentials

Let’s face it: the major advantage of college is often not the accumulation of knowledge, which a dedicated person can accumulate on his own through personal study and experience, but the granting of credentials, which is controlled by the institutional academic system. Because of the monopoly the academic system has on credentials, people who have already accumulated knowledge have very few ways to vet themselves when it comes to what they may already know.

At one time, many people just accepted this process and went ahead and got degrees because there was no other way. Now, however, the pathway is not as simple and is far more onerous than it was before.

First, there is the problem of the cost of modern education. Granted that people with degrees make more than people without them, the cost of a paying off the debt accrued to get a degree also represents a significant drag on the finances of otherwise successful people. Many people fail to get degrees because of the financial hardship such a pursuit creates rather than because they academically incapable of finishing.

Second, there is the problem of “general education”. The academic system has determined that, in order to be well rounded, every degree candidate must accumulate dozens of hours in academic subjects that have little or anything to do with their actual academic pursuit. When coupled with cost, this phenomenon is, I believe, the predominant reason that many people fail to graduate.

Of course, the solutions to these problems are difficult and complex, but the problems themselves bring up a powerful question: should someone pursue a degree simply to have the credentials? Is the value of the credentials worth the cost of obtaining them?

I am curious what the rest of you think.


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