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Save your tuition money—and get a real education.

Gagan BiyaniCo-Founder
Udemy

Gagan Biyani is Co-Founder of Udemy, a website that enables anyone to teach and learn online. He leads Udemy’s operations, investor relations, press relations, finance, instructor acquisition and business development. Launched in 2010, the site reached sales of more than $1 million in its first year. Biyani has been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, FastCompany, CNBC.com, Forbes.com and other publications.

There is no question that college is valuable for many students. I imagine that almost every person, (including, myself) reading this debate believes their his or her college experience was valuable. But times have changed, and the people I am concerned about are most likely not reading this publication.

I am concerned for the legions of America’s youth who are told that if you do well in school and go to college, you will be successful. That statement is not true. If you do well in school and go to a top 100 college, then you have a significantly better chance of being successful. If you don’t go to a top 100 college, you will most likely spend four years of your life, and hundreds of thousands of dollars, without getting what you paid for.

There are two big assumptions about college that I take issue with. And while a college education has other virtues, I do not believe these virtues are sufficient to justify the expense and the opportunity cost.

The first assumption is that you need to go to college to acquire knowledge. The reality is that there are simply not enough great professors in the world to teach America’s youth in traditional colleges. So unless you’re going to an elite university, you are not learning from the best—and you are not getting the same quality of education that a student at Stanford or Harvard would get.

Today, there are much better ways to learn—through experience, for example, by working or building something on your own, and through books and conversation. Most important, the Internet provides a wealth of information and new types of instruction. If you’re motivated, you can now learn from top professors and researchers in open, online courses for free or for very little. Frankly, I could have learned most of what I learned in college on the job or online.

The second assumption is that college enhances career opportunities. This is why many people go to college, yet it is far from the truth. If you go to a top 100 school, then, yes, you will have increased career opportunities. Also, if you are trying to be a lawyer, doctor, or work in higher education, you should probably go to some sort of university (though I question whether an undergraduate degree is a necessary part of that equation). But for everyone else, a four-year degree is not more valuable than two to four years of work experience. You are better off learning in the real world and getting real-world skills than going to a university. Spend the money you would have spent on tuition to start a few businesses, or to build a blog or to work for free as an intern. Bottom line: if you don’t get into a top-tier school, don’t go. And even if you do get into a top 100 college, give the alternatives some careful thought.

 

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