Unbundling the University

February 22, 2019

Our education system fails in a lot of ways, but I've recently been thinking about how ineffective it is at one thing in particular: figuring out what to work on.

Right now, most Americans go through a super-tracked education system that rushes us through the process of making some really important decisions.

Making these decisions more effectively is one of the biggest ways to level up human productivity and happiness.

The Standard Life Track

Ultimately, our educational track leads us to getting a job. But the jobs we end up in are too often the result of randomness.

First, we rush many smart high school graduates into college, before they know if they want to go, or what they want to major in. Second, we rush college graduates into jobs, usually just the best job offer they can get when they graduate.

This rushed life track leads to dissatisfaction, which we respond to in two common ways.

  1. Hitting around 25 years old and being deeply dissatisfied, then needing to make a drastic, risky change to reset.
  2. Continuing to do something long-term that's not enjoyable. Living for the weekend, just getting by at work.

We can become both more effective and happier by emphasizing effective decision-making at important life junctures.

So, how could we escape the current system of rushing from one thing to the next? One solution I've been thinking about lately comes in the form of new schools. Mainly, I've been thinking in terms of "unbundling the university."

Unbundling the University

If you think about the university experience right now, it's a pretty inefficient bundling. It's kind of like the annoying mail you get from Comcast. "Sign up for Internet + TV + Phone!"

No! I don't want all those things!

University is like that bundle. It's so many things under one giant price tag.

  • Making new friends and building a network
  • Training to get a job
  • Learning for pleasure
  • A kind of "insurance policy" (my degree is a safety net)
  • A four-year fun experience
  • Time to figure out what you want to do

How could we "unbundle" this value and give people the chance to choose just the pieces they care about? Lambda School has arguably taken the most important step, unbundling the "training to get a job" piece into its own contained experience.

I propose another important component to unbundle: figuring out what you want to do.

Decision Schools

Imagine a new kind of school called a Decision School. A three- or four-month program designed for effectively deciding on a career path. At first, this would specifically target would-be college students: smart, ambitious high school grads who aren't sure what they want to do in life.

At its core, this program would give students two things:

  1. Information about all the career paths available to them
  2. The structure needed to figure out which one they want to pursue

I'm not strongly opinionated about how this would be done. Maybe you shadow people in different professions. Maybe you reflect on what you care about. Maybe you take part in seminar discussions with your classmates about what constitutes important work.

However it's done, if we could help young people be more effective at choosing what to do, instead of randomly forcing them into a college major and then a job, we'd have a happier and more productive population.

A New Education System

Here's a reimagined path for education.

Old path: One track

  1. Primary school
  2. High school
  3. College (just go to one right away, the best one you can)
  4. Job (just take the best one you can get at the time you graduate)

New path: Decision Schools + Trade Schools

  1. Primary school
  2. High school
  3. Decision School
    • What do I want to do next?
    • What industry / career path do I want to pursue?
  4. The relevant trade school for whatever career path you chose
    • Lambda School for coding
    • etc.
  5. Job you love

With these two new models for schools in place (decision schools + trade schools), we'd also have the benefit of easy mobility later in life.

Want to make a change and not sure what comes next? Go to Decision School, decide on a new path, then go to another trade school that can get you into that field.

Future Opportunities

This is just one crack at a solution to our super-tracked education system, but I think it makes a lot of sense. Taking time to choose what to work on is really valuable for your own happiness and for the world.

Additionally, "figuring out what to work on" is just one element of the university experience that could be unbundled. The more pieces we unbundle, the more freedom and choice we give to students. I think there are many other opportunities to create value in this way, and valuable companies will be built around them.

Lambda School replaces job training. Triplebyte replaces the credential of a degree with their own stamp of approval. What other pieces of the university are left to be unbundled?