My friend Michael Strong recently posted this video of T.K. Coleman on the topic of whether one can be taken seriously without holding a degree.
I found this interesting because degree-skepticism is pretty common among the more cutting edge educators I follow on social media. So, Coleman says that one shouldn’t make a hasty generalization from regulated professions like medicine and law to assume a degree is required in life, which is fair, but then makes a hasty generalization from programming and start up culture to assume that a degree isn’t required in life.
Coleman is right that the argument “no one will take you seriously without a degree” is false. But that hardly means that many people won’t—wrongly and foolishly, in my opinion, but that’s life. And I get it that he works for Praxis, an educational startup based on the idea that higher education isn’t necessary, encouraging young people instead to take apprenticeships with startups.
I understand that there are companies, a few of which are prominent, who are saying that they’re willing to consider undegreed applicants. But what are the real numbers of people in this category who have gone on to careers as successful as those of their degreed peers? That’s the needed comparison, not just whether one can become employed at an entry level.
Ultimately, it should be considered an individual decision. People often don’t think of it this way, but a degree isn’t a goal, it’s merely a tool that helps you reach a goal. Depending on what one’s goals are, a degree program might be vitally important, or it might simply be an expensive distraction. To insist that it’s always either one or the other is indefensible. Coleman makes a worthwhile argument, I just think he’s overplaying it.
It’s also worth noting higher education’s ability to absorb initiatives meant to circumvent it, a recent example of which is this partnership between a coding camp and a university. The first two sentences on the Praxis web site declare “The Degree is Dead. You Need Experience.” I’m guessing that identification of false dichotomies isn’t part of their curriculum.