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Will Companies Replace Colleges as Places of Higher Learning?

Topics: Work Culture
Businesspeople working in corporate training facility
Tom Merton/Getty Images

On the heels of the final four championship, PayScale’s 2017 College ROI Report puts the average cost of a Big Ten education at $167,214. From there it goes up to Pac-12 at $194,833, Atlantic Coast Conference at $ 196,800, to an Ivy League average education cost of $249,125. My own alma mater of Lafayette College is more than two and a half times what it was when I graduated. As my sister prepares to send my nephew off to college, the numbers are both staggering and personal.

While the costs of college have stopped accelerating at such a fast pace, just extending the current annual rate of increase (2.3 percent for private four-year colleges) into the future puts my college at over $300k in ten years. In some places, that’s the price of a house! So the question becomes, when will college become too expensive for young adults to explore their futures in an ivory tower?

Enter Acme Widget Co. University

Will companies have to take on the education of what once were college students? Some companies have already started ramping up their own in-house training programs. For example, truck drivers used to get trained in local community colleges or driving schools. Many companies have taken over that training to qualify bus drivers internally. The same is true for welding, another hard skill that was once covered by community colleges and trade school. As we start preparing for the work of the future, schools have already begun training for it with a heavy emphasis on technology.

Moving towards an emphasis on tech is a good bet for schools. For some time companies have been struggling to fill their highly technical roles. As schools have been doing a better job training students in technology, the gap in skills has shifted somewhat to softer skills. When asked what skills are most lacking among recent graduates, managers were likely to include critical thinking and problem solving (60 percent), attention to detail (56 percent), or writing proficiency (44 percent). Skills that were once hammered home in even average liberal arts schools are not drilled in the same ways. And that’s among people who can afford to go to college.

What Does the Future Hold?

It’s pretty easy to imagine a future workforce that can’t afford to go to college to grow, ponder, and wonder what they want to be when they grow up. Even now college isn’t as much exploration as an affirmation of an anticipated path. My nephew has a much better idea of who he wants to be when he grows up than I did at 18 or even 38, and at those rates, he’d better! In another 20 years, will students go from high school directly to work while they save enough and explore their future path? If they do, when will they then go to college? Or will they? And if they go, what will they hope to gain by going?

Back to my original question, then: will companies replace colleges as places of higher education? Well, they’ll certainly have to ramp up their training programs, as some have already started to do. Many companies have already developed their own internal “universities” where employees are able to get on-boarded, trained, and developed to grow within that company. Is it higher education? Maybe not in a traditional academic sense, but there is some sense to switching up the order of events given the rising price tag put on American universities.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you expect companies to replace colleges when it comes to higher education? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Mykkah Herner
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