Why the idea of online ventures ‘democratising education’ is total BS

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University Education

There’s a revolution in education taking place, many people have told me about the excellent education people can get through online courses, many of them free, some of them from top schools.

It’s a disruptive trend. No, it’s not.

The top schools won’t be disrupted, even most other schools won’t be affected by free online education.

Even if you could sit in on any lecture at any top school, Harvard, Stanford, MIT, etc, it wouldn’t help you much at all. Students will still be competing to get into those top schools, happy to mortgage their, and their parents’ futures, to pay to get into those top schools.

Because it’s not about the education you get it’s about the contacts you make. It’s about joining a privileged group that takes care of its own throughout the rest of your life. The alumni associations and the other relationships you make are worth far more than the cost or even the quality of the education. It’s not about knowing your subject, it’s about who you know.

Take a look at this story from New York Magazine by Kevin Roose: How a 22-Year-Old Stanford Grad Won Silicon Valley’s Money Chase:

Many 22-year-olds have struck it rich in tech, but rarely does one assemble the pieces of a start-up success story so methodically and quickly. The $25 million round Clinkle announced yesterday represented a near-perfect achievement of social and professional climbing. And it’s all thanks to Stanford…

Stanford’s computer-science department has become a sort of vocational school for the tech world. Stanford president John Hennessy is a Google director and a longtime tech investor. The Coupa Cafe, a coffee shop on campus, is perpetually jammed with venture capitalists meeting with student entrepreneurs. And every year, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and other tech giants line up to woo Stanford grads to their ranks.

This type of thing is what happens at other top schools too, across every type of profession. The best jobs go to graduates of these schools. Is it because of the education? It’s because of the connections.

Online education won’t lead to a democratization of any kind. Money buys jobs and connections. The only thing online education courses will do is to up the ante on the skills needed for relatively low paying jobs. Employers will be able to demand skills that they might have had to pay much more for but now can expect workers to have as a base foundation.

Even then, low-tier schools have an advantage over a lone student working hard in their bedroom because even they have alumni networks and the connections with businesses that help their students find jobs.


This article by Tom Foremski originally appeared on Silicon Valley Watcher, a Burn Media publishing partner. Image: World Economic Forum (via Wikimedia Commons).

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  • nedm

    Not really. Connections in ivy league are nice and all but frankly with facebook and especially linkedin the concept is moot.

    No one really cares if you went to an ivy league school since most private schools are a joke. Look, I know people that work at some of these schools and they do not get paid that much. However, they end up sending their own children there for free. So if you are a professor and know that you are teaching your colleagues kids and that is the reason why they work there of course you are not going to fail them. Everyone gets a B or an A even if they do not show up for class.

    Ironically Bill Gates is a Harvard dropout and so is Zuckerberg. I personally know a Harvard graduate that has not found work for three years. He might go all over the world and have his degree but at the end of the day no one *really* cares.

    Tech is past its prime. Since everything is open source why on this planet would you want to deal with proprietary content?

    Besides does anyone honestly believe that the professors at these schools ONLY teach in Ivy League schools? Heck I have had adjunct professors in public schools that teach at MIT. In all due respect a professor does not need a university to teach, they need students.

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