Higher Education: To Get a Job or Create a Job?

Frustrated College Student

Photo Credit: Sybren Stüvel

We’ve all seen the writing on the wall. Over 80% of college students think they’re going to college to get a job,

yet over 50% come out and find themselves either unemployed or under-employed (ie: working at Starbucks). What’s going wrong?

Well for starters, plenty.   The world has changed drastically and very quickly, and as is often the case, the largest industries and systems (like Health and Education) are still catching up with these changes. The disruption of every sector means jobs and skill sets are now in a constant state of flux.

Learning is now 24/7, and extends way beyond the years of a formal education, and roughly one third of the US workforce are now freelancers. In addition, careers rarely mean staying with the same employer. Add to the mix the fact that technology is poised to replace up to half of the U.S. workforce in the next decade, and it’s no small wonder that huge systems like education have a lot to catch up with.

While transforming education to meet our current needs may be a more complex subject than first meets the eye, I would offer one suggestion. Rather than training students solely to think about getting a job upon graduation, how about including mandatory intensive courses in higher education to help enable students to create their own jobs?

There are many advantages to fostering and creating a culture of self-reliance, and it may be time to rethink the purpose of higher education and focus on making students more agile. For instance, I would envision marketing 101 to be a requirement for any future part-time or full-time path—including the arts.

While there are a few small project-based entrepreneurial programs now beginning to pop up in universities here and there, many students are now looking outside of higher ed for this kind of experiential training. One of the best examples of this (and perhaps the most ironic) is Startup Weekend Education, a 54 hour event that takes place in over 70 cities worldwide, where people get together to form teams and create products and services to improve education.

In our hometown of Houston, this event is now scheduled and we are openly calling on college students, teachers, designers, entrepreneurs, parents, developers, and anyone who wants to contribute their ideas and skills to find innovative solutions. The participants work together to design for learning, conduct user tests, receive coaching from experienced education designers & industry professionals, and win prizes to help take their ideas to the next level.

The Startup Weekend Education events are spawned by Education Entrepreneurs which is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and UpGlobal, brought forth by Google for Entrepreneurs and the Kaufman Foundation.

Events like Startup Weekend Education are not just good training in entrepreneurialism for participants, they also offer a deeper opportunity for the community to come together and an opportunity for teachers to further define our purpose as educators.

My hope is that events like Startup Weekend Education will open the door to discussing the benefits of creating a student culture based on entrepreneurialism and how that directly relates to peer and project-based learning, in addition to how a culture of peer learning and personal learning networks can help to kickstart an entrepreneurial ecosystem.

At the end of the day, the unique value of Startup Weekend Education is that by participating, you’re learning the stuff you can’t learn in school. Ironically, learning that “stuff” might just help us change that very fact.


See Me Speak - SXSWi

A recording of my SXSW Interactive panel session “Higher Education: To Get a Job or Create a Job?” from March 2015 can be viewed here: https://youtu.be/Tkak57WaABk

6 thoughts on “Higher Education: To Get a Job or Create a Job?

  1. Higher Education is sure very helpfully for making your future, But Higher education is not enough for getting a nice job & if you are searching a good job you have almost take a knowledge of International or any other country language then you must be get a good job & you can make a bright future.

  2. Spot on David, I fully agree, this is a big missing link in education. There are very educated young people that are capable of being self employed utilizing their ideas, skills, knowledge, etc, however as a society we are conditioned to believe the only way to work is to work for an employer…..people believe this is “job security”. There is no such thing as job security in today’s world, other than the willingness to create your own work. We must teach youth to be the creators of their futures to achieve success in the 21st century, rather than settling as the victims of underemployment.

    • Well stated Debbie! Here is my response to some of the academics in the English Language and Literature group worldwide challenging this blog post.

      I agree with your premise that higher education in it’s quintessence should train students to think and that’s a good foundation. The problem we are having is that too often there is a disconnect between training to think and training to DO, and that can be a completely different set of skills. Particularly in the U.S. ecosystem, these skills are becoming more essential every day. We might do well to consider adding the works of Eric Ries, Ash Maurya, and perhaps even Jim Collins, Brad Feld & Tim Ferris, and then incorporating those techniques in conjunction with project-based learning to further one’s ability to create his or her own job and survive without complete reliance on a job that may or may not exist. If thinking in and of itself were enough, there would be a direct correlation between achieving the degree and success, and there is not. Instead, we see a very high under-employment and unemployment rate for graduates, with no adjustment to the higher education curriculum addressing that fact.

      • I agree with your response David. We are not in the industrial age any longer, yet we are still teaching youth to buy into the false belief of “job security”. This is not serving youth to create success in the 21st century. Change is constant in life and in business.

        “The way we have always done it” is not a reason to continue anything. Most educators and decision makers in education are employees and have never experienced being an entrepreneur. We cannot expect “employees” to understand the importance of entrepreneurship. It is a mindset…a mindset that must be taught by real world entrepreneurs.

        We will not find this mindset in traditional education. It must be found outside of traditional thinking and traditional education. Fortunately there are many options today that individuals can seek out that fill this need. Studying the thinking of successful entrepreneurs such as Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, etc. is a great place to start.

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