Uber, Badging and Higher Ed

Colleges, universities and the end of the ownership society.

March 12, 2015
What will happen to legacy higher education providers when the ownership society ceases to exist? We are in the midst of a reordering of our material world, a shift away from owning to renting, buying to consuming. How will this shift impact higher education?
If I lived in a city I would never own a car. Why absorb the auto expenses of ownership in a world where transportation is available at touch of a smart phone? Who would want to deal with repairs and insurance, parking and depreciation, when an Uber ride (or a ZipCar borrow) is a click away?
The same goes, I think, for housing. At this point in my life renting looks infinitely more appealing than owning. The concept of home ownership as a goal has lost most of its appeal. Houses are for living, they are no longer (if they ever were) a vehicle for investing. I’d rather pay for what I use in housing, and let someone else deal with all the headaches.
At one point having things, owning things, was an understandable (maybe even laudable) goal. Adulthood meant acquiring things.  
In a mobile society, one in which nobody expects to stay at any one job (or career) for very long, possession is a hindrance. Liquidity and portability are the key assets in a free-agent, knowledge-based, and technologically driven labor market.
What would happen if we started to look at degrees the same way we look at houses and cars?  
Obtaining a postsecondary degree is amongst the highest investments that any of us will make. Direct and opportunity costs are huge for any degree. What happens if badging catches on as alternatives to traditional credentials?  What is the critical mass of employers accepting badges as recognized (and adequate) credentials for employment?  
This is not an argument that people should stop going to college. Even the most cursory glance at earnings data should convince the most ardent higher ed critic that education is a good investment.  Nor do I think that lifetime earnings is the only (or even best) argument for the centrality of higher education.  There is still no better mechanism than a college education (particularly a liberal arts education) for developing the skills and aptitudes for critical thinking and curiosity.  
The question is how should higher education evolve in the age of Uber and Airbnb?  
Is what we do in higher education really about credentialing, or is it about learning and individual development?  
Can we figure out ways that we can be more flexible, agile, and responsive - while not jettisoning our most closely cherished values and practices?
Is higher education like the legacy taxi companies, with the taxi medallion analogous to the diploma?  Could the value of diplomas drop as quickly as the price of taxi medallions have been falling if badges ever take off?
Can we experiment with micro-credentials and smaller units of educational delivery than the traditional 4-year degree?
How will we adapt if alternative credentials such as badging gain widespread currency in employment markets?  
Could we see badges as an opportunity to offer educational opportunities throughout the full lifetime of learner, rather than as something that precedes (and ends with) employment?
Are badges to degrees as Uber is to car ownership?


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