A New U: Faster + Cheaper Alternatives to College

Every year, the cost of a four-year degree goes up, and the value goes down. But for many students, there’s a better answer. 

So many things are getting faster and cheaper. Movies stream into your living room, without ticket or concession-stand costs. The world’s libraries are at your fingertips instantly, and for free. 

So why is a college education the only thing that seems immune to change? Colleges and universities operate much as they did 40 years ago, with one major exception: they’ve gotten dramatically more expensive. And they’ve actually gotten slower, with the average time to graduate now over five years. 

As a result, graduates often struggle with enormous debt burdens. Even worse, they often find that degrees did not prepare them to obtain and succeed at good jobs in growing sectors of the economy. Parents and students have accepted this because a college degree has been seen as a prerequisite to a professional career. But now, for the first time, there are real alternatives. 

In A New U: Faster + Cheaper Alternatives to College, Ryan Craig documents the early days of a revolution that will transform—or make obsolete—many colleges and universities. Alternative routes to great first jobs that do not involve a bachelor’s degree are sprouting up all over the place. Bootcamps, income-share programs, apprenticeships, and staffing models are attractive alternatives to great jobs in numerous growing sectors of the economy: coding, healthcare, sales, digital marketing, finance and accounting, insurance, and data analytics. 

A New U is the first roadmap to these groundbreaking programs, which will lead to more student choice, better matches with employers, higher return on investment of cost and time, and stronger economic growth.

 

------

Unresponsive, incoherent and expensive. That’s how Ryan Craig sees higher education. He’s a leading critic of the status quo and advocate for and investor in postsecondary innovation.

The first third of Craig’s soon to be released book, A New U, convincingly outlines the problem starting with, “too much of a good thing.” He’s referring to fancy campuses, expensive amenities, big course catalogs, and not much focus. He notes worst case scenario–half of the young people that start college don’t earn a degree but leave with piles of debt.

As an alternative, Craig’s introduction highlights three examples of nontraditional (i.e., not including college) postsecondary training that serve as viable pathways to high wage employment.

Craig makes the point that everything is getting faster and cheaper. “For Millennials and Gen Z, convenience, speed and value are fundamental to American life.” His central point is that the same should be true for higher ed.

He documents “the early days of the faster + cheaper revolution that will upend the traditional college route as America falls out of love with the bachelor’s degrees, particularly from non-selective colleges.”

Craig acknowledges the benefits of selective universities especially if they come with generous aid. But he puts up big flashing red light for unaffordable non-selective schools. He posts a warning yellow light for other schools and encourages investigation of alternatives.

Outlining the growth of technical fields, Craig notes that “colleges haven’t been good at adapting to these changes in the job market.”  And, “Even for programs that appear highly relevant—BSc in computer science, for example—the curriculum is much less applied than employers want.”

Craig closes his case for change with the lack of work experience and work skills that most college graduates leave school, a timely and important concern that continues to gain recognition—organizations like JFF (Jobs for the Future) are developing ambitious initiatives to bridge gaps between educators, policymakers, and the private sector.

A New You