A New Model for Higher Education

Troy Buckholdt
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A New Model for Higher Education

How do we use the new changes in the world to solve the problems with our current education system? The answer is to create a new model of higher education for our modern world.

The new model for higher education must account for the new types of jobs available in today’s economy and the required education to do these jobs effectively. It must also consider the rapid pace of change that is affecting nearly everything we do and must utilize modern ways of learning to provide the best education at the least cost. I call this new model, The Lean Career.

What Is Lean

Lean is most commonly described as something being minimal or without waste. In the meat department, people would generally use lean to describe meat without fat or in bodybuilding lean would describe people without fat.

In business, lean is often referred to as the efficiency of one’s operation, such as manufacturing. The term, lean manufacturing, was created by the engineers at Toyota and defined as

“A systematic method for the minimization of waste within a manufacturing system without sacrificing productivity, which can cause problems. Lean also factors in waste created through overburden and waste created through unevenness in workloads. Working from the perspective of the client who consumes a product or service, “value” is any action or process that a customer would be willing to pay for. Lean manufacturing attempts to make obvious what adds value, through reducing everything else (because it is not adding value).”

There are many different types of lean models people follow for everything from starting companies and software development to manufacturing and distribution. Each industry that implemented lean was able to figure out its core fundamental value so it could focus all its efforts on improving that value while reducing everything else that doesn’t add value.

In software development, people realized that the fundamental value comes from creating software that people want. When creating software, even if you are able to deliver it on time and without bugs, it is completely wasted if no one wants it. This realization caused people to change their mindset to prioritize and make sure they are developing something people want instead of it just being high quality or on time. This allowed for a new model in software development known as agile development.

One of the only industries I found that doesn’t use any type of lean model is the education industry. My guess as to why is that there has always been a seemingly endless amount of money coming from the government in the form of student loans and subsidies, so universities never needed to worry about efficiency or reducing waste.

They also never needed to worry about the value to their students, since they got paid no matter how much or how little the student actually learned or if the student could find a job or not after graduating. The goals of universities are not aligned with the majority of students, whose primary goal is to start a good-paying career without having to go into debt.

My definition for The Lean Career is: “A scientific model for starting or advancing a career, with that being the core value. This model focuses on the minimization of educational waste and uses modern ways of learning to reduce costs. Educational waste can be described as any education that doesn’t lead to starting or advancing a career. The model allows for rapidly testing careers a person hypothesizes are a good fit until they find one that they want to expand on.”

The Fundamentals

The lean career was built on five fundamental concepts:

• Career as the goal
• Specializing first
• Modern learning
• Rapid testing
• Just in time education

These concepts were derived from the changes that have happened in our economy with the goal of reducing waste while improving the effectiveness of starting a successful career. These changes include the type of jobs available, the requirements to do these jobs, and the way people go about learning.

1. Career as The Goal

The first fundamental concept of The Lean Career is that starting a great career is the primary goal. A great career can be defined as a career that aligns with the life a person is looking to build, whether that is based on work/life balance, money, or the type of work they enjoy doing. By starting with a great career as the primary goal, it allows someone to eliminate much of the waste that occurs if one starts with the education as the goal.

Most people start with the education and then search for a role where it can be used instead of starting with a career and working backward to get the required education for that career. Starting with the education is not the best way because what is taught in college is normally much different than what the job will require.

This is the cause of the 90%+ inefficiency. Working backward from the goal shortens the gap between the differences in the education and the real job one gets. By learning what is directly relevant to the job, educational waste is greatly reduced. For many people that start with the education, they find that after they graduate college, there are actually no available jobs in their field of study.

This risk can be entirely eliminated by starting with a career role as the goal because someone would already know what the job market for that career looks like.

I interviewed a guy named Jack, who graduated with a degree in Media Management; however, his first job out of college was in information technology sales. He said that out of the 40+ classes he took in college, there were only three classes that he recalled were even somewhat useful.

This means if all three of those classes were taught perfectly, and he used 100% of what he learned in the classes, then at best, his education was about 93% inefficient. Most likely, his classes were not taught 100% efficiently, and he didn’t use everything he learned in the classes. A more realistic estimate of his education’s inefficiency would be 95-99%.

A good example of this in another industry would be if someone wanted to build a house and instead of working backward from a blueprint, they went out and purchased a variety of materials with the hopes of finding a way to put it all together to create a house.

I’m sure this kind of construction would cause the price of the house to be many times what it would typically cost when working from a blueprint due to all the wasted materials, time, and reconstruction. It’s crazy to think that people are doing this with education.

This same thinking of working backward from a goal can also be used to improve nearly all aspects of someone’s life. People should spend time figuring out what goals they want to pursue and then work backward to figure out what they need to do in order to accomplish that goal. If someone is not intentional about working backward from a goal, then they are just a drifter going through the motions with no end in sight.

The idea of students starting with education first stems all the way back to students being conditioned to think that college is their goal after high school. This is a toxic mentality, since over 80% of college freshmen are in college to start a career, not just to get an education. This means that for over 80% of students out there, their goal should be to first start with the actual career they want to be doing and then work backward to get the required education to do that career.

2. Specializing First

The second fundamental concept of the lean career is to start with a very specialized education. The reason starting with a specialization has become a better way to start a career is because entry-level jobs are much more specialized due to our complex economy. Specializing goes hand and hand with having a career as the goal.

This is because someone who works backward to figure out what they need to learn to break into a career will ultimately specialize their education in that one role. By specializing first, it allows someone to eliminate the educational waste that would be prevalent if they started with a very general education to only go into a very specialized role and not use everything they learned.

Specialized education also helps applicants stand out to companies since all their education is directly relevant to the job, unlike their generalized peers. This makes them especially rare in many entry-level jobs where almost everyone applying is just searching for a role where they can apply their education.

Have you ever heard people say they are going to get a general degree because they can do anything with it? Unfortunately, people who do graduate with a general college degree quickly find out that anything is not much better than nothing.

People can do anything with a high school diploma. They can go to college, go into the trades, travel, learn, or go straight to work. While they can do seemingly anything, they are capable of nothing. People who get a general college degree thinking they can get any job, quickly find this out when they aren’t qualified to do anything.

When I was working as an account executive part of my job was to recruit another entry-level salesperson to do business to business sales. I posted job ads on nearly every job board and had hundreds of applications within just a few days.

The hard qualifications for the position were minimal and out of all the applicants that applied about half of them had college degrees, making their degree a very poor differentiator. Out of the hundreds of applicants, there were only a few who had anything on their application that was even slightly relevant to the position, with the most common being some form of call center experience.

No one had any education relevant to the sales role nor even internship experience in a similar role. With these two factors topping the list as the most important entry-level job indicators, it makes people who have them extremely rare and really stand out to hiring managers.

I also phone screened over 15 entry-level candidates who seemed to have little to no knowledge of the role. They applied just because they graduated college with a very general degree and were looking for a job where they could use their degree. This was the case across the board. If anyone of these people had a strong understanding of the role or at least some relevant education or experience, it would have made them easily stand out.

3. Modern Learning

The third fundamental concept of the lean career is utilizing modern learning techniques. This includes all the advances in education, such as learning online through video lectures, research, discussion forums, etc. With the new generation growing up with this new way of learning, it has become the preference of many.

By utilizing modern learning techniques, it allows everyone access to the highest quality education. Students can learn from the smartest individuals and professors in the world, which used to only be accessible to a very select number of students.

This high-quality education comes at a fraction of the price of college, making student loans unnecessary. Another big benefit of modern learning is that it can be updated at a much higher frequency compared to any other form of education. This allows people to reduce much of the waste that comes with learning outdated material.

There are still many older individuals who don’t think online education works because they themselves have a hard time learning from it. With Generation Z and beyond growing up with online education as their primary source of learning, it has become nearly unimaginable for them to learn without it.

This new way of learning affects everything from K-12, career education, and every imaginable subject of interest. As time goes on and this new generation gets a bigger foothold into the workforce, the value people place on utilizing modern learning will increase.

4. Rapid Testing

The fourth fundamental concept of the lean career is to test the career in the real world as quickly as possible. This career testing, which could be in the form of an internship, apprenticeship, or entry-level position, should be very similar to what the job would be like for permanent employees.

This will give an accurate representation if the career would be a good fit or not. Rapidly testing if a career is a good fit allows for a large reduction in wasted time and money if they were to decide that it wasn’t a good fit. This savings in time and money allows for someone to be able to afford to test out multiple careers until they find one they want to expand on.

This rapid testing also allows someone to quickly get real-world work experience which, for many companies, is the biggest thing they look for in entry-level candidates. This makes transitioning into a permanent employee much easier.

I’ve seen countless individuals who have a skewed perception of a career due to not having any actual experience in it, but instead, only having learned about it in a classroom. If they are one of the lucky people who are able to get a job in their field after graduation, then there is a good chance they will find that their perception of what it would be like is much different from reality.

This leads them to feel stuck since they took out massive amounts of student loans or feeling like they wasted years of resources on school. This feeling of being stuck is likely what causes physicians to have the highest suicide rate. Imagine someone spending over eight years of their life in school while racking up over $200,000 in student loans. They struggle with the stress and finally are able to start working in a practice only to learn that they hate their work.

They seem to be out of options as they need to pay off these loans and being around the age of 30 they might even have a family that’s counting on them. Their only viable option is to work for 10+ years counting the days as they slowly pay down their debt. Much of this risk could have been avoided by getting real-world experience early on while still having enough resources to change careers if it turned out to not be a great fit.

5. Just in Time Education

The last fundamental concept of the lean career is to only learn what you need to know at the time you need to know it. This gives someone an approach to broadening their career education after they’ve broken into a career through their specialized education.

By doing this, they will rise in the ranks and advance their career through lifelong learning. This just in time education allows for maximum educational efficiency. This is due to only learning new things when they are able to use them thus reducing all the educational waste that someone would incur if they learn about a subject only to never use it and have it erode away over time.

This concept of just in time actually comes from manufacturing where Toyota learned they could reduce waste if they ordered materials from suppliers, so they arrived the moment they needed them instead of having them on hand and storing all the materials themselves.

This allowed them to eliminate much of the waste that could occur if products in storage got damaged, had defects, or were never used. It also reduced the amount of labor and infrastructure needed to operate warehouses to store materials while freeing up the resources they would have had invested in their inventory.

They often call this the pull vs. push strategy. Instead of trying to push their inventory on the market, they let the market pull what inventory they needed at the time. For just in time to work for Toyota, they needed to have very reliable suppliers that could consistently provide new inventory at the time it was needed.

The pull vs. push strategy for education is to let the market dictate your educational needs of what you should learn at the time instead of trying to push your education on the market. This strategy is the same as starting with the end goal first. Don’t start with the education and then search for a role where it can be used. This is trying to push the education on the market. Instead, start with the role and let it pull what education is required to start and advance the career at the time.

The key that allows just in time to work for education is the internet. It acts as our external supplier that we can order information from at the exact moment we need it, thus eliminating the need to store it internally ourselves.

This just in time strategy for education, is especially useful for eliminating waste since knowledge deteriorates over time. To utilize just in time education, it is important to focus on developing self-education skills to have a reliable process to pull information from in a moment’s notice.

Before the internet matured, it wasn’t possible to use this just in time strategy for education. You couldn’t tell your boss you need to take off work for a few months to go to a college class to learn a new skill and you couldn’t have answers to facts in just a few seconds either. This is why, in the past, it made sense to cram as much information as you could learn in four years.

The Formula

These five fundamental concepts were put together to form a new model that creates an extremely efficient and effective way to start a great career. The four steps to this model are: identify, learn, test, and expand.

The first three steps create a cycle to rapidly get real-world experience in the role someone hypothesizes would be a good fit. This allows someone to see what the career is actually like and if it aligns with what they’re looking for. After testing the role, they can choose if they want to continue with it and go onto the last step, which is expand or if they decide they want to test a different career.

If so, they repeat the rapid identity, learn, and test cycle. By using this rapid cycle, it allows them to very quickly and efficiently figure out what role they want to turn into a career. If you want to learn more about using this model, then download your free copy of The Lean Career here.

A New Model for Higher Education

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