As college costs increase, alternatives arise

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Robby Soave Reporter
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Is college worth it? As tuition costs and student loan debts spiral out of control, a growing number of higher education skeptics say no — and see opportunities to fill a void in the market.

Isaac Morehouse is one of those skeptics.

“This idea that you simply get through college, no matter the cost, and you’ll have a happy career is not true, and more people are seeing that,” wrote Morehouse, in an email to The Daily Caller News Foundation. “You see a few alternatives popping up, and you’ll see more.”

Morehouse has created one such alternative: Praxis, an education and job training program for students who are turned off by the idea of traditional schooling.

Praxis launched this week, and will enroll students between the ages of 18 and 25 in a 10-month online course and internship. The curriculum — which was designed by top experts in various fields, according to Morehouse — covers economics, history, entrepreneurship, and technology.

“Participants get a top-notch curriculum, comprised of the best online content across disciplines,” wrote Morehouse.

The big difference, however, between a traditional college degree and Praxis is that the latter automatically places participants at an internship with a small business. The internship also pays, which Morehouse said will keep the net cost of the program under $4,000 for most participants.

Praxis isn’t the first to seek to break the college mold. Peter Thiel, a venture capitalist who co-founded PayPal and made a key early investment in Facebook, launched a fellowship program in 2010 that required its participants to drop out of college. In exchange, Thiel gave each fellow $100,000 to pursue business ventures and create start-ups.

One of those fellows, Dale Stephens started a program called “Gap Year,” which offers students the chance to forgo a year of college and instead spend time traveling, working, and learning practical skills.

The development of these alternative programs underscores the dire straits of the current higher education sector. Most recent college graduates are either unemployed or underemployed in jobs that don’t require a degree. And graduates racked up a cumulative $1 trillion in loan debt to pay for soaring tuition prices. Congress has considered tinkering with the interest rate on student loans, but many experts feel that such a solution is short-term thinking at best.

“We need long-term solutions for actually driving down college costs,” said Lindsay Burke, an education fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, in a statement. “As long as the federal government continues to subsidize student loan program, we’re never going to get there.”

But even aside from the cost, a college degree doesn’t add enough value to a student’s life, said Morehouse.

“A four-year degree doesn’t stand out on the job market,” he wrote. “Employers can’t rely on it as a signal of skill, knowledge and value.”

Morehouse cites his own experience in college as one example.

“I learned a lot in college, but that was primarily in the job I had on days I wasn’t in class, or books I read on the side,” he wrote.

This thinking is in line with that of Laszlo Block, a top Google executive, who recently told The New York Times that university environments are artificial. They condition students to succeed in academia, not the workplace.

“One of the things we’ve seen from all our data crunching is that G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless,” he said.

Can new opportunities like Praxis and Gap Year really supplant the traditional four-year degree? Morehouse thinks so.

“It seems radical only because the impractical and increasingly ineffective status quo is so normal,” he wrote. “Really, it’s radically practical.”

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