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No, I am not talking about trade schools. The jobs staffed by trade school grads already do a decent job of not being beholden to university signaling. I'm talking about white collar professional jobs that rely on those signals for reasons having nothing to do with job aptitude.

What do you have in mind then? The for-profit university experiment has largely been a scammy failure.

I agree with that too. A big part of the reason for that outcome is that for-profit universities are pin-compatible with the university education system --- which, as noted upthread, is often really just a means for wealthy people to purchase status for their offspring --- which allows them to capture student loan subsidies, enabling them to bid prices up the same way universities do.

The alternative to college education isn't going to look like a college.

In what respects would it differ? On-campus residency is an optional feature, and MOOCs can help education scale better, but in the end, you need to somehow 1) compensate experts for the time they spend teaching material and evaluating students, and 2) even more importantly, implement a robust accreditation system to eliminate the temptation to loosen standards in order to raise enrollment.

What you end up with ends up looking a lot like a college. Now, we can talk about changing how funding for college works, but that's a separate discussion from changing the fundamental model, which I don't see as a practical goal.

I don't think it's true that the dominant input to prestige university education is courseware and delivery expertise, nor do I think it's the case that a 4-year degree or something that purports to duplicate it from a computer screen is the ideal vehicle for inculcating the skills and values white-collar employers are looking for.

There doesn't need to be one universal answer to this suggestion; it would be a boring suggestion if that were the case. Instead, you could look at the market for white-collar jobs and break it down looking for lucrative subsets, and then devise some kind of apprenticeship scheme.

If you could eliminate the 4-year degree requirement for HR directors, company controllers, purchasing managers, or jobs like that, replacing it with something tailored to the specific job, you could allow people to get an early start on a white-collar career while offering them opportunities later in their career to get something like an MBA or a JD.

But because the only current credible signaling mechanism we have is a 4-year degree, there is currently no good way to get the kind of job that might legitimately demand an MBA or a JD without first getting a degree in Russian Lit.

I get in trouble with HN by suggesting that general intelligence is both real and important in life outcome, but I really can't help point out how, when we require a four-year degree for an HR director candidate, we're not really filtering for candidates with a particular body of knowledge, but filtering for candidates with the intellectual capacity to acquire one.

Any college replacement scheme is going to have to perform the same kind of filtering if it's going to be useful, and anything that performs this kind of filtering will be subject to exactly the same controversies the college system is subject to today. This outcome is because disparities in intelligence matter, and as long as we these differences exist and we need jobs with a certain cognitive threshold, we'll need something like college to indicate that certain candidates possess the needed traits.

It's important that it be very hard to lie about these qualifications, because anyone who could, would, due to the clear economic benefits of doing so. The only surefire way to determine whether someone has intellectual chops is to make him or her do something intellectual. That's what college is.

You'd get into trouble (meaning, pointless unproductive argument) with me trying to bring general intelligence into a discussion about HR directors as well, so that's a topic we're better off ignoring.

The good news is, we don't have to dig into that. All I'm saying is that it's calamitously expensive, across multiple axes (direct cost, opportunity cost, brittleness of opportunities) to assess capacity to perform the job of "HR Director" by looking for a 4-year degree.

I doubt that you believe a UMich Russian Lit degree is intrinsically an important qualification to work in HR (HR: one of the fastest growing white-collar jobs in the US, hence that example). I'm saying: that's a market inefficiency, and if you could find a way to arbitrage it, you could make a mint while making it possible for more people to get stable white-collar employment without reading Solzhenitsyn in a dorm room.

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