A Self-Directed Approach: UnCollege

Young people the world over consider a college education as the natural culmination of their schooling. Much of high school is geared towards preparing students for college entry exams, and students naturally believe that their future success rests on their test performance and consequently the colleges and universities that they can attend. But do high school seniors really consider other options? Do they even know alternatives exist -- alternatives that could put them far ahead of their peers both in the quality of their education and competitiveness in the job market? There is compelling data to give those alternatives consideration. The cost of college continues to soar, with some schools increasing their tuition by more than 70 percent in the past five years. The outlook is grim considering 53 percent of college graduates are unemployed or underemployed. This should be more than enough to give students pause, let alone the fact that the average student graduates with $27,000 in debt.

There are a few questions high schoolers should ask themselves as they evaluate college. Am I pursuing a high quality education or merely the degree credential? Will that degree really help me get the job I want? With the U.S. student loan debt passing $1 trillion, will the financial burden of attending college pay off in the long run? Will I be developing necessary life skills while I'm in college? More and more students are asking themselves those questions, and the answers they're finding are leading them to take a revolutionary approach to their higher education. Many are choosing to take a self-directed approach to their education and career goals rather than letting them be prescribed by an institution. We call it UnCollege. Learners with this approach focus on the quality of their education and how it meets their individual educational and career goals. Contrast this with the streamlined and cookie cutter methods of universities with their standard prerequisites and classes that end up having little or no relevance to students' areas of interest. Self-directed learners may choose to pursue their education through free online classes, work experience, internships, or a myriad of other ways, but the important thing is that these options allow them to cultivate a high quality knowledge base with huge time and money savings over college. That brings up a major concern: money. The average student graduates with nearly $27,000 in debt, and that number is just the average. It can be triple or quadruple that for graduate school. Student loan default rates have climbed to almost 14 percent -- do students really want to incur that level of financial burden associated with a bachelor's degree? UnCollegians see the debt incurred in college as a massive impediment to their success, not a prerequisite for it. They often choose to volunteer or work in their field of interest, which launches them in their career with a significant financial and experiential advantage over their peers who graduate with debt and no work experience.

The message of UnCollege has never been "don't go to college." In essence, what we do is try to show learners that college is certainly not the only way, and may not be the best way. We wish to empower students to take agency over their own education rather than putting it in the hands of an institution. Identify your educational goals and dreams, and start hacking it.