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Enrolling at You U: An Alternative to Going Back to School

Marty Nemko

You're thinking of a back-to-school stint. Perhaps you think it will accelerate your career. Or start it.

The Degree: America's Most Overrated Product?

In recent years, many degree holders have gotten a rude awakening. An Associated Press analysis of data from 2011 found 53.6 percent of college graduates younger than age 25 were unemployed - or, if they were lucky enough, under-employed, meaning they were working in jobs they could have gotten out of high school. That's especially likely in fields that don't particularly impress employers, such as sociology, art history or American studies.

Alas, according to a 2012 study conducted by Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce, even science and technology majors have an unemployment rate higher than the national average of 7.6 percent. For example, for science majors the unemployment rate is 8.2 percent, for mechanical engineering majors it's 8.6 percent and for information systems majors it's 11.7 percent.

And apart from career, many college graduates learn far less than they had hoped, except perhaps for the arcana that only a professor could be excited about. The definitive book on how much learning occurs in undergraduate education, "Academically Adrift" by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, found that 36 percent of college graduates didn't grow in writing and critical thinking.

But what about graduate school as a way to improve employability? In April 2013, The Atlantic reported, "Nine months after graduation, just 56 percent of the law school class of 2012 had found stable jobs in law."

And Ph.D.s? The National Science Foundation reports that fewer than 40 percent of new Ph.D.s had a job waiting for them at graduation. Another 35 percent had signed up for a post-doc - that consists of more studying mainly. And 28 percent had nothing.

This writer was unable to find national averages for that supposedly most marketable degree, the MBA. But according to a November 2012 Bloomberg/BusinessWeek report, 10 percent of MBAs who graduated from the University of California, Berkeley were unemployed three months after graduation and 23 percent of MBAs from the University of Southern California were. One can only imagine less prestigious MBA programs' unemployment rates.

A Better Alternative?

There's an often superior alternative: You U. You, perhaps with a mentor, select activities that provide the practical training that may benefit you more than that piece of imitation sheepskin. It might, for example, include workshops, webinars, in-person or online courses; for example, at Udacity, Coursera or the upstart SkilledUp that aggregates 70,000 courses from more than 300 sources. It could include independent reading, mentorship, attending conferences and practical experience, for example, observing and perhaps working or interning under a master.

Note You U's advantages over State U, let alone the usually even pricier Private U:

--At standard universities, you are taught primarily by professors: people who have deliberately opted out of the real world for a life in the ivory tower. At You U, you're taught by master practitioners.

--At standard universities, you must learn masses of material, whether you want to or not.

--At You U: You learn only what you need and want to know, when you need to know it: Just-in-time, customized learning.

--At standard universities, except for online courses, you must attend class at the times the professors want. At You U, you can do more of your learning when you want, for example, in your slippers at midnight.

--Standard universities cost a fortune. You U costs a small fraction.

Convincing Employers

Of course, you might ask, "But won't employers dismiss a You U 'degree?'" This writer asked audiences if they'd consider an applicant who wrote the following application letter over a degree-holder and 80 percent said yes:

Dear (Insert Name of Employer),

I suspect you'll be tempted to toss my application because I don't have the required degree. But having heard many degree holders complain that they didn't learn enough of practical value to justify the time and money, I decided to get my additional training as follows. (Insert all you did at You U.) But now comes the moment of truth. I chose to emphasize substance over form, but will you interview me? Hoping to hear from you.


(Applicant's Name)

Wouldn't you consider hiring or promoting someone who attended You U?

The San Francisco Bay Guardian called Dr. Nemko "The Bay Area's Best Career Coach" and he was Contributing Editor for Careers at U.S. News. His sixth and seventh books were published in 2012: How to Do Life: What They Didn't Teach You in School and What's the Big Idea? 39 Disruptive Proposals for a Better America. More than 1,000 of his published writings are free on www.martynemko.com. He posts here every Monday.

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