A Solution to the College Crisis


Corporate colleges


Higher education in the United States is broken. Costs are ouf of control. Students are dissatisfied. Graduates can’t get jobs. Says MIT’s Andy McAfee, “What’s going on is halfway between a bubble and a scandal.”

I propose we put higher ed back on track by founding Corporate Colleges.

Corporate colleges break higher ed into its constitutent parts and reassemble them with checks and balances more fitting for a pragmatic 21st century education. These in-house programs would:

  • Move the bulk of learning to the workplace
  • Fund higher education by the private sector
  • Treat education as a profit center instead of a charity
  • Emphasize experiential over academic learning
  • Prepare people for jobs by helping them do those jobs
  • Break academia’s monopoly over granting credits
  • Decouple faculty research from teaching
  • Assess learning through demonstrating the skill in lieu of paper and pencil testing
  • Make work-study programs the norm instead of the exception
  • Pay students to attend instead of charging them
  • Slash delivery costs by flipping the classroom
  • Use OER, YouTube, and other online media to present mainstream content
  • Tailor learning opportunities to people’s career goals and aspirations
  • Involve supervisors and managers as mentors and learning coaches
  • Replace courses as the measure of learning with demonstrated proficiency
  • Make workload variable; some might complete the equivalent of a BA in five years, others in twelve

The corporate college scenario

First Neighborly Bank (“FNB”) hires five hundred entry-level employees per year. Most enter through FNB’s in-house in-house learning program, FNB College. These new hires earn 75% of a typical salary for novices in banking and work 75% time. They devote the rest of the workday and an equivalent amount of personal time studying through FNB College. People are clamoring to join the bank and take the program.

FNB College has no campus, no professors, and scant administration. The closest thing FNB College has to a faculty are managers and supervisors who act as coaches, mentors, and advisors. Most learning is experiential. Mentors give stretch assignments to challenge students “do what they do not know how to do in order to learn how to do it.” Most traditional content is provided by online sources such as xMOOCs, I Tunes U, OER and similar public resources. Study groups of four and five students tackle projects to improve FNB.

Maria Delgado joined the bank at the age of 19 as a teller seven years ago and has advanced to AVP Real Estate Lending. Her Experiential Learning Portfolio lists projects such as making CRA loans, leading a successful marketing campaign, and running the regional United Fund Drive. Her peers and managers review and rate her accomplishments. She participates in banking simulations both to learn new skills and demonstrate her abilities.

Maria has completed numerous ABA lending and credit analysis courses. She has a commercial real estate licenses, completed the Dale Carnegie Course, and completed BankSim. To round out her education, Maria has completed a series of online courses in European literature and modern diplomatic history. She has earned seven badges in spreadsheet analysis, real estate appraisal, and Photoshop. Brought up bilingually, she also received credit for three years of Spanish. In total, Maria has earned 263 points on a scale where 200 points is equivalent to a bachelors degree.

The in-house corporate college system has been a win win situation for Maria, who has received a college education and for FNB, which has a fiercely loyal employee. In addition to her lending activities, she serves as a learning coach to today’s crop of new hires.

Maria has never stepped on a college campus nor spoken with a professor. She has no student debt. The content of her studies was entirely contemporary and of her own choosing. Other employers value Maria’s learning credentials more highly than a traditional degree, because they demonstrate that she knows how to get the job done and has shown a lot of grit in assembling her learning journey..

Putting things into practice

Corporate Colleges should coexist with other institutions, not replace them. The competitive might of the invisible hand will sort out programs that thrive from those that fade into history.


Image credit:


Leave a Reply