Her parents had been firmly American middle class and she’d managed to get into Harvard based on an outstanding high school track record. She’d blazed through her four years there before heading off to NYU to get her law degree. A year into her law career at a large NYC firm, she’d “pulled the trigger.” It became clear to her that the path she had in front of her spending the next decade of her life to pay off over $200,000 in student debt from undergrad and law school wasn’t the future she’d imagined. So she’d bought a one way plane ticket to South American and hadn’t been back.
I was speaking with the founder of a software company at a startup event last year. Walking to the after party, she paused to make sure no one was nearby, and leaned in to whisper, “I have a MBA.”
“Yea, I don’t really talk about it. We got turned down for funding twice because both my cofounder and I have MBAs.”
The cost of credentials is rising. Tuition is getting more and more expensive at the same time as the value of the degree is falling. In a world where competence was scarce and information was opaque, credentials were valuable. In a world where competence is abundant and information is transparent, they care what you’ve done.
But have a look at a typically deep essay ‘After Credentials‘, from Paul Graham. As he says, you can try and make credentials more fit for purpose, but surely the better option is as follows:
Instead of trying to make credentials harder to hack, we can also make them matter less.
Royal Colleges, watch out. Amen.
I always think there is something to learn from these stories. The article is about Marilee Jones, the Dean of Admissions at MIT, resigning because she had lied about her academic qualifications: she had no undergraduate degree. The article states: ‘On the campus, where Ms. Jones was widely admired, almost revered, for her humor, outspokenness and common sense, students and faculty members alike seemed both saddened and shocked.’ Apparently Ms. Jones had received the institute’s highest honor for administrators, the M.I.T. Excellence Award for Leading Change (but not this sort of change, I assume…).
As Stephen Downes writes: “Sure, you can’t (legally) get the job without a degree. But it certainly appears that you can do the job without one.”
I haven’t seen an example recently, but a while back there were lots of reports of individuals impersonating doctors, and being well liked, and apparently competent. And of course, there are lots of doctors highly competent in areas in which they have no ‘certification’. Then there are researchers and academics…
The more interesting story here, is not so much the one about honesty, but about why competency is seen as being less important than credentials (that are in turn deemed essential for competency). Paul Graham says some fascinating things about credentials, and the way they can slow advance, here.