Should Skills Training Replace Higher Education? Yes, the “Expensive Wandering” Part

skills training

Tom Vander Ark, CEO of Getting Smart and former executive director for education of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, recently wrote about changing criteria in considering college education versus other pathways pursued by high school students and their parents.

Vander Ark cites Dr. George Kuh’s October 2019 piece in the Harvard Business Review in which Kuh defends the long-term benefits of a liberal arts degree. Vander Ark shares my view in stating that price hikes in higher education have made the risk of debt without a degree the new worst-case scenario for Generation Z students. He cites Ryan Craig’s book, A New U, noting that the new rule for young people is to attend a good selective school for free if possible and so motivated. If not, look to stay debt-free and sprint to your first job.

In addition to sharing Craig’s recommendation, Vander Ark provides a few more rules for students: first, build your resume while in high school; second, secure college credits before graduating; third, don’t take on debt without a clear sense of purpose; and, lastly, aim for sustainable, lifelong learning. His idea of securing college credits before graduating is excellent. He notes there are more than 400 early college high schools in the U.S., with 199 of them in Texas. Based on feedback from my two daughters attending universities there, the state’s high schools send many of their graduates to Texas schools with nearly a year’s credit, saving both students and the state time and money.

In concluding, Vander Ark responds to Dr. Kuh’s question, “Should skills training replace higher education?” with a qualified “Yes.” “Yes, free and debt-free skills training should replace expensive wandering while developing maturity and a sense of purpose and racking up debt.” I agree with most of his recommended options. However, I have not seen debt-free skills training offered by any colleges or training companies. The best place for receiving those is likely in apprenticeship offerings. Short of that, I’d find a job with a college tuition benefit or attend a low-cost institution taking courses that will transfer later. As to the latter, I can refer you to the Georgetown University research study in which APUS landed at #93 in ROI – in the top 2% nationally — due to our low tuition cost.

Subjects of Interest


Higher Education

Independent Schools


Student Persistence