Seth Godin’s take on the academic market

November 4th, 2007 by jose

Seth Godin is one of the luminaries of marketing. He posted something thought-provoking recently on his blog:

What if I told you about an industry which:

  1. Indebts most of its customers, sometimes for twenty or more years a person
  2. Not only consumes most of four years of its customer’s time, but impacts its prospects for years before even interacting with them
  3. Enjoys extremely strong brand preferences between competitors and has virtually no successful generic substitutes
  4. Dramatically alters relations within a family, often for generations
  5. Doesn’t do it on purpose


…according to most of the studies I’ve seen, there’s very little or no difference in the efficacy of one competitor vs. another.

The industry is, unsurprisingly, US undergraduate college. Seth is a high-profile person, both on and off-line. So is Paul Graham.

Another industry that seems to commit the same sins is of course, the MBA. And this, too, has its critics: Josh Kaufman reasoned that paying around $150000 for the credential to manage a business wasn’t as compelling as it might seem when you can collect most of the books on the area and read them yourself.

But how am I going to get my skills certified, even if I acquire them by myself? How am I going to convince the human resources department of my employer to hire me? Well, easy: by doing admirable things. Instead of presenting a piece of paper, present your crowning achievement. Then going to college changes meaning completely. People may go into a classroom not to get a grade (a piece of the paper that is a ticket for a job), but to learn things that enable them to build better solutions to problems. Under this view, as Graham says, a job is “so-twentieth century”.

It seems that in recent times many people are independently proclaiming that “the emperor has no clothes”.

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5 Responses to “Seth Godin’s take on the academic market”

  1. bitsenbloc » Blog Archive » Enllaços del.icio.sos Says:

    [...] Qui vol títols universitaris si podem fer grans coses? – But how am I going to get my skills certified, even if I acquire them by myself? How am I going to convince the human resources department of my employer to hire me? Well, easy: by doing admirable things. [...]

  2. svendNo Gravatar Says:

    I’ve always been extremely skeptical of the long-term value added of “prestigious” schools over less known but competent ones (e.g., most state institutions). Not that this prevented me from wracking up high debt during my own undergrad days at an overpriced private college.

    Being in the process of applying to PhD programs at the ripe old age of 35, I’m curious if Godin has opined on the practical pros and cons of PhDs, especially in the Humanities. While in many cases the amount of work required to acquire competency in a given field is prohibitive for any non-full-time student, I do wonder if the same could be argued about many PhDs in the Humanities. You go for ib average close to a decade without a real salary, just to get certification. And then you pray you find a job, often quite low-paying. Many if not most of the best programs make their course syllabi available online, allowing anyone to do equivalent work on their own.

    Of course, if noone anywhere will hire you because you lack that piece of paper, these objections are quite moot.

    Is it unheard of for self-taught individuals to eventually land a berth in academia without sacrificing a decade of earning power, and in the meantime impoverishing their families?

  3. Online SurveyNo Gravatar Says:

    brand names are incredibly important. People will pay more for them and college name recognition gets you hired.

  4. Essay EditingNo Gravatar Says:

    I think the college you go to does matter, and it does matter what you achieve there. There are many who still believe that it is more appropriate for individuals to go to university as it will help them reach better employment prospects more quickly. Although I do agree with this, I would also argue that impression is the key aspect of anybody going to a job interview.
    I know of quite a few people who have been able to bluff their way through an interview, testing, and board to get a job – truly amazing!

  5. Devin WillisNo Gravatar Says:

    I think it is important have a fair price point and to give value to students may help avoid the empty feeling of “the emperor has no clothes”.

    Humbly posted,

    Devin Willis

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