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DallasNews column by Monaco: "If degree doomed, what's next?"
Posted 02/01/2014 11:29AM

“The Degree Is Doomed.” The headline of Michael Staton’s Harvard Business Review blog post from Jan. 8 caught my attention as I perused my Twitter stream. As a father of 10th-, sixth-, and third-grade boys — not to mention head of a college prep school — I certainly thought the post warranted a closer look.

Staton’s major points are relatively straightforward:

Higher education is “in the midst of dramatic, disruptive change”; he refers to this process as “unbundling.”

As a result, the traditional credential — the degree — is losing its relevance.

Employers or other evaluators presently or will soon seek “more efficient and holistic ways” for a potential employee to demonstrate her merits. These might include work samples, online portfolios, badges and other credentials that represent the candidate’s readiness for work in a particular field.

Certainly, one can take issue with Staton’s premise. Compelling evidence exists, for example, to suggest that the economic value of a bachelor’s degree remains strong. Yet we’d be foolhardy to brush aside Staton’s musings as futuristic drivel.

Consider this. A “lifer” in Parish’s Class of 2014, preparing to graduate in just four months, entered our school as a pre-kindergarten student in 1999 or 2000. Thomas Friedman’s transformational book, The World Is Flat, chronicled the phenomenon he referred to as “globalization 3.0,” which began that very year (1999-2000), when he notes, “Facebook, Twitter, cloud computing, LinkedIn, 4G wireless, ultra-high-speed bandwidth, big data, Skype, system-on-a-chip (SOC) circuits, iPhones, iPods, iPads and cellphone apps didn’t exist, or were in their infancy.”

If the world has changed that much in the span of one generation of students represented by the Class of 2014, can we even imagine what transformational technological advances will affect the experience of the next generation of students, represented by the Class of 2028, who entered pre-kindergarten at Parish this year?

Google senior vice president for human operations Laszlo Bock made headlines last year when he noted Google now has “teams where you have 14 percent of the team made up of people who’ve never gone to college.” No degree at all and you can be hired at Google!

Georgia Tech, in partnership with online course provider Udacity, has announced plans for a $7,000 master’s degree in computer science. But, more applicable to Staton’s point, it will also feature nondegree and certificate-bearing courses for individuals for whom such options are appealing. In time, I believe employers, frustrated with the stock of ill-prepared “degreed” graduates exiting traditional colleges, will partner with online, for-profit and university providers to tailor certificate or credentialed programs that produce the type of skill-ready applicants they most value.

Finally, we know many of the jobs our children will have in the innovation economy of tomorrow have not yet been created. Many “micro-careers” predicted for the next generation may not require a degree from a traditional college.

Is the degree doomed? I do not know that I would go that far. There is much to be said about the active cultivation of the mind, learning for learning’s sake and the development of vital social and networking skills that a traditional, degree-granting campus offers. I am the product of a well-rounded liberal arts education and espouse its benefits. I believe many students of tomorrow will still seek college degrees in the future if they can afford to.

Yet I recognize that the world is changing and the time is coming when the path from a college preparatory high school program to a college and graduate degree will no longer be the automatically accepted and exclusively honored one to the American dream. As the world shifts, so too should our conception of what it means to be prepared. At Parish, anyway, “college prep” is making room for “life prep.”

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David W. Monaco is the Allen Meyer family head of school at Parish Episcopal School in Dallas. His email address is A longer version of this article with related resources can be found at Dave Monaco’s blog at

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