Universities are in danger of losing their position as the default career and life preparation program for young people…and this is a wonderful thing.

College is a bundle of goods. It is a social experience. It is academic knowledge. It is a credential that sends a signal to potential employers. It is a set of job skills. It is networking.

There was a time when the university was nearly the only place to get these items. Even if you wanted only one or two items in the bundle, it was worth it to buy the whole package to get them. Most people didn’t mind too much that, like it or not, part of their tuition also paid for a lot of other things they might not want at all, or might even oppose: Greek life, sports, campus clubs, fancy facilities, tenured and often underproductive faculty and staff, politically correct codes and rules, and administrative bloat. It was never really efficient, but at the end of the day it was still the best place to get the knowledge, network, skills, and most importantly, the credential to signal employers.

Times have changed dramatically. Each item in that bundle can now be had often better, faster, and cheaper outside of college. Want knowledge of a diverse array of topics? Why pay thousands for a luck-of-the-draw professor when you can go online and hear the best in the world teach on any subject, for free?  Ease of travel and digital social communication have enabled far more diverse and far less expensive ways to get amazing social experiences and build a network. Career skills can be obtained in myriad ways far more valuable and far less wasteful than paying for four years of a lot of classes that don’t prepare you for your dream job.

The toughest item to get outside of college has been that coveted credential.  That’s what’s kept the college monopoly in business. I’d wager more than 90% of young people who are in college or plan to go do so because they believe they have to in order to get any kind of decent job. They know it’s long and expensive, but they feel there’s no escape. Yet, as the cost of college keeps skyrocketing, the value of a degree as a signal to employers is falling fast. Degrees are everywhere, and having one no longer sets you apart in a stack of résumés. More and more employers are scrapping them as a requirement for job applicants, and the most interesting and entrepreneurial companies actually appreciate people who have courageously taken a different path.

Opportunity for alternatives abounds. That’s why I launched Praxis.

Praxis offers the most valuable items in that bundle in a cost-effective way, tailored to the participant, and with a focus on real-world application. Education and work shouldn’t be two separate realms. You need to be a learner to succeed in the market, and you need to understand the market to be a truly learned person.

College has never been an exceptionally productive avenue for gaining job skills. Except for highly-specialized professions (e.g., law, engineering, medicine) the skills necessary for most careers are gained by working. Doing is the best way of gaining almost any skill. Yet there is so much value to a liberal arts education, abstract thinking, and knowledge of a wide variety of subjects that a mere focus on technical skills or work can omit too much.

That’s why Praxis offers a powerful combination of work experience with dynamic, entrepreneurial companies and the best of an interdisciplinary education with hard-skills training in one ten-month package. There’s no reason to go into debt or spend four years and six figures to get an education and career and life preparation. Praxis participants get paid for their work with business partners and the earnings are enough to cover the entire tuition. It’s a net cost of zero.

We’re challenging the traditional credentialing model by providing graduates with a portfolio of completed projects and workshops, as well as certification via oral exams of online curriculum modules completed in each discipline. We assist with résumé writing, interview training, and finding investors or employers after the program.

Praxis is just one example of the emerging market in college alternatives. As degrees get more costly and less valuable, and as the items in the bundle become increasingly available elsewhere, new combinations will evolve that actually treat the student as the customer, not a cog whose only job is to sign payment papers.

The burgeoning education revolution is something we can all get excited about!