( @wgu, #MBA, #education )
In the summer of 2009 I decided enough was enough – it was time to finally go back to school and get my masters degree. My big hurdle was the GMATS (standardized test similar to the SATS for graduate school) – I completely forgot how to do the math. Back in 2007 I enrolled in a very expensive 10 week prep class at Drexel University that was terrible. I will admit to being distracted due to looking for a house and planning for a wedding. I decided to put the MBA on hold until after the wedding.
Back to summer of 2009 – I still had not started school. I realized if I did not start soon, it wasn’t going to happen. Mentally, I felt like I was losing a step; work was getting repetitive and I just felt “bla”. Since I wasn’t looking for kinky experiences, I had excellent success finding actual teachers on Craigslist (hi GTT!). I quickly found Adam (I don’t have a fun nic-name for him yet) and we spent a year on and off getting me ready.
As the economy imploded, I was reading books about politics, the economy, and education (Adam and I met at a library for our classes, so I borrowed dozens of books during the year). My cousin Vince was about to start college as well, so hearing what his issues and concerns were 10 years after I went through it made me even more motivated to research. I concluded that the entire educational system was broken. If you don’t want to read the article, I basically call out the high cost and poor quality of the education. Families are being saddled with insane costs and there is no guarantee that there will be a job waiting for little Johnny when he graduates anymore.
A few of the books that I read mentioned Western Governors University as a model for how education should be. The school was accredited, cheap, online, and rewarded you for knowledge you already had (you could test out of classes). After a few weeks of research, I decided “what the hell” and enrolled.
[Choosing the School]
WGU did not require students to take the GMATs, but an evaluation was needed. It was basic knowledge and did not present a problem. If you are going to ask me if I wasted my money with the GMAT tutor, I will say no; even though I did not take the test, prepping for the GMATs got me in the mode of doing homework and thinking critically again. I needed that boot camp to get ready (and I made a friend).
As soon as I expressed an interest, the school assigned a contact for me (actually two) and they answered my questions. Before I enrolled, I checked several message boards to see what the negative feedback was about the school. There wasn’t much, but there seemed to be some complaints about grading. I threw these questions at my contacts and they did a reasonable job of answering. Bottom line: with any remote school, at some point you have to say “screw it” and just sign up or move on.
One of my other concerns was “I never heard of this school, is this for real or is it just a diploma mill?” I found an article by Time Magazine proclaiming WGU “the best school you never heard of.” I felt better and found out that Google and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation invested in the school as well.
Once I was formally enrolled, I was assigned a mentor (Jim). He was a fast talking, no BS kind of guy and I liked him right away. He got me enrolled in the intro class (how the school functions which is important since it is online) and set up a weekly call moving forward.
As I progressed through the intro and added more classes to my schedule, I was shocked how the courses were directly linked to what I was doing at my job. My classes in supply chain, strategic direction, and even HR were giving me tactics that I was immediately applying. Since the school uses a combination of text books and recent articles, I am forced to read about trends in the economy and my profession that I would have ignored. The supply chain class helped me have an educated conversation with the new director of my department a few weeks ago. Like I said, very timely.
The way the MBA classes are organized work for me – no tests, but a lot of reading and long papers (I know undergraduate classes are structured differently). I could see how that might not work for some people who are looking for a more traditional experience. Since I am a fast reader and I like to write (hence this blog), it is a very natural fit. The school also utilizes online training modules that my employer also offers (skillsoft) – which feels familiar, but I am not a fan of the technology (the screens are too slow, I like to skip around and then go back and focus on important things), I usually try to find articles in the library to supplement the modules.
I started in July and managed to complete 6 classes (including the intro which does not really count). Since I have never been enrolled in another MBA program, I can’t compare it to anything else, but in comparison to my undergraduate experience at Drexel University, I am very satisfied with the knowledge being transferred and the methods being used.
I have been skirting around on of the major questions surrounding higher education at the moment – do you really need an MBA? Honestly, I don’t know if having an MBA will do much for me in my current job (in terms of requirements) – but it has been helping in indirect ways as I mentioned earlier. I certainly understand my job better and since I have been taking the courses, I feel like I have been implementing a more strategic approach to my areas of influence. Should I leave my current position, I suspect having a graduate degree would make me more attractive to a new employer.
Since WGU is relatively cheap, it won’t take me a decade to complete (at most two years), and I am getting exactly what I want from it, it makes sense for me. I also want to teach part time at community colleges (just for fun) so having a graduate degree will help me with that goal. So far, I really like what WGU is doing (there have been a few hiccups, but certainly less than at Drexel) and I would recommend it to any working professional that wants to get a graduate or finish an undergraduate degree.
If you have questions about my experience, you can email me at “blog at joeylombardi.com”. It seems like WGU has not built a strong reputation in the East Coast yet:
I am happy to help get the information out there because I think it is a great school and should be a model to address many of the issues with the system today.
Are you a parent of a teenager wondering exactly how you are going to help your child pay for college tuition? Are you a student wondering why you don’t feel satisfied with the career options you have going into college? Do you get the general feeling that something isn’t right with the whole system? If you feel that way, you aren’t wrong and you aren’t alone.
[The System has Failed Us]
When I first started to write this post, I was initially taking the “road to hell is paved with good intentions” approach to how the education system became such a mess, but after reading a book called Linchpin by Seth Godin, I modified my perception. The American education system (top to bottom) was designed to create followers (sheep). We give up our creativity with this unspoken expectation/promise that if we follow the rules, big brother will take care of us. School is design to make children good at following directions and spitting back output. This is the factory assembly line mentality to education. Big business barons (say that three times fast) back in the early 19th century realized the best way to mollify cranky workers is to give them just a bit of education to make the compliant. THAT IS MODEL THAT THE MODERN AMERICAN EDUCATION SYSTEM EVOLVED FROM.
After America won WWII and committed to educating our soldiers, American colleges started to modify their business model and focus on the masses. Suddenly college education which was reserved for the elite, was in the grasp of anyone who wanted it. The GI bill made education affordable (almost free) to thousands of boys in the 1940’s. That generation started the expectation that everyone should go to college to get ahead.
50 years of the Government subsidizing education through state schools, community colleges (which in it’s current form was an invention of the Nixon administration), and private subsidization through Pell grants ended this decade with the implosion of the economy. Instead of giving students a free ride (or at least a discount), Uncle Sam helped them secure cheap loans at 1-3% interest…”free money”. Thus was born the generation of 21 year olds with 100,000 dollars of debt.
100k of debt is okay when you are making enough money to pay it back and are able to live, but when we aren’t creating jobs for these kids paying back $100,000 loan on a waiter’s salary isn’t going to be easy. Realize that this is the moment (right now) where America’s unspoken pact with it’s students has broken. The weight of our ideals and expectations has finally collapsed and we are left wondering for the first time in 50 years if a four year undergraduate degree is worth the cost.
[Where are we today?]
Instead of making this into a long section – let me make it short and terrifying:
[Where do we go from here?]
Now that I have ruined your children’s dreams, what do we do? We need to stop looking down on community college and 2 year degrees. Who decided that we need a four year degree (or a master’s degree) to be proficient on a subject? What happened to master/apprentice relationships in business instead of just trade?
A new generation of DIY’ers and free thinkers are taking things into their own hands. More concerned with the actual skill instead of the accreditation, learners are seeking out experts to teach them their trade. As I mentioned before, college professors aren’t making a living at the schools so they are offering private courses. These courses are cheaper than the college class and more tuned to the individual student (and not broken out into three or four courses). This is a win-win situation for student and teacher.
Colleges are not leveraging technology to reduce costs. There is an “open education” movement where people who want to share their knowledge are offering their skill for free. We are seeing this in blogs, wikipedia (and other wikis), message boards, online text books, and even in the colleges themselves. Many institutions including M.I.T. and Harvard offer free online classes to whoever wants to take them (not for credits). Why aren’t colleges taking advantage of the free materials available online to reduce their overhead and the cost to students? Why aren’t colleges banding together to share resources to reduce costs?
As people learn for themselves, colleges like Western Governor’s University offer fully accredited degrees that let you test out of the classes you already know, making your education cheaper and allowing you to focus on the things you need to learn (in the interest of full-disclosure, after months of research I will be attending WGU for my MBA starting next month). Unlike online degree-mills, WGU is non-profit, charges in 6-month increments, and lets you take as many classes as you can in those 6 months. Google and Bill Gates have invested heavily in the school citing it as a model that works for the future of education. WGU is just one example of many non-traditional schools emerging to make education affordable but still challenging (I’ll keep you updated).
Just because our parents did it and “that’s the way it’s always been done” doesn’t make it the best way to do something. We need to open our minds to the possibilities that technology is creating. The educational model is broken on the grade school, high school, and undergraduate levels; unless students and the employers of the world take a stand and accept change, we are all going to be in a shit-load more debt with nothing to show for it.