The Apprentices of a Digital Age – A New Form of Higher Education?

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After reading a New York Times article titled, “The Apprentices of a Digital Age,” I was left a tad conflicted. In the article, author Hannah Seligson begins by telling the story of Jasmine Gao, a nineteen-year-old girl who recently dropped out of her freshman year of college to pursue her interest in technology.  Gao, like many others, “wasn’t the classroom type” and didn’t understand the need to pay thousands of dollars for something she didn’t even enjoy. So instead, Gao worked through Enstitute and became an apprentice to Hilary Mason, a chief data scientist at the company Bitly.

Enstitute is a new two-year program that teaches skills in fields such as computer programming, information technology, and app building to those wishing to gain job experience. But unlike many programs of its kind, Enstitute “seeks to challenge the conventional wisdom that top professional jobs always require a bachelor’s degree — at least for a small group of the young, digital elite.”  Enstitute, according to Seligson, is aimed at “intelligent, ambitious and entrepreneurial types” of people, similar to Ms. Gao. But can Enstitute really replace the value of a traditional college education? A college education provides students with important knowledge and critical thinking skills that can be applied not only in future internships and professions, but in everyday life as well.

Perhaps Enstitute can achieve this goal. Many of the company’s fellows learn critical thinking in alternative ways, like through “debating product features.” And this innovative form of education seems to be paying off; many of the graduates from this program have gone on to start companies and assume high positions at successful corporations around the nation. In addition, the cost of attending Enstitute is significantly cheaper than that of an average four-year college.

Yet, I remain conflicted. Call me old fashioned, but I still believe in the power of a liberal arts education. I believe that those businesses hiring understand and appreciate the value of a college degree above many other things. And while women like Gao and Shaila Ittycheria, one of the co-founders of Enstitute, deserve a round of applause for their dedication, creativity, and enthusiasm in a very male dominated field, I am not sure that a traditional college education can be overlooked.  But Enstitute is still a relatively new program. And with the ever-soaring prices of college these days, the less than $2,000 tuition at Enstitute seems almost unreal. For now, I will continue to think about what Enstitute can and can not do, or I can wait and see. Time will surely tell what this program is truly capable of.

For the full New York Times article, visit: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/05/business/enstitute-an-alternative-to-college-for-a-digital-elite.html?pagewanted=2&_r=2&ref=business

Eniola Akintade

 Tufts University

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