What politicians are getting wrong about fixing higher education

From Capitol Hill to the Democratic presidential debates, the drumbeat for new approaches to higher education is getting louder.

On the campaign trail, Bernie Sanders continues to advocate for free college and Sen. Elizabeth Warren recently proposed bigger plans to eliminate the $1.6 trillion in student debt nationwide. On the Hill, Republican senators Marco Rubio and Todd Young were joined by Democratic senators Mark Warner and Chris Coons in rolling out a bill to regulate income share agreements to make education more accessible.

Before anyone tries to solve what’s wrong with higher education, we need to first understand the value of a college degree. It’s a debate that truly began during the Recession, as students weren’t getting jobs upon graduation. And that lack of value is the reason we have a student loan crisis. So, why would we call for free college, if there is doubt about the value of what “free” gets someone?

While everyone should have an opportunity to pursue higher education after high school, any politico – from the Secretary of Education to the Democratic candidates, should first address the larger value crisis in today’s education system.

If Democratic candidates are going to call for free college, first, there needs to be more accountability from colleges about what a student – or future student – can expect upon graduation.

At a very young age, students are taking huge risks by spending their time and money going to college. And the majority are specifically because they want to get a job upon graduation. But tuition is non-negotiable and there is no outcome – i.e., a job – associated with graduating. The value at a coding bootcamp like Thinkful is that we have a jobs report that proves there’s a job waiting for you once you graduate. So, at a traditional college, wouldn’t the value of a college degree drop if there was no job attached to it? It’s why I think educators must be held to higher standards that are more consumer-friendly by providing transparency to students about what they can expect upon graduating with a certain major.

There such a demand around skills-based learning that even employers are recognizing you don’t need to go to college to be hireable.

From Blackrock to Google, big companies aren’t requiring college degrees for highly skilled tech positions, paving the way for employers to hire candidates from trusted education companies that they know are producing candidates with skill sets like data science, coding and design. In fact, adults in their 20s, 30 and even 50s who have college degrees are enrolling in coding bootcamps or career accelerators because they didn’t get job-ready skills when they were in school.

And it’s why coding bootcamps can offer a job guarantee or allow students to utilize Income Share Agreements to pay for their program. We are perfectly comfortable taking on that “free” risk because we know that you are very likely to get a high paying job upon graduation. Our yearly jobs data proves it.

So, calling for free college is missing the point about what really needs to happen if we want more people learning to get a job that will put them on a sustainable career trajectory. There needs to be much more accountability into what a “free degree” would get someone.