While writing a post about alternates to college (part 1), a thought occurred to me that I wanted to write about here. Let me quickly lay it out. Colleges are valuable because they are markers for a person’s suitability of employment. The more prestigious the college, the more powerful the marker. I think this is a flawed approach, and I think many would agree. But given the absence of a viable alternative, it’s something we have to live with.
In this post, I want to suggest a possible alternative. Here’s my idea:
- Create an institution designed to evaluate individuals–in terms of their knowledge, skills, and maybe even character. Put aside what this would actually entail for now. Assuming the institution’s evaluations were reliable and accurate, employers and schools could use these evaluations for hiring and admission, respectively.
- At any time, an individual could decide to be evaluated, for a fee (something much cheaper than current cost of colleges).
This institution would replace the signalling function colleges play in our society. Getting a good job would depend on getting a good evaluation, and getting a good evaluation may not or necessarily depend on going to a good college. For example, an individual could forgo college, but study by themselves. If they receive a good evaluation, than they would have good career opportunities. (This would work well with the first part 1 of this topic.) The evaluation could also be used to get into graduate schools or other individual schools that provide specialized training (e.g., medical school, engineering, etc.).
But is it possible to create a way to accurately and reliably assess an individual–or more specifically, can we create a way that is more reliable than using colleges as a proxy for this? This feels like the key question. If we could create this, wouldn’t we have already done it? Certainly in other civilizations they’ve relied on testing (e.g., civil service testing in Confucian societies), but my impression is that standardized tests are not sufficiently reliable–or at least I’d want something even more dependable. Still, the fact that something like this doesn’t already exist is a bad sign.
(Note: I don’t believe any system can achieve 100% accuracy. But I’m hoping for something more reliable and more affordable than college.)