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In a recent talk Bill Gates said that most future post-secondary eduction will be coming from the web. One of the big reasons was that university costs are just too high, and I agree with that sentiment. Costs to attend a university are rising at a rate that is far outstripping inflation. Costs are going to have to come down, and one way for that to happen is for much of the learning to move to the web.
But I also think that a big part of it is the rapid acceleration of specialization and innovation. It’s one of the reasons that a university degree isn’t such a big help in securing a system administration job. Experience is more valuable because the relatively slow moving curricula of a university can’t keep pace with what’s happening in the real world. Innovation of this type is leaking out of high-tech and into every industry. A standard degree will remain important for many fields, such as structural engineering and brain surgery, but much of the knowledge that surrounds the core fundamentals is going to become more and more difficult to contain within a structured university program.
I can see many university degrees becoming more like certification, where the degree exists to certify that a person has achieved a certain level of aptitude regardless of whether it was achieved in a classroom or in “the field.” (Not like an MSCE, though, more like a CCIE or perhaps several CCIEs.) I don’t know what form this type of degree would take, exactly, but I can’t see the hard bond between a good job and a degree continuing to last as university costs continue to rise so sharply. Something’s gotta give. System administration (most computer jobs, actually) are doing well without such a big need for a diploma, so it must be possible.