Here’s a Thing: There’s No Correlation Between a College Degree and Coding Ability. So, that's one thing college degrees tell us: nothing useful about whether someone can code or not. This is due in large part to the fact that coding is a skill and whether you have it or not depends something other than your grades or your degree. As should be obvious you can graduate with a degree and even with all A's and yet not have the requisite skills to be a decent coder.
So, this raises an interesting question: How many other degrees are like this? I suspect quite a few and more will be added to the list soon enough once there are other ways to assess what skills anyone has.
In some cases we've long had the ability to assess skills without degrees though this hasn't been fully utilized. To become a CPA means you've passed an exam which assesses your accountancy skills. At this point there is a requirement for those who sit for the exam to have a degree and certain courses but it is conceivable that there could be other ways to determine whether students had the skills necessary to complete the exam. The same could go for other professions as well.
Critics of this approach will point out that it really amounts to leaving the role of skill assessment to chance. But, why should this be? Why couldn't it be possible for there to be alternative ways to determine whether someone has the skills they claim to have? The college degree simply doesn't always, if ever, do a good job of this. Isn't it time for other alternatives to be considered?
But, as the article above points out, there's still a problem. "Despite all the data he had gathered to create an algorithm he was sure worked, IT managers said trusting software to make such hiring decisions -- abandoning the “credentialism” typical at large companies -- was a bridge too far." Employers are still wary of accepting these alternatives.
But, that won't last. Put yourself in the place of someone looking for skilled employees. You hire someone with the appropriate credentials and are sorely disappointed in their performance. You do so again and again with the same result. Finally, in exasperation you consider other methods.
Think this is far-fetched? Colleges who talk to local employers often hear that the graduates they interview lack important skills needed to succeed in the workplace. Colleges know this yet do little to really address the problem. Partly this is due to the constraints put upon them by the very accrediting bodies which are designed to certify that those degrees colleges grant are worth something; i.e. that they correlate well with skills.
Once then gates open to alternatives for certifying skills the same will happen with knowledge as well. At heart knowledge can be translated into skills and it is precisely those skills (such as creativity, problem solving, communication) that employers want. And, not just employers. Those are skills that will serve well whatever you end up doing or being.
Some worry that in this skill based environment humanities and other courses will suffer. But, as this article points out (Why America’s obsession with STEM education is dangerous) courses in the humanities are needed more than ever in a world where creativity and problem solving are valued. It is precisely such courses as philosophy, history, art, music, and theater which encourage such skills and often do a better job of inculcating them than do STEM courses.
While short-sighted politicians may be unable to see this and thus further cut funding to arts and humanities employers will recognize it and that will help drive the search for viable alternatives to the college degree. As I've written before, while all this is developing many within the walls of higher education will continue to live in denial. The thing is, there is still a viable place for institutions of higher education even in a world of MOOCs, alternatives to credentialing, and other interesting developments. But, there will only be a place for those institutions who recognize the changes occurring and adapt to thrive in that world of changes.