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Posted: October 14, 2013

More on the lean, mean micro-college model

Today's colleges take just too long

Thomas Frey

(Editor's note: This is the second of two parts. Read Part One.)

On a recent “Future of Beer Tour,” an event we produced at the DaVinci Institute that took us on a futuristic bus tour of five local craft breweries, one of our on-board experts mentioned that a local college was planning to offer an official major and degree for becoming a “brewmaster.” This is yet one more example of taking an industry where most brewmasters are self-taught in a couple months and stretching it into an expensive four-year college degree.

The micro-college approach to training brewmasters would be an intense two to four-year training program with a designated apprenticeship period learning on the job.

Using this line of thinking, the potential for micro-colleges is huge, and emerging technologies and business trends are creating more opportunities on a regular basis. Here are a few possible:

  • Certified crowdfunding training
  • Dog breeder university
  • Brew master college
  • 3D print technician training center
  • Drone pilot school
  • Body scanner academy
  • Data visualization and analytics school
  • Aquaponics farmers institute
  • Online competition manager/producer school
  • Project manager training for the freelance economy
  • Urban agriculture academy
  • School for legacy management consultants
  • Pet day care management school
  • 3D food printer chef institute
  • Privacy management academy
  • Senior living management school

These are but a few examples, but with a creative team brainstorming, we could easily list over 100 possible micro-colleges.

The “Engineering Major” Scenario

As a former IBM engineer, I’ve thought a lot about the relevance of my college years and the work I did as an engineer.

Since my coursework happened in the pre-computer era, most of the skills I needed after computers were introduced were primarily self-taught.

While I used a far amount of math, trig, and geometry, I never used what I learned in the required higher-level math courses like calculus and differential equations.

Most of my engineering coursework became quickly dated as computers and calculators made the previous generation’s work tools like slide rules, protractors, calipers, and drafting tables obsolete.

My first FORTRAN class using a card-punch machine was obsolete even before I had punched my last card. 

Perhaps the most valuable courses with long-term relevance were classes in writing, English, speech, art, design and the special research projects that forced me to find my own answers and write a final report. The art helped me understand that engineering was a form of creative expression.

Nothing I learned was worth zero, but certainly some courses held far greater value than others.

However, starting from the premise of training for the minimum skill requirements of a profession, what exactly are the core courses needed for someone to enter a particular engineering field?

Yes, an electrical engineer is far different than a petroleum engineer, and a mechanical engineer falls in yet another category. The number and type of core courses may vary. But rather than expanding courses to fill an arbitrary four-year requirement, how much fat can be trimmed and still produce an effective, competent engineer?

Using an intensive, full-immersion approach to education, could a school churn out competent industry-ready engineers in less than two years?

If the school were tied to an industry-specific apprenticeship program with a near-perfect handoff between academia and real-world work happening inside the industry, what would a super-lean engineering program like this look like?

The Coming Transition

Since we launched DaVinci Coders in the 2nd quarter of 2012, over 40 other coder schools have cropped around the U.S. and even more in Canada in Europe. 

Every successful micro-college will cause others to follow in their footsteps and refine the original business model.

It’s easy to imagine that as traditional colleges see their student base decline, many will begin to partner, merge, and purchase fledgling micro-colleges and begin incorporating these new areas of study into their own catalog of course offerings. 

Since existing colleges bring with them credit-granting accreditation, along with status, credibility, and the ability to offer student loans, in-house micro-colleges will likely become a rapidly growing part of campus life.

Many colleges will find the micro-college niche they take on to be the key differentiator between them and other schools. 

Using the school-within-a-school approach, core micro-college programs will become feeder mechanisms for additional types of credentialing.

Final Thoughts

The systems used to create colleges centuries ago seem justifiably primitive by today’s standards. Learning formulas for nearly every degree are based on hours, one of the least important considerations when it comes to assessing talent.

Colleges today cost far too much, and they take far too long.

Just like many other industries, traditional colleges are being tasked to do more with less. But at this point they don’t have a clear understanding of what “less” looks like. 

MOOCs are offering a new way to produce and distribute lecture-style courses, but that only represents a piece of a much larger equation.

Because of their ability to instantly positions themselves at the critical cross-section of skill and commerce, far more new industries will be born through micro-colleges than through traditional colleges. 

So will there be a micro-college in your future? 

Thomas Frey is the executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker.  At the Institute, he has developed original research studies, enabling him to speak on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities. Tom continually pushes the envelope of understanding, creating fascinating images of the world to come.  His talks on futurist topics have captivated people ranging from high level of government officials to executives in Fortune 500 companies including NASA, IBM, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Unilever, GE, Blackmont Capital, Lucent Technologies, First Data, Boeing, Ford Motor Company, Qwest, Allied Signal, Hunter Douglas, Direct TV, Capital One, National Association of Federal Credit Unions, STAMATS, Bell Canada, American Chemical Society, Times of India, Leaders in Dubai, and many more. Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer.

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