The futurist: Will coworking replace college?

(Editor’s note: This is the first of two parts.)

When I first brought up the idea of coworking taking over colleges, it seemed like an absurd notion. But there is a secret reason that very few people are grasping.

At first glance, the highly structured ivory towers of academia seem to be on the opposite end of the spectrum from the unstructured anything-goes world of coworking. But the more I thought about it, it seems inevitable that the two are on a collision course.

In fact, it’s already happening, but not in the ways you may imagine.

Geekdom, a San Antonio-based coworking hub launched in 2012, has piloted an educational program called SparkEd where over 1,500 young people have enrolled in their workshops and “weekend camps.”

In Baltimore, the team behind Betamore has positioned itself as a coworking campus for entrepreneurs and their technology. Its purpose is to invigorate the Baltimore ecosystem with a unique curriculum that is open to the community.

The Posner Center in Denver is a network of over 200 companies focused on the international development of agriculture, education, energy, health, infrastructure, microfinance, and various other fields. As a mission oriented coworking facility, they are very selective in who they choose to work with, and education and training courses are an every day occurrence.

Our work at DaVinci Institute is also a prime example with our 11-13 week DaVinci Coder courses for learning new programming languages in a coworking environment.

No, there are no coworking locations currently offering a four-year bachelor degree, but that’s exactly the point. The status that colleges think they’re conveying is not the same status that today’s young people care to receive.

In the emerging gig economy where 36 percent of all work is already being done by freelancers, Millennials no longer feel they have the luxury of blowing 4-5 years and a boatload of money learning abstract concepts when they can take a 3-4 month coding bootcamp and learn while doing actual work that they’re being paid for.

The Recent Coworking Surge

So what is it about coworking, defined as membership-based workspaces where diverse groups of freelancers, remote workers, and other independent professionals work together in a shared, communal setting, so effective?

An estimated 20,000 coworking facilities currently dot the American landscape, and over 1,700 have signed their allegiance to the Coworking Manifesto, an online document that spells out the theory, philosophy, and working strategy of this new movement.

Here are ten stats explaining why coworking has become so insanely popular:

  1. 40 percent of the workers will be freelancers, temps, independent contractors and solopreneurs by 2020.
  2. 70 percent reported they felt healthier than they did working in a traditional office setting.
  3. 64 percent of coworkers are better able to complete tasks on time.
  4. 68 percent said they were able to focus better while co-working.
  5. 92 percent are satisfied with their co-working space.
  6. 91 percent have better interactions with others after co-working.
  7. 60 percent are more relaxed at home since co-working.
  8. 78 percent of coworkers are under 40.
  9. 90 percent said they felt more confident when working.
  10. 50 percent report higher incomes.

The Business of “You”

How many schools are currently prepping students to be “freelancer-ready?” In a word – none. It’s simply not happening.

Instead, the hard transition from student grunt to skilled worker is occurring in radically new ways – through friends, through trial and error, and through existing project workers.

Mentorship is quickly becoming the new classroom.

When LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman says, “You need to think and act like you’re running a start-up,” he’s referring to your own career.

Every new free agent that enters the project-to-project job world quickly realizes that their growing lists of questions simply don’t have textbook answers. They have to find their own answers, and the quickest way is through peer groups and mentors.

Living in a country with the highest educated waitresses and bartenders in the world, an increasingly vocal underground feels they’ve been lied to. Academic credentials no longer live up to the promise implied with every new student loan that’s being applied for.

That’s one of the reasons coworking is becoming so trendy; they’re looking for a better network.