Where did you go to school? It’s a pretty common question in the business world and cocktail parties. Not necessarily meant to be judgy. Although also totally meant to be judgy, right? How prestigious of a university? Was your school a rival of my school? Are you a Buckeyes fan, specifically?
The answer for Rita J. King, whom you will meet on page 8, is, “I’m not going to say.” She has been running an informal experiment since she was 18. In professional contexts, she will not disclose whether she has a degree. Period. She admits that as an entrepreneur, she doesn’t often get asked that question, but she did in an interview for her role advising NASA. She declined to respond. She got the job anyway.
Pink Floyd sang, “We don’t need no education,” in a song that my twins’ teacher recently played at their 4th-grade graduation party (🤔). The idea in the song was that education can be used to mold children’s minds for evil as well as good. This idea is still playing out, but now with very different views of what exactly is “good” or “evil,” depending on whom you ask.
The role of college degrees—from new alternatives to whether you need them at all—is a theme we explore in this issue. We talk through how the entire K-college continuum is preparing tomorrow’s workforce. That starting lens allows us to talk about equity, inclusion, the role of tech and the divides tech can both open and close, the skills we’re teaching (or not), the politicization of the educational system, alternatives to four-year degrees, and how to pay (or not) for it all.
The future is never certain, but it does feel as if we are at an inflection point. The skills that workers need are rapidly evolving. The technology to teach those skills is advancing exponentially. How and where they will converge is the focus of this issue. Our values as a nation will play into the discussion—fractured as they are. But whatever the outcome, the idea that education in some form needs to be a lifelong process resonates deeply with our panel. As does the importance of educational options existing for everyone.
Read on to see how education could become as flexible as the needs of the humans and workforces it serves.