NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Apprentice-Based Education

October 21, 2011

Given academia's current failures and inefficiencies it is time to revisit the fundamental assumptions about the optimal method for educating students.  Drawing more from the past than unrealistic future expectations, one method that could augment the education experience and address many criticisms of higher education in America would be to implement a system of apprenticeships across campuses nationwide.  Valuing practical engagement over stuffy and inapplicable theory, apprentice-based education offers a viable alternative to the status quo that could greatly improve the higher education experience, says Jay Schalin of the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

The apprenticeship would function in a manner that is mutually beneficial to both the student-worker and the instructor-employer.

  • Students could enroll for part-time or full-time work at an organization within their field of interest.
  • While there, they would receive instruction from various employees in the organization and spend the rest of their time working on whatever tasks they are assigned.
  • In this way, the student gains hands-on knowledge and know-how and simultaneously becomes accustomed to the modern work environment, while the employer gains a productive and responsible worker.
  • Furthermore, the student need not pay tuition for their instruction -- they would simply forgo a wage, trading labor output for their education.

It is possible to go a step further and do away with the traditional, four-year institution altogether.  In such a system, the private company would be allowed to grant a degree upon completion of the program.  This would maximize the student's real-world experience, making him or her a valuable commodity in the market and able to adjust quickly to non-educational full-time work.

Detractors argue first that universities help to create more well-rounded individuals by requiring interdisciplinary study, but this same end could be accomplished by partnerships between private firms and local community colleges.  Regardless, the benefits of such a system clearly outweigh the costs.  The burden of funding public universities could be largely lifted from state governments and it best prepares students to become productive workers, allowing them to fulfill the overall purpose of higher education.

Source: Jay Schalin, "The Apprentice," Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, October 18, 2011.

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