The Disruption of Higher Education

What Will our Kids Do?

Last week we discussed how to make money, so we can do a lot of good. One key point in that discussion is the role of higher education–can it lead to success without amassing insurmountable school debt? With the onset of the pandemic and start of the new school year, everyone is wondering what will happen in higher education. Will students return this Fall to campus? Will enrollment continue to drop? What will waiting students do in the meantime?

Although COVID-19 sped up this discussion, the truth is that higher education has been struggling to find its footing with today’s youth for a while. College-aged teens have more opportunities than any other generation. How do they choose their path? No longer is simply attending college the singular goal that overshadows all other aspirations.

The shrewd student of today wants more.

They aim to learn tech-savvy skills needed for the jobs of tomorrow, avoid cumbersome school debt, gain success-oriented leadership skills, and find a meaningful fit into the robust marketplace of opportunity.

Change is coming. Pre-COVID analysis showed were are 2 million fewer enrollments in college compared to ten years ago.1 Current data amid the pandemic suggests 2020 college enrollment might suffer as much as a 20% drop.2 This considerable decline has resulted in many small colleges merging together into one institution to remain solvent.3 It also begs the question: What’s the future of higher education?

A Shift in Higher Education

While colleges tout the importance of a well-balanced diet of knowledge, the quickly moving economy demands skills that keep up with the speed of change-

A fascinating shift in higher education is upon us, ushered in by growing concerns of the high price of college, the movement toward online since the onset of the pandemic, and influx of skill-driven professions. Rapidly evolving fields in the IT space and the need for skilled workers has created a wide-open opportunity for students trying to avoid school debt.

While colleges tout the importance of a well-balanced diet of knowledge, the quickly moving economy demands skills that keep up with the speed of change- a pace that accredited college curriculums struggle to keep. Knowledge today is fast and accessible. College is not the only – or maybe even preferred- place to get it.

Is the College Degree Worth the Price Tag?

The college-or-not debate centers on the value of the degree. A college degree means the graduate successfully passed 120 credit hours of rigorous reading, writing, and math courses- along with a smattering of humanities and a few extra classes in their major area. The value of higher education seems implicit: The graduate proves they’ve got what it takes to complete the four-year challenge and emerge with a breadth of knowledge and good deal of soft skills as well.

But does that translate into a great job, marketable skills, or the ability to gain employment lucrative enough to pay off the mountain of school debt?

Today’s answer might be no.

School debt in the U.S. topped 1.4 trillion dollars by the end of 2018.4 More and more students leave school not knowing what they want to do and without the skills needed to land gainful employment. Many frustrated graduates return to either graduate school or training programs to gain needed employment skills.

Striking the Balance

The rigors of the college experience produce well-trained, well-rounded minds. That’s good. But it’s not good enough. Students today want it all- a great education in a marketable career at an affordable price tag. They want to master the disciplines of higher education- reading, critical analysis, problem-solving, writing, debate, experimentation, and persuasion- while also gaining pro-job skills.

With our many children just one year away from entering careers and college decision-making, we continue to strive to find a better way. This September, Garry and I launch the first class of STONEPILE CONSTRUCTION COLLEGE, a new online institution of higher education that marries two industries ripe for disruption: Higher Education and Construction. The 1.3 trillion-dollar construction field currently lacks a robust team of leaders to innovate and build for tomorrow. We are ready to tackle it with a generation of leaders who gain 4-year degrees without accruing all that debt.

At the end of the day, we are just parents of a dozen children finding their way in a rapidly shifting world. We want our kids to have options for learning and opportunities to make money and do good—just like we had. These are not easy times, and we must think outside the box. We’d love to hear how you are facing the challenges and join us in finding real-world solutions.

Do Good,


Drs. Garry and Jodi Vermaas



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