Majors and Minors

Here’s a simple idea for Colleges and Universities to dramatically lower the time and cost of education for every student, virtually overnight.

This same idea can also be used by code academies to effortlessly brand their educational offering in the minds of students, parents, and employers (without ever having to use the words “nano”, “badge”, or “certificate”).

Create degrees that are only Majors or Minors.

Bachelor’s degrees are a bundle of classes relevant to employment and enrichment. The Major includes all the classes that make a student employable, while General Education includes the classes that provide personal enrichment in art, literature, and science.

While it’s important to learn for the sake of personal enrichment, it’s strange that it is necessary in order to receive a Bachelor’s degree. And yet, General Education is required before you can take classes in your Major and in order to get a college degree.

Looking back at my own college career, I obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Economics comprised of 134 credit units. Here are the actual courses I took that were part of my General Education requirements.

  • The Modern Novel (3 cu)
  • Ancient Philosophy (3 cu)
  • Intro to Physics (3 cu)
  • Evolution of Jazz (3 cu)
  • Badminton (3 cu)
  • Tennis (3 cu)
  • Intro to Human Sexuality (1 cu)
  • French Language, Literature, and History (15 cu)
  • Intro to the Environmental Studies (3 cu)

All in all, you have 37 credits (~2 full college semesters), spent on courses that were enriching, but unnecessary to my future career in business.

Instead of requiring these General Education classes, we should give students the option to simply get a Major or a Minor Degree in the topic of their choice. By taking the Major or Minor and turning it into a stand-alone degree, colleges can dramatically reduce the time and cost for students to learn employable skills in school.

This change requires literally no changes to curriculum, course lists, teachers, or textbooks. It is already an integral part of higher education. Students would still have the choice to get a Bachelor’s Degree or a Major Degree; an Associate’s Degree or a Minor Degree. For their part, employers could also choose which degree to use as a filter for selecting candidates for higher level jobs.

Coda for Code Academies

The “completion certificates” that are being offering by code academies for software engineering programs do not have a phrase that effectively competes in the minds of employers with the phrase “Bachelor’s Degree”. Using the existing language of Major and Minor solves this problem.

Everyone who has gone to college has Majored or Minored in one or more subjects, and understands the implication that a discrete set of material has been mastered by the student. Code academies already put students through a given number of instructional hours. These can simply be added up and converted to the “credit hours” required to Major or Minor in a subject.

So, rather than create new names for these programs, let’s just start calling them Majors and Minors!

It is a waste of time and money to build brand for new phrases like “micro”, “nano”, “pico” degrees or “certificates”, “awards” or “badges”. If code academies simply called certificates a Major or a Minor, it would enable them to piggyback off of the words inside the mind of every college graduate and more precisely convey the level of education their students are receiving in the program.

Even better, it frames the code academy certificate against the status quo in the minds of students, who can now start to make an apples to apples comparison of the cost of getting a Major in X via a Bachelor’s degree, or a Major in X through a code academy.

Finally, it makes it extremely difficult for traditional colleges and universities to downplay the quality of a code academy program. If we use the existing language of higher education and say that a program is equivalent to a Major, it will be incumbent on traditional colleges to try and parse out the functional difference between a Major in X and a Bachelor’s Degree with a Major in X in the real world.

Ultimately, creating two new degrees will provide students in traditional education with more choices, and finally provide a way for code academies to summarize their offerings without having to coin a new word or phrase.

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Micah is the author of Rethink the MBA. He works and lives in Silicon Valley.