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Is Experience the New Graduate Degree?

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With news that the graduate Stafford loan rates will increase next year, and New York Times headlines like "It Takes a B.A. to Find a Job as a File Clerk," you don't need to look far to see that the higher education experience is broken. While MOOCs and other initiatives attempt to mend a failing system, some organizations like Watson University, Enstitute, and Experience Institute are hoping to create an entirely new educational system through experiential learning and personal development.

A recent Pew study backs up the notion that more experience in education is desired. According to an Atlantic article about the report:

It found that, yes, a third of college graduates who majored in social science, liberal arts or education regretted their decision... But overall, when asked what they wish they'd done differently in college, 'choosing a different major' wasn't the top answer. The most popular answer, given by half of all respondents, was "gaining more work experience.' Choosing a different major was the fourth most popular response, after 'studying harder' and 'looking for work sooner.'

Not everyone learns best in a traditional classroom. Experience Institute (Ei), which welcomed its first cohort last year, encourages its students to establish their own classrooms by undertaking three apprenticeships or independent projects while also completing five modules of curriculum designed specifically for the program. Ei's curriculum is taught in the form of meet ups that take place in Chicago in-between apprenticeships and cover community building, self-awareness, storytelling, operations, and design thinking. The yearlong program offers the graduate school experience at a much cheaper than the norm price tag of $13,000.

The Institute started as a concept after it's founder, Victor Saad, wanted to pursue an MBA without the debt, and instead created his own 12-month DIY MBA, working for a nonprofit in Cairo, a farm in Costa Rica, an architectural firm in Seattle, and a clothing company in China. This yearlong experiment culminated in his book The Leap Year Project: Learning to Risk & Risking to Learn and The Leap Year Project movement.

Since opening their doors, Ei students have worked (mostly paid) apprenticeships with award-winning design and digital agencies like Doejo and SapientNitro, top-ten architecture firm NBBJ, the prestigious Dev Bootcamp, and non-profits in Australia and the Philippines. Notably, nearly all of the founding students were offered full-time jobs at the end of their apprenticeship. Valerie Carlson, the Executive Creative Director of SapientNitro in Los Angeles, said: "Ei apprentices have a drive and hunger to learn that's deeply seated in the belief that their apprenticeships are classrooms. They're not here to just check a box or requirement. Their time with companies and individuals is their focus, so they dive all in."

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For young people to succeed in today's ever-changing global work environment, Saad reasons that: "young people need to continue building their confidence and agency. They must learn how to work towards solutions on problems that are not yet clearly defined. This entails learning how to listen, how to empathize with others, and how to use empathy to solve problems in any context from a creative and holistic standpoint." This emphasis on empathy in business is one of the reasons Ei's curriculum focuses on design thinking, explains Saad.

Experience Institute's long-term mission to reframe experience as a credible form of education. Saad hopes that "society will place a similar value on experiential education as they do now on the traditional degree." Federal loans do not currently cover experiential education programs, but as organizations like Ei continue to prove their worth, we'll likely see that change in the coming years.

Photo Credits: Experience Institute