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Sunday, January 30, 2022 Leer en Español

Can the College Social Scene Be Replaced?

Those who realize how poorly college sets them up for career success can find alternatives.

Image Credit: liStock-eightrail

It has become more understood in the last decade that college is not a single good, but a bundle of goods. The bundle includes:

  • Conveyance of information
  • Social experience
  • Signal of employability
  • Guidance on starting a career
  • Sports and clubs and activities
  • Low-stakes environment to begin life away from home

Many of these are an awkward fit, and being served up by the same bureaucratic, subsidized, ideologically crazy institutions results in some pretty strange things. Not to mention absurdly high costs.

Only one item in this bundle drives the cost and keeps college alive: the signal of employability.

That is easily proven by the fact that you could move to a college town and do all the rest for free without registering or paying tuition. But nobody does. They are buying that piece of paper that is supposed to be a ticket to a job. The other items in the bundle are bonuses they enjoy, and ways to compare and choose between competing institutions, since all similar tiered schools offer the same paper signal.

For that reason, alternatives have popped up to address the employability signal in the bundle. Bootcamps and apprenticeships have proliferated, and met with great results. It turns out that job-specific learning, real world projects, and work in companies is a vastly superior signal of employability. Post-graduation employment rates prove this out. (Hovering at 50% for college, and 95% for programs like Praxis.)

They also gain vastly superior guidance on starting a career, and conveyance of information in the areas covered by the bootcamp.

Those who realize how poorly college sets them up for career success choose alternatives and win.

But what about the other items in the bundle?

Better career-prep programs are often remote. This doesn’t mean there is no social element. I know from my experience building Praxis that there is definitely a social experience – ask any participants or alumni – but it does not fully address that item in the bundle as compared to a physical campus and the sports, clubs, and living environment items that come with it.

How might those items in the bundle be better served, now that the main value prop of college has been replaced with something better?

I love to imagine and see things unfolding in this space.

When I started Praxis—a bootcamp/placement/apprenticeship program—within the first year, we began to see clusters of participants in certain cities. Many of them self-coalesced into communities complete with the clubs, hangouts, apartments, and other campus-like experiences. This has steadily grown and now there are a handful of cities with a sizable and vibrant Praxian community.

This kind of spontaneous cluster community happens for many programs and shared interests. Go find a Crossfit gym or Bitcoin meetup in any city and you’ll see what I mean.

What’s cool about it is that it is both geographically bound in real life, and flexible and mobile. If you’re plugged into these communities in one city, you can hop to another and stay plugged in with the group there. The activity isn’t bound to the academic calendar either.

I suspect the next step in the evolution of these communities is something of a hybrid between a college campus and a co-working space + apartment + gym membership.

In fact, I sometimes browse for failed colleges that are selling their campuses and envision community models for those smart enough to skip school.

Imagine a lovely campus from a defunct liberal arts school. You pay a monthly membership fee to have a dorm/apartment, access to rec center, food, wifi, library, work areas, rooms for activities or classes offered by community members, sports clubs, etc. Filled with students and young professionals (a horrible disservice to both to draw a stark line between them, btw) who are enrolled in programs like Praxis or other bootcamps, code schools, interning, apprenticing, or working early in their career.

Imagine if that membership is good at the entire network of campuses, so you could spend two months in one city, three in the next, etc.

As learning and working become more flexible, remote, and tailored to the individual, it’s easy to feel we’re losing any sense of physical, in-person community. It needn’t be so!

The beauty of the unbundling is that these services can be much better, cheaper, and more diverse than when they are shackled to the university.

There’s no need to wait. You can begin building your own bundle even now!

Determine the best ways to learn things you want to learn. The best ways to become more employable and advance your career. The best ways to gain new friends and experiences. Create clubs and communities and tailor life to your needs. Don’t assume all of these things must come in the same package.

The more individuals do this and share this and find each other, the more new social experiences vastly superior to the old frat houses will emerge.

It has already begun.

This article was republished with permission from