College degree to go down a few degrees

The education industry finds itself at the forefront of AI-led social transformation, with a wide array of college degrees that lead to entry-level office jobs losing current gatekeeping functions. AI will change both supply of, and demand for, college education by impacting costs and wages. Machine-assisted education can improve supply and, thereby, lower the financial burden of acquiring it. On the other hand, skills attained will be priced differently, making the choice of attending college tougher for students who intend to pay for their education through future wages. Supplementary application of AI in work that does not require a college degree will also recalibrate wages. This would have a bearing on upfront costs of skilling.

AI’s productivity gains are to be derived economy-wide, from farming to biomedical research. This upends the market for education that mainly serves the same purpose through humans. The value of today’s college degree has an underlying lifelong revenue stream that will be less assured in future. Multiple degrees may offer livelihood security on a par with that provided currently by singular basic degrees. This should lead to a rewriting of curricula to equip humans with skills to complement machines. AI will make inroads into human creativity. But these incursions will not be accompanied by the emotional intelligence that makes it socially desirable.

The education industry will be an early adopter of AI to improve customisation and to impart complementary skills. The certification process will change, but the need for certificates will not. Evolving business needs will require machine intelligence augmented by humans, and bars will have to be reset for office jobs. New pathways will emerge to skill the blue-collar workforce in applying AI to specific human activity. These processes will have to originate lower down in the education pyramid for rapid tech diffusion. A college degree in the future may not be what it is now, but it’ll still matter.


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