The Platform


Having a college degree is still vitally important but you need to have marketable skills.

In an age where the complexities of the modern job market demand multifaceted skills, specialized college degrees in fields like Accounting, Real Estate, or Computer Science are increasingly coming under scrutiny. Many universities seem to be offering outdated, 20th-century solutions for the multi-dimensional challenges of the 21st century. Strikingly, the most notable changes to these programs in recent decades seem to be their escalating costs.

A static curriculum may be acceptable when delving into ageless topics like Shakespearean literature or Medieval Gregorian chants. However, in disciplines that evolve every one to three years, consistent curricular updates are non-negotiable. As an example, when I initiated a Network Security course at Northwestern University in 1999, the pace of change was so rapid that both the syllabus and the textbook edition required semesterly updates. Failure to adapt could render such courses obsolete in less than a year, a predicament not uncommon in many fields of study.

So, one must ask: how many university courses remain untouched by revisions for five or even ten years? And do the principles taught in these classrooms still hold relevance in their intended professional landscapes? Judging by some of the graduates, one might understandably doubt it. In today’s competitive job market, the most lucrative positions increasingly require a diversified skill set that spans multiple industries. A narrow academic focus on a single discipline is no longer sufficient.

Consider roles in evolving fields like smart buildings or next-generation urban infrastructure, which demand expertise not just in real estate, but also in mission-critical infrastructure such as power and broadband connectivity, as well as finance. Yet, curiously, where are these comprehensive degree programs? Take a glance at the real estate curricula offered by universities at both undergraduate and graduate levels; it’s nearly impossible to find even a single course on smart buildings—a concept initially introduced in the mid-1980s. These programs, largely stagnant, seem to be peddling real estate knowledge more fitting for the 1950s or, more jarringly, the 1850s.

Technical programs, especially those focusing on computing skills, face a similar dilemma. These curricula must evolve to cover a broad range of topics that have shifted significantly from the priorities of 40, or even 20 years ago. Some critics go so far as to claim that many computer science degrees are obsolete before students can even complete them. Furthermore, these programs often lack foundational courses explaining the historical development of computer systems, leaving graduates with a weak understanding of why current architectures and safeguards exist as they do today.

The education landscape is also seeing a shift towards shorter, specialized programs or certificates. With fields like artificial intelligence, robotics, and biotechnology gaining prominence, many prestigious universities are introducing short eight-week courses or modular online programs. These options appeal to those unwilling to invest the time or financial resources in a traditional four-year degree but are nonetheless seeking skills for higher-paying roles.

Complicating matters further, many companies have eliminated their tuition reimbursement programs over the past two decades. Employees in rapidly evolving technical fields once relied on these benefits to keep their skills current. Online courses have attempted to fill this gap, yet overall enrollment figures have dipped. Educational institutions must become more innovative, not just in what they offer but also in how they price these offerings.

Education remains an irreplaceable asset, yet the concept of “job security” is largely a myth. The only genuine job security resides in the arsenal of skills one brings to the table. Companies—and indeed countries—with well-educated workforces will be the ones setting the rules in increasingly competitive global markets. The fundamental tenet remains: the more you learn, the more you stand to earn.

James Carlini is a strategist for mission critical networks, technology, and intelligent infrastructure. Since 1986, he has been president of Carlini and Associates. Besides being an author, keynote speaker, and strategic consultant on large mission critical networks including the planning and design for the Chicago 911 center, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange trading floor networks, and the international network for GLOBEX, he has served as an adjunct faculty member at Northwestern University.