Thursday, May 31, 2012

Skip College, Go to Work in a Hot Startup

Guest post by Tom Vander Ark | Getting Smart
Skip College, Go to Work in a Hot Startup

The much vaunted American higher education system coasts on the reputation of the top three dozen schools which themselves gain much of their stature simply by excluding 85% of applicants.   Most post secondary institutions just don’t add much value and can no longer justify outrageous tuition.
As recent graduates of American universities, Shaila Ittycheria and Kane Sarhan came to this conclusion and they decided to build an alternative.  E[nstitute] is a two year apprenticeship program empowering young adults to learn from and work with top NYC entrepreneurs.”
“Higher ed is not working,” Kane said, “but internships do.”  Shaila and Kane are targeting 18 to 24 year olds with no bearing on where they are in formal education. The first class of 15 young people will begin working with 35 entrepreneurs in August.
Their geeky website explains that “In probability theory, E[x] stands for expected value, which is why E[nstitute] uses brackets in its name.”
Participants will start their two year work study at the bottom of totem pole but they will gain valuable experience and exposure to top entrepreneurs in fast-paced startup environments.  In their second year, apprentices pick a “major” and focus on building a marketable skill.
Kane and Shaila have been learning from two of my favorite people, Dennis Littky from Big Picture Learning, and Bror Saxberg from Kaplan.  If they can combine what Litkey knows about internships and what Bror knows about online learning, they’ll create powerful alternatives to traditional higher education for many young people.
Formed as a nonprofit organization, E[nstitute] seeks to create transformative learning experiences for young people.  Kane and Shaila are fundraising to launch and scale the program but think it can become largely self-sustaining in the future.
In the process, E[nstitute] may just redefine the higher education landscape by turning thousands of startups and small businesses into classrooms.
See the HuffPo feature on E[stitute]. Read more at The Next Web and PSFK. Read an interview with one of the partners of E[stitute]. Read why one innovative educator isn't impressed with E[stitute]. For more higher ed disruption, see Start Making: General Assembly Launches Online.
This post first appeared on Huffington Post and Getting Smart. 
Note:  Applications for this year are closed. Applications for next year are expected to open in the fall.


  1. Hello, all,

    RE: "Read why one innovative educator isn't impressed with E[nstitute]" - as the author of the linked post, I actually think that E[nstitute] is a good idea -

    As I say in my post, "some of the goals of E[nstitute] are interesting, and worthwhile. A fully accredited program based on life/work experience is a nice foray into creating more emphasis on informal learning. But a company can be good, and interesting, without the hyperbole."

    But exaggerations like "'Higher ed is not working,' Kane said, 'but internships do.'" are counterproductive. They are the types of blanket statements that sound good as a sound bite, and almost sound like they might be true until you actually think about them. Some internships are great and useful, and others are exploitive and a waste of time. There is a spectrum, and we should be able to acknowledge that.

    The same goes for statements like, "In the process, E[nstitute] may just redefine the higher education landscape by turning thousands of startups and small businesses into classrooms." - How about something more realistic like: "E[nstitute] will help a select number of people find internships that match their talentsand career goals. Over time, this could help more people understand and recognize the value of nontraditional learning models."

    An idea can be good, valuable, worthwhile, and important without being The Thing That Will Change Everything(tm). In our haste and desire to make everything revolutionary, we do a disservice to things that are merely excellent.

  2. I am a pending applicant for this program. Here is my opinion for what it's worth!

  3. Hi Bill,

    First, thanks for taking the time to comment, blog, and tweet your thoughts on E[nstitute]. We love hearing the feedback.

    Just to provide some context, Tom's post was written following our very first call with him, which ran over an hour (btw, THANKS TOM). He took it upon himself to share with his readers by providing a high-level overview of E[nstitute] along with his personal opinions of what we were doing. As I'm sure you know, there is only so much information you can include in a blog post before the audience's attention is in jeopardy, so rather than give a play by play of our entire call, he summarized.

    I emphasize this only because it appears one of your biggest complaints is with the line: “Higher ed is not working,” Kane said, “but internships do.” Looking at those words alone, you're right; this is an exaggeration. But, indulge me for a moment and do two things: 1) add the words "for everyone" after the first part and 2) assume that the second part was a generalization used to segway into a 20 minute explanation of how we conceptualized the need for modern day apprenticeships.

    We'd even take a stronger stance than you and say MOST internships are exploitive and a waste of time. Given their short duration, limited scope/depth in assigned work, loose relationships with senior management, and redundant "busy work," little if any value is generated for many interns. Now, what if that "internship" was actually a two-year, full time role where young adults learned directly under a CEO, solving real life problems with real life consequences. In the first year, they would take on high level general roles that exposed them to different areas of the business and in the second year, after honing in on what they were both passionate about and competent in, deep dive in a functional area to build up a portfolio of work experience. In parallel, these young adults would participate in a supplemental curriculum to develop broader skills and competencies, teach one another in a peer to pear model, and curate a network of thought leaders & subject matter experts.

    Does that change things for you? Because this gets to the core of what E[nstitute] is about: creating an alternative model of higher education that enables SOME young adults to foster their own development through a learn by doing model built off apprenticeships. College was never meant for the masses, and while it works for some, it is not right for all. Yet, it is still what we as a society push as the "path to success." Data coming out of a number of studies and reports, such as Academically Adrift, is proving otherwise with claims that over 40% of college students show no development in critical thinking, problem solving, and reasoning skills. But, we still need to find ways to develop these young adults and make them valuable (and employable) contributors to society at large. Enter E[nstitute] as one attempt to solve this growing divide.

    In 10 years, E[nstitute] will scale its program across multiple industries and regions, globally. Classes will be significantly larger than the 15 we are starting with. I'm a big believer in getting the "cookie cutter" right before you start making cookies, but don't mistake our launch with the mass appeal and market opportunity we are going after. Leveraging the 30 million small business across the US alone, we see a big pool of potential future classrooms to work with.

    Ironically, we're not being revolutionary at all. In fact, we're pretty old school. We're bringing back the archaic concept of apprenticeships ... with a modern day twist that challenges the social norm that college should be the path for everyone.

  4. I understand your point but still there is a great importance of this traditional higher education. Your view is great but it consists of many consequences.


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