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College: A Solution in Search of a Problem

By Lane Wagner on Dec 17, 2022

College has been prescribed almost universally by the parents of the last ~40 years as the solution to life’s problems. We’ve been told it’s the way to land a good job and to make more money. But is it?

I think that most college degrees these days commit a cardinal sin in the business world. College degrees are solutions in search of a problem.

What is a solution in search of a problem?

A solution in search of a problem is kind of like that weird gadget that you see on infomercials at 3 AM when no one else is watching TV. You know the ones I’m talking about: the ones that are supposed to solve some problem that you didn’t even know you had. A great example is the Potty Putter which makes it possible to play mini golf while using the restroom.

Universities around the world act like the Potty Putter of the education world. They provide an education, but it’s not tailored to what most students want out of their $75,000 in student loans.

So what do students want out of college?

Learning for the sake of learning is awesome. I love reading and watching videos about philosophy, physics, math, and computer science in my spare time. I’m not even against the idea of paying an institution to learn about these things more formally. However, most people don’t go to college to gain an approximate knowledge of many things. They go to college to prepare for a lucrative career.

approximate knowledge of many things

Students want to spend their precious time and money investing in their futures. We need a solution that optimizes for that.

Is college focused on giving students what they want?

Universities have failed us in one critical way: they are responsible for too much. I’d like to see separate institutions address the three concerns that universities deal with today:

General education

The first couple of years at a university are spent on “general education” where students take classes in a variety of subjects no matter their specific major. I see the value in a higher level of general education, but I don’t think it’s right to force it on everyone, especially those who are just desperate to get into the workforce.

There’s this idea that for many white-collar jobs it doesn’t matter what your degree is in, as long as you have one. Maybe all of those students getting random degrees who don’t want to prepare for a specific type of job can spend 2 or 3 years at a general education institution to prepare them for those kinds of positions. Alternatively, if high schools provided a higher quality of general education, we might not even need this, but that’s an entirely separate can of worms.

Job training

If universities were focused on doing what’s best for students we might not have “English” degrees, though we might have “copywriting” and “creative writing” programs. I think students would appreciate us focusing less on the specific subject matter, and instead focusing on the skills used in real-world jobs.

To be honest, I don’t even know if “college” or “university” is the right place for this sort of thing. Maybe trade schools, bootcamps, and e-learning platforms can fill this niche, but I remain unsure.


It doesn’t make sense to me that we require researchers to teach classes to be able to work at universities. These ideas seem to be unrelated. Can’t we fund research separately? That way the most passionate educators can do what they do best while the researchers do the same.

At the end of the day, I’m not sure what the right solution is. That said, this fundamental problem of schools not focusing on what students need is an even bigger problem than who pays for it all. I hope we make some improvements, and soon. If you’re interested in what I’m working on to help students more efficiently become back-end programmers then feel free to check out Boot.dev.