My BFA was useful in landing my first job. Since then, it’s been about as useful as the “most likely to get into an argument” high school superlative. (True story.)

By now it’s a truism that the cost of college in the US is unreasonable. Very few would argue otherwise. But most of the debate has centered around making the existing system–i.e. spending a three to five year chunk of uninterrupted time obtaining a single, generalized ‘diploma’–cheaper. This (admittedly somewhat self-serving) article by LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman takes a different approach: rather than simply making four year degree certifications cheaper, we should scrap the old sheepskin entirely and opt for something better:

  • [A better certification system] should accommodate a completely unbundled approach to education, allowing students to easily apply credits obtained from a wide range of sources, including internships, peer to peer learning, online classes, and more, to the same certification.
  • It should be dynamic and upgradeable, so individuals can add new credentials to it as they pursue new goals and educational opportunities and so that the underlying system itself is improvable.
  • It should help reduce the costs of higher education and increase overall value.
  • It should allow a person to convey the full scope of his or her skills and expertise with greater comprehensiveness and nuance, in part to enable better matching with jobs.
  • It should be machine-readable and discoverable, so employers can easily evaluate it in numerous ways as part of a larger “certification platform”

Solutions like the LinkedIn “Skills & Expertise” peer voting system or Mozilla’s Open Badges platform are held up as examples.

What do you think? Is the diploma’s useful life nearing its end?

(sheep image via


Adam O'Hern is an industrial designer, designing products ranging from laptops to power tools, classroom toys to bathroom fixtures, and pro audio gear to guitar tuners. In 2008 he founded, and in 2010 co-founded EvD Media with Josh Mings of, and the two collaborate on the podcast.