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Thirteen weeks of coding training, $60,000 salary. Should we sign up our kids for coding instead of college?

At a Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education forum today, the most memorable anecdote came from Michael Robertson, executive director of the Technology Association of Georgia Education Collaborative, about his daughter’s boyfriend.

The young man graduated college and went to work at a bank, earning $30,000. He hated it. So, at Robertson’s suggestion, he decided to pursue something he enjoyed, web development. He took a 13-week course at General Assembly, a tech, business, and design training center in Ponce City Market – which happened to be the site of the GPEE forum today – and walked into a $60,000-a-year job.

The second part of the story, which was Robertson’s main point, was that even fresh out of coding training, the young man told Robertson last night, “I have this new program that I have to go learn.” Robertson wanted the audience to understand the relentless march of innovation in the tech field.

“Out of school two months, he has something new to learn,” said Robertson. “That’s the new world, folks. We have to learn how to learn new things quickly.”

But I think what stuck with the audience at the "21st Century Skills for a 21st Century Workforce” forum was $60,000 after three months of training.  I suspect people were asking themselves, "Should we all learn coding or at least send our kids to web development classes rather than college?"

Robertson said he disagreed with Gov. Nathan Deal's push to get more Georgia kids into four-year degree programs. “Everybody needs postsecondary education, but not everybody needs that four-year college experience,” he said.

In the Q&A after the forum, a woman raised the issue of whether the young man’s college background, coupled with the web development training, may be why he was hired at $60,000. Wasn’t it likely companies prefer their tech employees have college degrees?

That is a good question and worth our consideration. A friend’s son never finished college but landed some terrific tech jobs because of his skill in that area and has several industry certifications. However, his company told him he needs the degree to move into management. The bias in favor of the degree remains strong across fields.

I still lean toward the four-year degree for as many kids as possible, if only because higher education teaches students how to debate, think big picture and present a professional self.

I went to a Catholic high school where free discussion was seldom allowed in any class, so college represented the first environment where disagreeing and voicing an opposing view was not only encouraged, but required. (I would not fault my Catholic education on basics. However, it was not strong on questioning the status quo, asking difficult questions or dissenting from conventional stands.)

I agree paying thousands in college tuition is a lot for what could be described as business finishing school, but the skills developed in college go deeper than a bit of polish. College gives students a broader world view, a sense of how you take an idea to a plan to a consensus to a success and the confidence to do so.

At least I think so. What do you think?

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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.