What is a seat at the Massachusets Insitute of Technology for?
Our first impulse is to think of MIT as a place of learning. MIT awards degrees in engineering, and therefore, MIT is a place to learn engineering. Yet, today, you can find most MIT lectures for free, online, and doing so hasn’t reduced the demand for seats at MIT. Nor are most MIT aspirants who don’t make it diligently doing those courses online.
So if it isn’t for the learning, what is it for?
It might be for the group of peers and the personal connections one builds with the professors. Yet, you can cultivate an excellent peer network today with a little effort on the internet. Besides, most MIT students don’t build lasting bonds with their professors. The professors, in turn, don’t have the bandwidth to sustain meaningful relationships with students in every batch.
So if isn’t for the peer group and the personal touch, what is it for?
What part of an MIT education can we not replicate outside of being enrolled as a student there? Well, as an MIT graduate, I get a certificate that says I was part of a particular batch. That certificate marks me as one of the chosen few who were good enough to have made it through its hallowed portals (and online portals). The status and the prestige associated with being a part of a batch at MIT isn’t available to an outsider. If it was, it would no longer be valuable.
A famous college education is foremost a means to signal status. This has always been the case – the internet has merely lifted the veil. Education is about certificates ahead of learning. It is a story we tell ourselves about why holding a certificate makes us better.