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Enstitute, an Alternative to College for a Digital Elite -

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 “I didn’t want to come out of college with $200,000 in debt and have to spend 10 years paying it off,” she said.

Yet she still sought a way to nurture her interest in technology. A year later, Ms. Gao holds the title of data strategist at Bitly, the URL-shortening service based in New York.

How did she catapult from dropping out of college to landing a plum job? She became an apprentice to Hilary Mason, chief data scientist at Bitly, through a new two-year program called Enstitute. It teaches skills in fields like information technology, computer programming and app building via on-the-job experience. Enstitute seeks to challenge the conventional wisdom that top professional jobs always require a bachelor’s degree — at least for a small group of the young, digital elite.

“Our long-term vision is that this becomes an acceptable alternative to college,” says Kane Sarhan, one of Enstitute’s founders. “Our big recruitment effort is at high schools and universities. We are targeting people who are not interested in going to school, school is not the right fit for them, or they can’t afford school.”

The Enstitute concept taps into a larger cultural conversation about the value of college — a debate that has heated up in the last few years. In important ways, the value is indisputable. The wage gap between college graduates and those with just a high school degree is vast: in 2010, median earnings for those with a bachelor’s degree were more than 50 percent higher than for those with only a high school diploma, according to the Department of Education.

But college is expensive, and becoming more so — between 2000 and 2011, tuition rose 42 percent, according to the National Center for Education Statistics — and students fear being saddled by debt in a bleak job market. (Students from the class of 2011 who took out loans graduated with an average debt of $26,000.) And some employers complain that many colleges don’t teach the kinds of technical skills they want in entry-level hires.

Peter Thiel, the billionaire investor, upped the ante to this argument when he started theThiel Fellowship, which pays a no-strings-attached grant of $100,000 for young people not to attend college and to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams instead.

yay harvey mudd!

I was surprised what a great value it is, from an ROI standpoint.

heavy math school.  math pays once you leave the pure

Which explains why Caltech, MIT, and Stanford rate so highly, too.