Stanford Distinguished Careers Institute, Starting College at 52 and New Trends in Education

Why you will go back to school multiple times in your life

James “Jimmy” Hatch joined Yale’s undergrad program at the age of 52. He was part of Special Operations unit sent into Afghanistan in July 2005 to bring back the bodies of 16 fallen colleagues, who had been killed by a rocket-propelled grenade. After the gruesome mission, Hatch says, he read a copy of Harold Bloom’s book “Genius,” soaking in the Yale professor’s thoughts and analysis around Shakespeare, Dante, Hemingway, and Faulkner. It helped to keep him sane, he says.

“I sent Bloom an email,” Hatch says. “I told him ‘I am going through a tough time and your book is like a balm. It gives me a safe place to relax and learn.’” Bloom, he recalls, emailed back a one-word reply: “Survive.”

14 years after that email, Hatch got into Yale as an undergraduate through the university’s Eli Whitney Students Program, which is designed for non-traditional students with high potential.

In the years to come it will become much more common to see people across age groups attend the same educational program. It might sound weird but it is quite possible that you will go to college, business school or an advanced studies program with your parents, uncles, grandparents and 8 year old whiz kids.

100 Year Life

Lynda Gratton and Andrew J. Scott, authors of The 100-Year Life, offer three defining features of work in the twenty-first century.

First, people are likely to live much longer; being a centenarian will be commonplace.

Second, the lifespan of organizations will significantly reduce, so long-term employment will become a thing of the past.

Third, the concept of retirement will fade away, partly due to financial reasons and partly out of choice.

Combining these factors, it is easy to visualize how one might have to spend several more years learning and unlearning to build a viable portfolio of careers.

What is Education?

Education means different things to different people but the essence of it is to spark curiosity among students.

Historically, education was an amorphous bundle of core skills, soft skills, critical thinking, signaling value and networking. What we are witnessing now is the great unbundling of education where different companies and communities are attempting to capture one part of the bundle.

The unbundling of education has brought about four tectonic shifts — career choices driven by the return on investment (ROI), a move towards lifelong learning, shorter durations, and new business models. You can read more about each of them in our founder Utkarsh’s World Economic Forum article. This newsletter will focus on the criticality of lifelong learning.

Why the 4-40 model is dead?

The formula for a good work life, as prescribed by traditional norms, was going to college for 4 years, working for 40 years and retiring thereafter. 4 years of learning was supposed to get us through 40 years of meaningful employment. While this somewhat worked in the past when the pace of change was slower, the 4-40 model is a recipe for disaster in the 21st century.

Today one has to practically reinvent oneself every four years. This involves learning new skills, building new networks, changing sectors, repivoting careers.

Reinventing oneself is practically impossible alone. We need the support of communities, a tribe of mentors, personal board of advisors and new norms in office to carve out time for learning and unlearning.

The hidden opportunity for educational institutions and edtech companies

If the 4-40 model is dead and people have to learn all their lives, how might educational institutions and edtech companies create new opportunities? Before we start answering this question, let’s explore the challenges for self-learners.

  1. Managing our own learning is a challenging task

  2. Without assessments and feedback from teachers, it is difficult to figure out progress. Further, signaling what we learned ourselves to prospective employers can be difficult

  3. Most people are not part of thriving learning communities. This makes learning dry, boring and hard to sustain, especially when we get stuck

Education companies and universities can step in to make learning distributed throughout a student’s life and help overcome the above mentioned challenges. Some top business schools have started offering executive programs, customized short-term courses and a wide range of career advancement opportunities to its alumni.

That said, it is hard to figure out whether these interventions are adding tangible value. Many of these programs are not taken seriously by employers, the cohort and community not quite the same quality as the traditional degree programs.

These are still early days but if educational institutions are to play a meaningful role in lifelong learning, they need to redesign their offering from ground up. One interesting example comes from Stanford. Take a look.

Stanford Distinguished Careers Institute

The Stanford Distinguished Careers Institute is an opportunity for highly accomplished individuals from all walks of life who are eager to transform themselves for roles with social impact at the local, national, and global levels.

This 12-month program utilizes the wealth of innovation and knowledge from Stanford to create a new, enriching professional and personal journey for the next stage of life.


By Michael R. Costa,
DCI Fellow, Class of 2017

“I never imagined when I graduated from Colgate in 1980 that one day — more than 40 years after I first drove through the Chenango Valley — I would return to college. This time, the campus would be in Silicon Valley, and I would be nearly 60 years old. The climate was different, but so much of the yearlong experience I recently completed at Stanford University was as fulfilling intellectually and socially as that first year at Colgate. And, Colgate connections happened there on a regular basis.”

This year one of Network Capital’s MBA bootcamp attendees got into Stanford’s MBA program at the age of 45. Another one of our fellows from an entirely different career trajectory got into the same program at the age of 24. Imagine the richness of discussions when people across age groups, sectors, faiths and affiliations pursue the same program.

Thus far non-traditional degrees and programs have not been able to create such diversity in their classroom experience. In the years to come, that might change. As work becomes more age agnostic, people are likely to take career breaks at different times, study when they feel most energized and pursue things that give them autonomy, mastery and purpose, and rethink life choices at 30 or 70.

The educational companies and institutions that will stand the test of time will be those that help students reinvent and recreate their careers multiple times. The Stanford Distinguished Careers Institute is doing a good job for those with a few decades of work experience. We are excited by this trend and look forward to many more such innovations in the education space.

If you are interested in more discussions in the edtech space, feel free to join the NC EdTech subgroup. We will also be organizing an edtech fellowship next month. You can subscribe to get access.

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P.S. Don’t forget to join the Network Capital clubhouse discussion with Dr. Shashi Tharoor on June 14, 7pm IST.