Tech Founder Will Lucas Says the Future of Education Will Be Self Curated

Classana co-founder joins Black Enterprise and The Gates Foundation to moderate a symposium on education

What inspired you to launch Classana?

I originally started the baccalaureate program full-time just out of high school in 1999. I won’t say I hated college, but I knew immediately that it wasn’t for me. I even did well in my classes – but I felt an internal pull to just get started building my future my own way. So, I’d enroll for a semester or two here and there over a long period of time, specifically because I kept feeling external pressure to go.

In the summer of 2011, I was running another tech startup full time, and also taking 16 credit hours at The University of Toledo to finish my degree. I only had about a year left. Though I was already running my own business, I still wanted to finish my degree. A mentor of mine asked why I was in school taking so many credit hours. I said that someone had told me that people would respect me more if I had a degree, and also that I wanted to finish what I started.

He replied, ‘So when you graduate, what are you going to do, give yourself a promotion?’ That made a lot of sense to me. Then he continued, ‘I’m not telling you not to go to school, I’m just saying if you do go, then just take the classes that speak directly to what you’re trying to get better at for your business.’ That made even more sense to me.

What challenges did you run up against?

I began looking for classes in iOS development (programming for iPhone and iPad), and at the time my school didn’t have a program for that sort of training. So, I began looking for a class with at least a similar skill set. The online system used to find and register for classes was a bit unfriendly – even more so because I wasn’t following a specific program. Also, being that it was the beginning of the semester, it took me about two weeks to actually reach a professor and get some help. I thought that was a bit much. I realized that college wasn’t set up for you to ‘pick and choose’ classes, it’s set up for you to follow a prerequisite course towards a degree. That wasn’t what I was looking for.

Describe the problems in our educational system that you believe Classana can solve?

We believe education is an increasingly entrepreneurial endeavor. There’s a huge debate in our public discourse about the value of a college degree. I believe college is still worth pursuing, just the way we do it can’t continue. Skills are much more valuable than sheepskin today. Employers want to know that you can hit the ground running on day one with a set of tools they can use to add value to their business. That is much more important than a degree to an increasing amount of employers.

Steve Jobs did the commencement talk at Stanford before he passed and, in that speech, he said ‘The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.’ I think he was more prophetic in that statement than even he could’ve known. That’s what the future of education looks like… people curating their own educational experiences.

Who will Classana benefit the most and how?

The site will work for anyone at any stage of life. Our target demographic, though, are those beginning to make post-secondary decisions: high school students, and college students. Based on their interests, we are organizing the following for them: educational resources, books they should read, classes they should take, organizations they should join, events they should attend, and more that will help them, individually, get closer to their dream.

Aren’t these services that your high school or college counselor will provide?

If I went to my college adviser and said, ‘I want to be a computer programmer,’ what she’ll do is print out for me 10 academic programs that my school offers on computer programming. However, those may not be the best resources for me and, many times, there are free resources I can take advantage of 1) because she’s paid to put me in this program; and 2) she may not know Treehouse, Codecademy, or Khan Academy even exists. What we’re doing is re-imagining the college advisor.

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