DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education

Book Review by Kate Juhl

Book Review: DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education. By Anya Kamenetz. Chelsea Green Publishing, 2010. (196 pages)


I approached DIY U with equal parts intrigue and dread. As a mother of a college-bound child in the year 2030, I cannot comprehend how much I should save for his future college education. On the other hand, I work at a college and the very premise of “do it yourself” education calls into question the existence of my job. It is clear technology is rapidly changing every aspect of the world in which we live and higher education is not immune. Recommended in a session at a recent conference I attended, DIY U offers a thought-provoking look at both the history and potential future of higher education.


The book begins with some sobering facts: though nearly 9 out of 10 American high school seniors claim they want to go to college, 30% of them do not even make it out of high school. Of those who do go on to college, nearly half of them do not graduate from college. All in all, only a little over one-third of Americans have any sort of college degree. According to Kamenetz, Americans in their early twenties, unlike citizens in most other “rich” countries, are no more educated than older generations.


Kamenetz details the fascinating history of higher education in the United States, starting with the observation that the current college drop-out rate of about 50% is actually pretty decent by historical standards; long ago it was much higher. Through the years, higher education became a commodity and American society began to view it as the ultimate welfare program, a key ingredient capable of lifting anyone out of poverty to a better life. Along the way, most Americans put a sort of blind trust in higher education. Up until this point, a college degree was always worth the tuition, no matter how high the costs inevitably climbed.


DIY U argues, however, that technology is the ultimate disruptor, shattering the traditional world of higher education as we know it. Kamenetz traces the open education movement back to 2001, when Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) began putting coursework online for free. At the time DIY U was published, MIT had 1,900 courses online, full of rich resources, syllabi and more. Kamenetz talks of the unbundling of higher education. Components of education such as learning, assessment, research, skills and accreditation, long viewed as forever intertwined, are now in some cases becoming separate entities, allowing students more direct control over the “5 W’s” (who, what, where, when, why) of their educational path. For example, now a majority of students complete coursework at more than one college before graduation and more than half complete an internship.


Though a traditional four-year college degree still may make sense for someone who was well-prepared by high school, and has the appropriate financial resources and an interest in working in a field that requires a degree, Kamenetz suggests our country does not benefit from pushing all young people through the traditional college system. In fact, according to Kamenetz, only 10% of people follow the traditional college path of graduating high school at age 18, college at twenty-two and going straight into the workforce. For the other 90%, Kamenetz advocates building a “personal learning plan” comprised of four components:

  • Discover your goal and research the necessary credentials or skills you need

  • Complete the requisite formal study

  • Complete experiential education (internships, etc.) to broaden your experience

  • Build a personal learning network, harnessing the power of technology and the internet to learn from others (often for little or no cost).

For those who decide a traditional college path does make the most sense, Kamenetz still suggests that using free and open coursework online can help a student test out of developmental or lower level college classes, shortening the time to degree and/or reducing some of the financial burdens of tuition.


At the end of the book, Kamenetz suggests a short list of topics she feels are more relevant and valuable to students than a traditional liberal arts curriculum:

  • Metacognition (thinking about how you think)

  • Managing a budget

  • Improving your relationships

  • Fitness and health

  • Home economics

  • Understanding and interacting with new technology.

For those of us who work at colleges, I think this is sage advice. Do our current classes, programs and events help students learn about these valuable topics or do we assume someone else will fill in the gaps? For career development professionals working with private clients, open online courses can help someone develop a skill necessary for a career change, broaden their knowledge in a particular field of interest, or help older clients find meaning and new-found purpose as they enter retirement.


I found the resources section of this book particularly helpful and well-written. I could see myself recommending that section to a student (or even my own child) who may struggle with the decision to pursue a non-traditional educational path. That being said, I was surprised LinkedIn was not mentioned in the book. Though DIY U was published in 2010 and LinkedIn has surely grown exponentially in the intervening years, LinkedIn was still a powerful tool for networking, sharing and connecting even a few years ago before current updates were put into place. I would be interested to hear the author’s take on how LinkedIn and other tools will allow future job seekers to showcase their non-traditional credentials and training to employers.


Though this book is now a few years old, I think there is a good reason it is still recommended at conferences and pops up in book clubs across campuses and communities. Recent debate on the national stage involving student debt only intensifies the conversation. Whether we are ready or not, technology is changing the higher education landscape and books such as DIY U challenge us to envision the new and different directions learning may take, allowing us as practitioners to best adapt and prepare our students and clients for a new future.



Kate Juhl 2014Kate Juhl has been a Program Director with the University Career Center & The President’s Promise at the University of Maryland, College Park since 2011. In this role, she works with students, faculty and staff in the College of Arts & Humanities. Previously, she worked for five years in the Career Services Center at Virginia Wesleyan College in Norfolk, VA. She can be reached at kjuhl@umd.edu.

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