Why Stay in School?
By Ray Cross
I remember a time when responsible people urged students to stay in school.
Now it seems fashionable to tell students to drop out.
Just recently, author Michael Ellsberg wrote a New York Times column called Will Dropouts Save America?.
His argument is that Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, etc., didn’t need degrees to launch successful companies like Apple, Microsoft and Facebook so why should you?
Ellsberg thinks college destroys entrepreneurial spirit and talents, without much solid evidence.
His argument is interesting, but flawed for 3 reasons:
- If you paid attention in your logic course, you would recognize right away that Ellsberg is guilty of what’s called selection bias. He builds his case on a few successful examples and ignores the thousands of dropouts who are struggling financially and probably wish they’d stayed in school.
- For the vast majority who don’t launch their own companies, a degree makes good financial sense. Americans with four-year degrees earn an average of $58,292 per year; those with a high school degree average $33,176.
- Americans with at least a college degree have a 5% unemployment rate compared with 10.5% for those with a high school diploma. Education teaches you the critical thinking and communications skills that are key not only to success in business, but in nearly every other facet of life.
The critics do make one good point.
Being a successful entrepreneur requires different skills than being a successful student.
But that doesn’t mean college isn’t valuable, even for a future entrepreneur.
In fact, the ideas and skills that Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg gained at Harvard were critical to their later success.
If you have the dream of becoming the next Steve Jobs, instead of abandoning college, why not make the most of the skills you can hone there.
Develop your networking capacity, learn about finance and marketing, and enjoy an environment that encourages you to think new and creative thoughts.
By all means, follow your dream, whether that’s a good job or a new company.
And remember, the commentators who are now telling people to drop out all went to college themselves.
Ray Cross is the chancellor of the University of Wisconsin Colleges and University of Wisconsin-Extension.