12/27/2011 5:03 PM ET|
Is college still the path to success?
The high price and low utility of a college education make it the wrong way to go, some experts argue. They say the new route involves defying some long-held conventions about how to get ahead.
Earning a college degree, taking an entry-level job and slowly working your way up the promotion ladder has long been considered a safe path to success. But a slew of book authors, popular bloggers and academics are increasingly urging a more do-it-yourself approach to getting ahead, and more young people appear to be following their controversial advice.
In "The Education of Millionaires," Michael Ellsberg argues that many young people would be better off skipping college altogether and going into business for themselves. "For the typical kid who isn't really sure what they want to do . . . and who just wants a general introduction to becoming an adult, $50,000 a year is a very expensive price to pay for that," he says. His own degree from Brown University, he says, proved useless in the real world. In fact, he says his experience there made him a worse writer. Many of the most successful people in today's economy skipped college in favor of self-education, he writes.
Businessman and philanthropist Peter Thiel recently launched a fellowship program for entrepreneurial young people; the $100,000, two-year fellowship allows young people to pursue business ideas instead of going to college. One of the first recipients was Dale Stephens, the founder of the website uncollege.org, which encourages self-starters to look for alternatives to a traditional college education.
Meanwhile, Richard Vedder of the American Enterprise Institute has argued that colleges are failing to educate students while getting more and more expensive. Andrew Sum, an economics professor at Northeastern University, has pointed out that many young college graduates, age 25 and younger, wind up taking jobs in customer service and retail that don't make use of their college degrees, while these students are still paying dearly for them.
Not everyone is joining the movement, though. In a recent op-ed in the Washington Post, Anthony Carnevale, the director of Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce wrote: "Skipping college and settling for a lower-paying career simply is not a smart trade-off, despite hype to the contrary from pundits . . . . They are just handing out bad advice to other people's children." Staying in school still pays off in the long run, he adds, especially if it gives students a way to avoid facing the high unemployment rates in today's job market.
But Ellsberg argues that's not a good enough reason to pay tens of thousands of dollars in tuition, and also says studies showing that unemployment rates are much higher for those without a college degree are misleading. "Correlation is not causation. . . . The fact that people who do better tend to also have college degrees doesn't necessarily mean that (the degrees) caused their success, it just means that smarter and more ambitious people tend to go to college. So, if you're one of those people, you should question whether you need to spend $200,000," he says. "What if instead, you start a business? Then you could have a whole portfolio to show potential employees," he adds.
Instead, Ellsberg urges people to educate themselves and to learn how to market themselves. "About 80% of the job market happens informally, and there are factors far more relevant to success than having a college degree -- mainly being a great networker, knowing people who know people, and knowing people who have a pulse on economic opportunity," he says.
He acknowledges that in certain training-intense fields, such as medicine or law, a college degree is necessary. But for motivated young people who plan to go into business, art, or technology, there are better and cheaper ways to learn the necessary skills, he says.
The debate between DIY-ers and traditionalists continues into the postgraduate career world, with a vocal group of entrepreneurs urging young people to break away from the corporate world and launch their own businesses instead. Bloggers and authors such as Pamela Slim ("Escape From Cubicle Nation") and Chris Guillebeau ("The Art of Non-Conformity") urge their followers to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams instead of following the conventional, step-by-step progression of old-school careers.
"There has never been a better time to go it alone. . . . It's extremely cheap to start a low-cost business venture. If you can open shop without debt and without investing a ton of time, why wouldn't you?" says Guillebeau. Among his micro-business suggestions? Start a coaching business based on whatever your skills are. Simply create a website and describe your offerings.
Now, the backlash to that movement has begun. In her new book, "Blind Spots," career expert Alexandra Levit argues that too many young people are getting swept up in the self-employment trend and that the vast majority would be better off simply working hard and making the most of their day jobs. "Running a business is harder than it looks, and the idea that entrepreneurship is the best solution for everyone is a myth," she says.
Ellsberg says that even people opting for a Levit-style, conventional approach need to learn how to be creative and sell themselves in today's job market, which he calls being an "entrepreneurial employee." Says Ellsberg, "If you don't know how to sell yourself, you'll always be begging for a job. . . . Everybody does some form of marketing. . . . A job interview is a sales session where the product on sale is you."
Welcome to the new economy.
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I have quite a bevy of friends who either chose the wrong majors or didn't apply themselves buried under mountains of college debt working menial jobs paying 9 or 10 an hour. The college system itself is skewed to fleece anyone who goes really, with a handful of select (and more difficult) majors as prize careers for those few who pull through.
The majority of US industry further props up this farce by requiring college degrees for positions that have no real reason for such stringencies. I don't understand the utter fallacy in logic preferring a green student with a 4 year degree over someone who chose to work 12 years in the field and has actual experience; to me, it's a poor decision, and it boggles the mind.
Apparently the school of thought often seen is to cast aside those who don't have training as "worthless," because their real world experience seems to count for nothing regarding value for related job openings. If college be a choice for the young adult, make sure to have a plan and be sure there are good prospects for the field of study. Otherwise it's a time and money suck, the both of which will be lost in vast amounts.
This article makes some broad and false assumptions about higher education. First, who said a college degree costs $50k/yr? Even if this price tag includes the opportunity cost of forgoing a full-time paycheck, it's still way too high in my opinion.
I worked through school (30-35hrs/wk), and graduated in 4 years with a degree in corporate finance and accounting. I walked away with less than $15k in student loans. And had no help from my parents. College was a very stressful experience for me, but I learned many lessons about how to sacrifice and save.
After working for a few years and finishing my CPA, I had enough money saved to return to school for my MBA. I paid cash for my graduate education and I am making much more money (although, it will take a few more years and raises to cover the opportunity cost of the year and a half of not working). Without the education and experience I earned in school, I would not have the stability and options I have today.
It scares me when I read blanked assumptions about how a college degree is not worth the cost. The real question should be why are kids spending $50k/yr on a communications or sociology degree?
The degree earned and the price paid is largely controllable. It just takes hard work, discipline, and sacrifice for a few long years.
there is always someone who is willing to sell you anything including their books..the point
should be that skipping college is usually a mistake unless you have extraordinary talents
like a mark zuckerberg or bill gates..or unless you are able to raise sufficient capital to
start a business...college per se doesn't have to cost 50,000 unless you insist on
attending an upper tear college to prepare for a profession like medicine or law..
college is important because it allows for a transition from what is usually an immature high
schooler who is interested in saturday night football and partying to a quasi responsible
young adult..most kids are NOT prepared to enter the business world after high school
they simply don't have the skills the judgment or the opportunity.college affords them
to choose what they are interested in and to broaden their outlook .it makes better
citizens and it is essential if any graduate studies are in the offing...recommending that
kids skip college will create and entire generation maybe more than one of ill equiped
undereducated irresponsible adults...and we don't need more of thme
I suspect that the real reason Mr. Ellsburg's college education didn't pay off is the fact that he attended a wildly expensive Ivy League school and likely pursued a worthless degree such as communications or English lit.
I can tell you first hand that the high-priced private schools aren't worth it. I attended a prestigious (read expensive) private college for my BA, then went to my local state university for a master's degree. The biggest change was the huge price difference. I found the quality of instruction at the state school to be excellent--as good, or in some cases better, than the private school. Also, the name recognition of prestigious undergrad degree was of little or no value when applying for jobs. So leave the Ivy League to rich folks' kids.
People have to realize also that success doesn't come overnight. Part of the problem now is that recent college grads expect to have their parents' jobs right now, when in reality it took decades for the parents to get to where they are. It takes time and patience to build wealth and prosperity. Patience is in short supply these days.
College education is worth it.
In the long run there is ample data to show that even in economic terms it pays off. There is more to a college education than just earnings. The payoffs are also in social and psychological terms also. As far as getting jobs are concerned students need to find out more about the job market with help career counselors as well as with their own research.
like a mark zuckerberg or bill gates."
The thing is, those were Ivy League guys that dropped out because of their business ventures. It wasn't like they were average schmucks that were skipping State U.
"A college education is a complete waste of money for most young Americans as there are no jobs to go to when you graduate."
This is a very ill informed statement. If you have a BA in Psychology, Political Science, history, or English, no there aren't any jobs out there. If you have a bachelor's in Computer Science, Accounting, Finance, Engineering, Health Care, or Actuary sciences, you won't have much trouble finding work.
Our Education System has failed us !!! The students don't get the jobs ,or the education we pay for.
The unions, Teachers, Administrators Conultants make BIG money plus BIG benefits.
We need to abandon our Education System and create more TRADE SCHOOLS !!!!
As someone who is a self-made man (I went to night school for 10 years to get my 2 degrees while working full time), I have major issues with this piece.
First. lets eliminate the Steve Jobs and Bill Gates of the world from our discussion. If you are in that .0001% of the brain pool, you will develop a process to convert salt water to oil in the next decade and do not need to go to college.
But, lets talk real world.
I have mentored hundreds of small businesses. 95% of them will never make it. They lack the skill set, including financial, business planning and marketing ability.
Yes, you can get this experience by working somewhere, But, you will never get that chance unless you have a good degree from a good school.
Like my belief that the best diet is everything in moderation, a successful path depends on many variables. Education certainly helps, knowing the right people is fantastic and being naturally competent and skilled doesn't hurt either. In general, look at the job posts for decent career paths - do they require a Bachelor's degree? Yes, most do.
If the job doesn't HAVE TO BE DONE HERE it won't.
Remember "We'll become a service economy"? I guess we'll all be doing each others' hair.
And the jobs aren't coming back!
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