Is College Necessary?

Audio Blog, 7:09

Yes, I’m going there….

However, let me first clarify that I am not writing this blog to argue the economic value of a very expensive college education (average annual cost for a college education in 2015-16 ranges from $19,548 Public to $43,921 Private). College $ .

The “is it worth it?” question has been well covered by many legitimate media sources, and the conclusions can easily be found with a simple Google search. My view on this topic is that the judgment of worth is contingent upon which occupation a student will take after graduation. The bottom line, on an economic return basis, is that certain career fields (engineering, business, consulting) pay well enough to justify even the most expensive colleges, but other fields (humanities and education) may not produce acceptable economic returns.

However, that is not the correct question to ask. Based on the two previous blogs (“Two Questions That Lead To Life Satisfaction” 2 Qs and “Where Is Your Ship Heading” Ship ), the more relevant question to ask is “based on my self-analysis and selection of an appropriate career, is college necessary to achieve my long-term objective?”

It all depends on what you are trying to accomplish.

The flaw in traditional thinking is the lazy assumption that a college education yields usable career knowledge, and the incorrect assumption that a college degree is necessary to secure “a good paying job” in the global economy.

If your self-analysis leads you to more traditional roles like a doctor, lawyer, consultant or investment banker, then yes, you will need a college degree. The path to gaining the credentials necessary to enter these fields is well established, and very rarely by-passed.

However, there are many highly successful people living fulfilled lives that never attended college. Often times, they recognized early on in their lives, that they had unique strengths and interests that aligned well with the less established and higher growth career fields like technology, media & entertainment and entrepreneurship. If the measurement is wealth, then Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Ellen DeGeneres and many others have done quite well without the ole’ sheepskin. Measuring the necessity of college by listing billionaires and millionaires, however, is not relevant. More relevant is the discussion of knowledge, and I don’t just mean the knowledge of the exceptional people mentioned above.

Holding a college degree does not necessarily impart knowledge that is relevant to future opportunities in the global economy. Many of the skilled jobs that are available in the global economy are knowledge-based, instead of degree-based. The global economy is borderless and rapidly retrofitting with evolving technology, and that requires knowledgeable skilled workers.

I often get a bit annoyed when I hear politicians talking about bringing back manufacturing jobs to America. Huh? That kind of rhetoric is an absolute disservice to so many people who are trying valiantly to rebound. If they are self-aware and commited to taking the steps necessary, they will be able to align their strengths and interests into jobs that excite them and provide for a happy and productive life.

The hard truth is that most multi-national corporations realize that the workers in countries like China, India and Mexico are incredibly capable and inexpensive. They outsource manufacturing jobs to those countries, not for unpatriotic reasons, but because the foreign workers can maintain a similar product quality, and operate at significantly lower costs. Additionally, the amount that a country like China spends on infrastructure is astounding, and is more than Europe and North America combined. Their airports, factories, transportation and roads are far more modern and conducive to hosting global manufacturing operations.

On a positive note, there is a very large opportunity for former manufacturing and unskilled workers to retrain into skill based jobs in the USA, including electricians, solar panel installers, medical technicians, drone operators, cyber-security specialists, etc. These careers are rarely outsourced to globalization, but to capture the opportunity you must have the appropriate knowledge.  Flexible workers find themselves in great demand, and consequently earn high salaries.

I accept that college will likely not be necessary for a significant number of people to achieve productive and happy lives. Instead of college, they will need knowledge and skill training, often found in technical schools, community colleges, online learning and technical seminars.

Therefore, we need to correct the outdated mantra that high school graduates must go off to college in order to achieve success. That is a flawed conclusion, easily accepted by the public because of an absence of the rigorous self-analysis that I am proposing. We need a shift in emphasis from the “get your college degree” philosophy, to the “engage in knowledge-based skill learning, wherever it is” school of thought.

If one of my children developed a clear strength and very strong interest in a particular skill job that did not require a college degree, I would encourage that child to forgo college and work to secure all the technical knowledge, experience and credentials required to seize that unique opportunity. If the job experience could turn into an entrepreneurial venture directed by his/her own decisions, that would create the foundation for a fulfilled and productive life.

Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard to pursue the exciting opportunity presented by the proliferation of the PC.  He had the knowledge and skills to seize the moment.  How has forgoing college affected him?

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8 thoughts on “Is College Necessary?

  1. Love it! I recommend reading Outliers. I concur that college is expensive and that many jobs nowadays do not require the formality of a college education (however, I would argue a master’s education. I think undergraduate education are more about becoming well rounded and growing as an individual than learning any good skill). But as you said, wasting time in college can pull you away from what you are truly good at (ie. BG building PC’s)… but yes, I can attest to formal education being ridiculously expensive.

    Thanks FVB ; )

  2. Very interesting thoughts. As a college student, I can tell that most of my studying I do on my own and not in actual school. Which makes me question the importance of attending college or university. However, how can I find out what are my strengths and what I am good at? What are some principles that can help me learn myself better?

  3. Maks – To find your strengths, I recommend talking with those closest to you throughout your life, such as a sibling, parent or important coach or teacher. Additionally, if you have access to old report cards, you can review the comments section to see if over the years there were consistent themes that emerge. I most recommend just quiet time to think about it. The difficult part is that most college students compare themselves to everybody else, and their relative strengths may not seem so hot because they know someone that may be more capable in that area. But it is still your strength. Finally, if you want to spend $15, there is a pretty good strength finder test at https://www.gallupstrengthscenter.com . You will figure it out if you give it more time.

  4. And Outliers was certainly one of my favorite books. He has a good Podcast called “Revisionist History” on iTunes

  5. Steve, thanks for the comment. It has been 29 years since we last played on the gridiron together!

  6. This is always an interesting topic. There are so many hard working people who are up to their ears in college debt and struggling to find work. However; there are lots of employers who won’t even look at your resume unless you come from a certain school. I agree with your opinion because the cost of college has increased so much since I received my degree. I struggled with paying back 10K and now kids have loans from 75 to 200K when they finish. This is a great blog and helpful to all that want to be successful.

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