How Much Is That Degree Really Worth?
In the U.S., college is a rite of passage for many. But with the cost of college rising sharply in recent years, you’ve got to wonder: Is a college degree really worth it?
The Dropout vs. The Graduate
What do tech giant Michael Dell, queen of pop Lady Gaga and $80 billion man Bill Gates all have in common? They left school without earning a college degree. Most people believe that the road to high achievement lies at the end of the commencement stage. And they would be right, for the most part. But, some of the most powerful and successful people in the world have found their path to success along a different route.
Bill Gates, Microsoft founder, billionaire and philanthropist, would have graduated from Harvard in 1977 but he dropped out after two years and embarked on a journey that would change the way the world uses computers. Today, his $80 billion dollar fortune is more than double Harvard’s $32 billion dollar endowment, the largest college endowment in the world. Mark Zuckerberg, Dustin Moskovitz and Gabe Newell are other famous names who decided to leave the Crimson’s classrooms for good and take their talents to the tech industry — a $112.5 billion dollar total pay off. In Harvard vs. their alma-nots, dropouts come out on top.
Some of the biggest names in entertainment like Ellen Degeneres, Lady Gaga and Oprah Winfrey also discovered that college was not for them, finding that people-pleasing through television and music is better learned through practice, not instruction. University of New Orleans dropout Ellen Degeneres, would-be class of 1980, had a record year thus far in 2014. From hosting the most-watched Oscars in 10 years to tweeting a selfie that was the most shared tweet ever, Ellen did not need a communications degree to become one of the most influential people in media. Her ratings have soared more than 50% in the last decade while her almost alma mater has seen a near-equivalent drop in enrollment.
Gaga and Winfrey also post impressive numbers when compared to their former institutions. Gaga and her “little monsters” number a staggering 41.6 million on Twitter, while NYU’s follower count totals around 24,000. Winfrey’s couch, which saw 28,000 guests during her show, nearly triples the number of people who can take a seat at Hale Stadium at Tennessee State University, where Oprah decided to forgo football games for famous guests. Oprah, notably, did return to TSU:
“So, in 1987, Tennessee State University invited me back to speak at their commencement. By then, I had my own show, was nationally syndicated. I’d made a movie, had been nominated for an Oscar and founded my company, Harpo. But I told them, I cannot come and give a speech unless I can earn one more credit, because my dad’s still saying I’m not going to get anywhere without that degree.
So, I finished my coursework, I turned in my final paper and I got the degree.”
Tech disrupters Palmer Luckey, Evan Williams and Elizabeth Holmes dropped out of school to shake up Silicon Valley. In March Luckey sold Oculus VR to Facebook for $2 billion, double the economic impact his college California State University, Long Beach has on the state and regional economy. Williams, co-founder of Twitter, found an international audience larger than that of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. While the university has a student body 18% composed of international students, nearly 80% of the most active users on Twitter are from outside the United States.
Alternatives to Higher Education
With the overwhelming success of those taking a path diverting away from a college campus, high school students and undergrads are being increasingly tempted to leave their classrooms behind and pursue success sooner. Students with big ideas are increasing incentivized to drop out. The Thiel Fellowship awards students who decide to play hooky with $100,000. The grant funds students who want to devote two years to building their businesses and itemizing their ideas. The fellowship markets itself as an alternative to traditional education through offering the capital, guidance and connections that can kickstart a career quicker than a college degree. Enstitute has a similar aim: getting students out of class and into the real world.
Enstitute matches students with executives and entrepreneurs for a paid, one year apprenticeship where they can be trained by experts and learn on the job instead of in the library. 90 percent of Enstitute participants graduate the program with a full-time position at the company where they worked, at another company in the network, or decide to start their own. Startup accelerator Techstars gives each company it selects $118,000 dollars in seed funding and three months to perfect their products before the entrepreneurs pitch to venture capitalists. Techstars companies including music metric-measurer Next Big Sound and storytelling platform Contently average around $2 million in capital raised after the program.
All in all, while the decision lays at your feet, the lesson this article should leave you with is the option. It’s up to you what you do with your life. But this article should teach you that you don’t need to buy into society’s axioms of education. There are alternatives.
But if you choose not to go at all, that’s up to you and you only. You decide what’s right for your life, not society.
Who knows…you may end up the next Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates!
(If you do, call me. I’ve got some great ideas in the works.)