To Degree Or Not Degree…
There’s an ongoing debate circulating on social media that business owners and employees can be successful sans college degree. It is true that certain career paths and occupations can yield a high income without a traditional college degree. And in the midst of a student loan crisis many have a sort of buyer’s remorse when it comes to the amount of debt they took out to fund their college education.
I was having a conversation with a friend who recently graduated with his Bachelors degree while owning two businesses and having previously earned two Associates degrees and I asked him “how does your degrees benefit your business?”
He gave me several reasons that included:
- Learning what you don’t know already
- Applying what you learn in real time
- Learning that everything won’t always be perfect
- And of course the networking
“Everybody Takes Out Student Loans”
When I was graduating high school I was apart of a program for low income children that provided workforce development and college preparation resources. I took assessments to determine where my skills and interests were and possible career paths to pursue given those skills and interests. We also went on college visits to relatively local colleges and universities that I was accepted into or looking to be accepted into. On one trip in particular I remember doing a tour of the college and discussing the cost of tuition, what would be covered and what would be left to me as an out of pocket expense.
My counselor’s response to me what that “everyone takes out student loans” and that I shouldn’t worry. Just get into the school and get my degree. So I took his advice.
The school was about 30 miles from where I lived and my family had no vehicle so I would need to stay on campus. It was also a private school and I was an out of state applicant. Room & board + tuition and fees minus any scholarships and grants I was eligible for left me footing a bill that included 2 different loans.
…and those loans didn’t even cover the cost of my books.
After the first full year at the school I transferred out to a local community college, relocated to a different state down south, then relocated again to New England where I stumbled upon a career in banking with no degree. As I rapidly climbed the ranks school sat on the backburner.
I was making more money and had more experience than the peers I graduated highschool with who were finishing their degrees.
While they had trouble securing a job in their field due to a lack of experience, I was being promoted and/or given a raise yearly. I had a full benefits package as well allowing me to visit a doctor or dentist as needed, contribute to my retirement accounts, and build credit. Before getting a job that covered benefits the last time I’d seen a Dr. or dentist I was in middle school.
Although I still had student loan debt, it was a fraction of what the 4 year graduates carried and for those who went on to get a Masters it was even less.
The Glass Ceiling
Eventually in my banking career I started to receive subtle prods and pokes around going back to school. The tuition reimbursement programs were highlighted as a benefit (while their fine print requirements for payouts were briefly brushed over) and it was relayed that at higher levels of leadership a make or break differentiator could rest in my education. I started taking night classes part time until I eventually finished my Associates degree. Although that wasn’t quite enough to stand me up next to Bachelor and Masters degree graduates, I put more stock into what I accomplished on the job and the relationships I had built. To me it didn’t make sense to take out any more loans to get a degree for the purposes of making myself more “hirable”.
When I started dabbling in entrepreneurship one of the attractive aspects of being my own “boss” was that I determined my worth. That is to say that I wouldn’t be limited by my lack of degree (or willingness to pursue one) As I developed skills related to my business and an audience that wanted proof of why I’m qualified to do what I do, my thoughts on degrees started to change. Suddenly I not only valued the degree that I had earned, but started to desire finishing the degree that I never received.
You learn as an entrepreneur that relationships are as much a currency as cash is and that sometimes a degree can give you access to people, environments, and information that Google, Youtube, and your on the job experience simply can’t give you.
So…To Degree Or Not Degree?
Well like many things it really depends on what you intend on doing with it. The better question I’d pose during these debates isn’t whether or not you should get a degree, but WHEN should you get one (given your interests and objectives). Perhaps the best time to get a degree isn’t when you’re fresh out of high school with no idea about what you want to do and how you want to impact the world.
Perhaps force feeding this idea that you need a degree to be successful, to make money, or to find a job needs to change. Perhaps jobs requiring a degree and 5+ years of experience for entry level positions — and pay — should change as well. Because as long as you’re not going to school to be a doctor or lawyer, you probably will have the time to catch up and get those degrees AFTER you’ve acquired some work experience and decided where and how you want to dedicate your time and talents.