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Lane: Degree-less innovators endorse higher education

BY JOE LANE | JUNE 15, 2015 5:00 AM

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Growing up in this generation, we often hear our parents and grandparents express the adage, “We knew that you go to college, you get a job.”

Of course, in a period marked by the recession of 2008, many have grown skeptical of such a statement. Going to college no longer guarantees a job upon graduation. Moreover, there are dozens of examples of tycoons who dropped out of college only to achieve unimaginable success.

Although, for the most part, the old belief that possessing a college degree is a leg up in the world still holds true, there are reasons abound that indicate the opposite.

Bill Gates is the perfect example of a college dropout who found success in a major way. According to Forbes’ latest information, Gates — the wealthiest individual on the planet —has a net worth of $79.4 billion.

How can we justify a college education when some of the most financially successful people in the world never completed a college education? Well, it’s quite easy, actually.

Even Gates himself argues that a college degree is the way to go. In a recent blog post, he said, “Although I dropped out of college and got lucky pursuing a career in software, getting a degree is a much surer path to success.

“College graduates are more likely to find a rewarding job, earn higher income, and even, evidence shows, live healthier lives than if they didn’t have degrees.”

Forbes published an article about the topic of college dropouts in March. Among several other things, Forbes has become well-known for its annual publication of the wealthiest individuals in the world; many of whom never completed college.

In the article, Micha Kaufman describes several of the college dropouts on the list as, “outliers — extraordinary individuals who probably didn’t need college to be successful in the first place.”

Kaufman is right on point with his analysis. Data from several different sources are overwhelmingly in favor of a college education.

Gates describes himself as “getting lucky … in software,” but the truth is he set himself up for unprecedented success through more than just luck. Any simple biography of Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, or Steve Jobs will show their level of extreme dedication to their area of interest well before entering the colleges they would eventually leave degree-less.

It is undeniable that there was the luck of being in the right place at the right time for Gates and the others. But very few have such a luxury, and those who do often fail to accompany it with devotion to their skills.

Upper-level education aside, college provides intangible benefits that may, in fact, be the primary causes of the success of graduates. Networking, internships, access to facilities and technology, and the ability to experience the “real world” in a protected environment are just a few of the benefits that arise in college outside the classroom.

The unfortunate truth is even those who spend their entire childhood dedicated to a specific area of interest may never achieve this level of success without a college education. But with role models who have achieved this success and the cost of college education skyrocketing, it is often difficult to see past the benefits of college.

Gates’ words should serve to remove the blinders on those opposed to college education. Student debt can be crippling, but it is important to understand the benefits that come from completing a college education — distant though they may seem.


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