Recently, the son of a friend posed the following question: If he earned a million dollars by the time he graduated high school, could he skip college?
Fair question, assuming the million dollars are in his pocket. He’d likely be running a business—in his case an app development company—as well as overseeing employees and thinking about the growth of his product. However, his underlying assumptions that a million dollars is easy to accumulate, that a college degree would not improve his chances of earning it, and that he is somehow better equipped to succeed than everyone else attempting to make their way in the world are all flawed. Here’s why we cannot overlook the value of education:
In every endeavor there are superstars, and many of them did not attend college because early on in their lives their talent skyrocketed them to the top of the field. Steve Jobs built Apple from his parents’ garage, and Mark Zuckerberg left his Harvard dorm room after creating Facebook. They are great examples of technology entrepreneurs who did not complete a college degree, but you know why we know their names: because there are two of them.
Lebron James never attended college and he is arguably the best basketball player ever. Because of talents like him, many boys and girls grow up dreaming of winning national championships or becoming centerfielders for the Yankees. But how many actually end up doing this? The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has published research on the estimated probability of competing in athletics beyond high school. They state that about 60% of high school athletes believe they will play in college, but that 98 out of 100 high school athletes never do. Taking it to the professional level, .006% of high school athletes ever play a minute of professional sports. Not good odds.
Want to own the rap game like Jay-Z or take your cuisine worldwide like Wolfgang Puck, both of whom did not attend college? Some estimates show artists have a .04% chance of selling one record, while very few restaurants stay open more than three years, let alone open multiple locations which is when the owner begins to earn a higher income.
Before you assume this is nothing more than a buzzkill, know I am not trying to dash your dreams or say you should not pursue your talents. Our passions make life worth living, bring us happiness, and keep our minds and bodies young. I am also not saying you should give up an attempt to translate your talents into a career. Everyone should strive to love their profession and their work within it.
What I hope these examples convey is that only counting on your talents without the safety net of a college degree is a risky endeavor. One of the biggest benefits of higher education is the foundation it builds for success. You want data to support this premise? How about average lifetime income statistics. A 2011 report published by Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce found that high school graduates average $1,304,000 in lifetime earnings while those with four year bachelor’s degrees earn $2,268,000. Including individuals with advanced degrees, those with college credentials earn twice as much as high school graduates. That’s a large discrepancy in itself, and it becomes even more striking when considering one question: Guess whose income is included in the $1,304,000 average earnings for high school graduates?
The multi-millionaires and billionaires listed above.
Don’t overlook the value of education. Get a degree and pursue your passions—this is not an either/or decision.
What do you think? Can a college degree really help us to have our cake and eat it too?