Friday, November 4, 2011

Could the key to making millions be dropping out of college?

As our curriculum narrows and students are all shoved down the same same road to college, many are questioning the assumption that college is necessary for the path to success for everyone.  Most recently, Michael Ellsberg, author of “The Education of Millionaires: It’s Not What You Think and It’s Not Too Late" questions the "College for All" mantra with a NY Times Op Ed piece "Will Dropouts Save America?"  In the piece, Ellsberg points out that in many cases, college grads earn more because typically colleges attract more motivated students and historically, those who attend college came from more affluent families than those who do not. He also points to the fact that there is no evidence that those who attended college would be less successful had they chosen a different path.

Ellsberg explains that many of our nation's millionaires are college drop outs. He shares that you don't learn to be successful by being crouched over a desk studying for multiple-choice exams. You learn it outside the classroom, talking to fellow human beings face-to-face.  The degree-free men behind Apple, Twitter, and Facebook all know this to be true.  Ellsberg points out what most of us already know.  Our current classrooms, geared toward tests on narrowly defined academic subjects, stifle creativity. If a young person happens to retain enough creative spirit to start a business upon graduation, she does so in spite of her schooling, not because of it.

Ellsberg reveals what the millionaires and people like me (who acknowledge that school didn't help with achieving success in life) already know. You don’t need a degree (and certainly not an M.B.A.) to start a business and create jobs, nor is it even that helpful, compared with cheaper, faster alternatives. You can read the complete article here.


  1. So Ellsberg says that schools don't teach: "Skills like sales, networking, creativity and comfort with failure."

    Except when they do, of course. Tests do not equal schools and schools do not equal tests and that's the major flaw in this argument. As someone who went to a public school and graduated college, I can say that I wouldn't be half as creative as I am if not for the teachers and professors who taught me how to harness and direct that creativity. I also would not be comfortable with failure if I hadn't been allowed to take chances and fail at things in school.

    As has been said in comments and other posts before, Jobs and Gates were able to drop out of college and create their companies because the market for their products didn't exist. And I hate to tell you that Mark Zuckerberg needed college because if he didn't have college he wouldn't have had a market for Facebook. And not for nothing, but those three people have or had vision and egos to drive that vision, the type of egos very often that people like me are told not to have because it's "disrespectful."

    Furthermore, you cannot feed people a line about how well college dropouts do and present that as a solution without talking about the downside. Look at, for instance, the rate of success in the restaurant business, which is the very model of non-traditional paths to employment and startup businesses. Or, speaking of someone laid off in the dot-com bloodbath of the early 2000s, look at that.

    I'm not saying that you should discourage people from following an idea and eschewing higher education if it's not the path they need to take; however, you cannot hold that example up as some yellow brick road to travel along.

    And finally, whoever said college was job training is misguided anyway. Oh sure, you have your applied sciences, but higher education in the humanities exists for the purposes of learning. I didn't take philosophy classes in college with the intention of becoming a philosopher, but I'm grateful for the knowledge I have, even if I don't always apply it.

  2. Very much agree with Tom. There are, I think, a bundle of things wrong with Ellsberg's approach.

    1) More people who make millions go to college than not
    2) Who says making millions is the be all and end all anyway (perhaps things like happiness should count)?
    3) Following on from 2), I would prefer my surgeon, my dentist, my lawyer and my teacher to have college educations. I am sure there are other professions.
    4) Education and training are not the same. Put the word sex before them and you see why.

    None of that is to say that one should go to college, just that going to college shouldn't be seen as a waste of time thanks to the high earnings of a few.

  3. Just chiming in my total agree with the previous posters! By consistantly looking at the exceptions to rules you really don't help your argument or give yourself any validity.

  4. Lisa,

    You should read this blog post by a friend and excellent blogger, Steve Laniel: The fact is that, while there are many visible exceptions of millionaire college drop-outs, chances are that the average person WILL make more money after graduating from college. Steve provides some accessible statistics (i.e. you don't need to be good at math to understand his reasoning) to back that up.


  5. @MyTakeOnIt,
    Thank you for sharing this but it doesn't change my feeling that college is not for everyone or that it leads to greater wealth. In Steve's post he adds an important P.S.:
    ==as various commenters have pointed out, this only shows correlation; it doesn’t show causation.==

    Therein lies my argument. The type of families who can send their children to college are the ones whose children would earn more than those who can not. Additionally, it depends on the career the person wants to go into. Many careers just don't require a degree so spending 5 years getting one will set you back more than the person who spent 5 years getting experience.

  6. Thanks to Dale Stephens for pointing me to this article which also indicates, that for many people (he says about half) college is not worth the cost.

    The Biggest Gamble of Your Life (Is College Worth it?)

  7. In agreement with MyTakeOnIt, the distribution of outcomes for our students includes college in the majority. It is without a doubt that college isn't for everyone and that some make millions without it, but most need it. Nevertheless, colleges will change, if slowly, to make themselves relevant as people make more strategic choices of institutions and what they promise upon graduation.