Today I read an article on Forbes – Business Tips From College Dropouts. It’s based on a Forbes article from January, 2012 that showed that 16% of the top 400 richest people in the US did not have a college degree.
I’m really tired of hearing about rich college drop-outs as though there is a push for a mass drop-out of university students. Sure they are examples of people who’s had success in spite of not having a higher education, but that’s no excuse to be highlighting that fact as though it’s the reason that they are so wealthy.
I make a distinction between wealth and success, as success means different things to different people. Happiness may mean having a lot of wealth, for others it may mean making a difference. For me it means being happy. Studies have shown that happiness begins for most people at an annual salary of $75k, after that, more money does not cause any significant change in your happiness level.
A degree helps those okay with making US$75k a year. The world’s richest people are called the top 1% for a reason… it’s pretty hard to break into there. You may not need a degree if you have that great idea and are willing to work hard for it, but that better be one heck of an idea.
Statistics from Europe, where things are really tough, show that a degree still has its advantages, albeit in a negative way – among 25- to 29-year-old graduates in the European Union, unemployment rose from 7% to 9.2% between 2008 and 2011, while among people with only basic education it went from 16.1% to 24.3%. Students there agree that a University degree is still something worth pursuing.
I’ll admit though that Universities have to fix or evolve from their old ways. They must teach students how to think critically, be innovative and act entrepreneurial (words have have become too buzz wordy, but still relevant). A recent report by the Kauffman Foundation – “College 2.0: An Entrepreneurial Approach to Reforming Higher Education” – recommended six broad categories of approaches for improvement. There are three recommendations that I wish to highlight.
- Tackle campus-level obstacles to innovation. At a recently concluded half day seminar held by the University of the West Indies and the T&T Chapter of the IEEE Education Society, several educators spoke on the use of technology in teaching. The consensus was that we were trying to use old techniques to fit in the new technology, rather than finding new ways of teaching to use the new technology. As one presenter commented, “we’ve moved from chalk and talk on a blackboard, to chalk and talk on a computer screen.”
- Improve incentives to boost academic productivity. Career advancement of university educators are based on their academic achievements – research done, how many papers have they published, etc. – and not in how well their students do. Essentially, what is the real outcome that we require from the teacher? Incentives and rewards should be based on the real outcome of their purpose, which is to ensure that students gain the skills necessary for their work life. Educators should be concerned with their career advancement, but we must ensure that it’s directed to where it matters most – educating the students.
- Overcome barriers to taking innovative models to scale. Students must be given the tools necessary to take their innovations live – skills such as business planning and pricing. Recently, a class in Stanford University had as their project, “Devise an app, get people to use it, repeat.” The results from the class were that students made money, started businesses, sold businesses or went on to work for similar businesses. Practical exposure to the dynamics of innovation and entrepreneurship encourages that mindset in the students.
I digressed a bit there, but in conclusion it’s okay to recognise the achievements of those who’ve become wealthy – regardless of their backgrounds – that we may learn how to do the same. Recognise their successes and failures, try to do similar, but never underestimate the power of getting your own education.
So what do you think? Is a university degree important to be successful? Add your comments below.