President's Blog

Skipping college by choice is a very, very bad idea


Pew WSJ college ROI

I’ve always found it annoying, if not intellectually disingenuous, to hear well-educated intellectual elites argue that not everyone needs an education like the one that allowed them to be where they are.  That the New York Times would dismiss the value of a college education in yesterday’s editorial is puzzling and potentially very harmful.

As I’ve discussed in this blog (and in this longer paper in Innovations Journal) it has become fashionable to question the value of going to college. One notable example is provided by Stanford graduate and Silicon Valley investor Peter Thiel who created an “un-scholarship” to encourage smart high schoolers to skip college because, in his own words “you increasingly have people who are graduating from college and not being able to get good jobs”.

Let’s clarify the facts, which the New York Times cites but somehow brushes off.  As you can see in the attached chart from the Wall Street Journal based on Pew Research data, college graduates make much more money and are far less likely to be unemployed or poor than people without a college education.

Sure there are college graduates that are unemployed or underemployed, but their chances of eventually landing a good job are far superior than the chances of people with less formal education.  In the knowledge economy, the only effective passport to upward mobility is education.

According to the New York Times editorial board, a college education does not create good jobs, a “thriving economy” does.  Please explain to me who makes an economy thrive in the 21st century if not well-educated, highly productive and innovative people.  Help me understand how an economy can create more good jobs for more people if not by helping more people develop their potential. Policies don’t create jobs, smart people do.

I suppose no one on the Times editorial board will recommend to their own children to skip college, jump on one of those fast growing jobs in retail, construction and food service, and join the union to fight for a fairer minimum wage.  I imagine that was not the intention of the editorial, but its undertones contribute to legitimize a view that can only harm young people trying to decide on their future.

Young people of the world: beware the well-educated and successful individual that casts doubts over the value of going to college.  Chances are they owe at least some of their success to the campuses they now berate.


Added Feb. 14, 2014

I just found this timely report by Endeavor on the factors that lead entrepreneurs to create jobs in a specific city: access to a talented pool of employees appears to be #1, followed by access to customers and suppliers. So-called “business-friendly” policies seem to play a much smaller role.