26 June 2011


On the face of it, the need for a college education may be vastly overstated. We've all heard of the infamous Party Schools. There is an active grant system already in place today to encourage brilliant young people to by-pass college altogether and strike out to develop their own dreams. Everyone knows of Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg as iconic examples of fabulous financial success - by guys who never completed college.

The truth of the matter is: these success stories are incredibly rare. Really? Try this: how many people can you personally name who dropped out of college and became a big success? Do you need more than one hand to count that high? One finger?

Most of us make our way in this world by hard work.  Luck occasionally helps, but luck never lasts.  Brains help... but if you don't work hard brains will fail you 100% of the time.  Most of us in the real world need jobs.  If you want someone to take a risk and hire you - let's assume for the moment that you do not have a wealthy parent to invest in you - then you have to present some evidence that they can use to make the bet on you.  Make no mistake: hiring someone is a very risky bet.

How would you prove to someone that you were worth taking that risk? Being an Eagle Scout is good enough for Marriott Corporation - they will hire Eagle Scouts who need work because they have already proven that they can (a) work hard, and (b) stick to a task to completion. It may be entry-level, but it's a job. A college degree is pretty much the same thing, but brings with it evidence that you have some sort of advanced level of knowledge: you have proven that you can write, or you can design, or you can build, or you can market. Two or more is an added bonus to the person hiring you.

There is another reason for a college education: if you lose your job, you have both the degree and your previous experience to lay out as evidence to people who would potentially hire you.  In the current job market, it's not unusual to have 6 to 1,000+ people applying for a single job.  Put yourself in the shoes of the hiring agent: how can you sweeten the deal for her?  What evidence can you show that puts your head above all the others?  If most of them have college degrees and you don't, then you are starting on your knees.

Finally, here is something many people don't think about: with a general college education you acquire other things that a hiring agent probably won't care about. I took a class once just on the plays of Henrik Ibsen. I took another on Shakespeare and one on art history. I took a class in far eastern religion and philosophy. I also took an archery class (I still have the bow-snap scar to prove it), and several other odd-ball classes... just because they seemed interesting. I am so much the richer for these.

The result is that I can appreciate watercolors in a movie like Totoro, I can appreciate good writing in a movie  like Camila. I can pick up on - they make me smile - the subtle external references in movies like Avatar, Inception, Hero, Serenity, and Master and Commander that would just fly over the heads of people looking for cool CGI and a lot of blood and gore. Those people are easily bored; I'm not.  I can watch some movies multiple times and see new things each time. Because of college.

I'm saying this: a general college education means that your eyes are open to appreciate things you would not have appreciated otherwise. You are no longer a two-dimensional person, but someone who can live in a three-dimensional world and love it.

Sue, it's not cheap, and sure it takes some sweat and work. In this world, however, there ain't no such thing as a free lunch. If someone paid $1,500 for a black belt in a martial art (I've seen schools offering rank for a fee), how much do you really think people will respect you for that? Would you even really respect yourself?

Get that college degree. I'll go out on a ledge here and say that I don't really care what you get that degree in, or where; certainly a Harvard degree means little to anyone who are not Harvard grads. Ask around if you doubt me here; I've hired people, and someone who is full of themselves for where they came from is not what I'm looking for. But most of all, get that degree for yourself: become a greater person, a more enriched person. The carpenter who repaired my house in Virginia had a college degree; he picked it up on the side, and it wasn't easy. He had enough experience that he eventually built up a small company, and even ran for (and was elected) Chairman of the County Board of Supervisors. He was leading people in making huge, life-effecting, big-ticket funding decisions in infrastructure and education. His impact on people in that county will never end. He's also a Mormon bishop, helping people in yet another level.

Why do you think he was able to advance to where he is? He studied at night and stuck with it. Everyone admires and appreciates Scott.


No comments:

Post a Comment