Throughout high school, students are sold on the benefits of getting a college education. They are shown charts and graphs depicting average income comparisons between high school dropouts, high school graduates and college graduates. Keep in mind, educators have a vested financial interest in keeping students in school as long as possible. That’s why I question whether the statistics given young people are a true depiction of the value of higher education? I have to ask, is average income the only way to measure the value of a degree?
[dropcap]A[/dropcap]verages are fine, but I’m not much of one who relies on averages. As my dearly departed friend Zig Ziglar used to say, “If you put one foot in a bucket of boiling water and one foot in a bucket of ice water, on average you will be comfortable.” He also said, “You can do a lot of things with boiling water and a lot of things with ice water, but when you pour them together about all you can do with is take a bath in it.” Unfortunately, I believe too many young people are being soaked by academia. College is not for everyone.
If you research the financial benefits of a college degree as compared to a high school diploma, the numbers are as varied as the sources. Some sources quote starting salaries, others quote average salaries, and still others use median salaries, but the numbers for each vary widely. I’m not going to attempt to put a specific number on the difference, I’m just going to give you a different perspective to consider and let you play with the numbers.
If a high school graduate gets a full time job making $15 per hour, in fifty forty hour weeks he or she will earn $30,000. That amounts to $120,000 during the four years other students are going to college. When you add this loss of income to the money spent on four years of college; room and board, books, fees and other expenditures in addition to tuition, the monetary difference between the high school graduate and the college graduate could easily surpass a quarter of a million dollars before the college graduate even enters the workplace.
If all or a substantial portion of college has been paid with student loans and as many students do, they graduate with a chunk of credit card debt in addition to the student loans, these new graduates start their earning years deeply in debt and facing a very tough job market. They find that they are competing with an increasingly large number of college educated applicants as well as those high school graduates with four years of work experience. Is it any wonder so many of them are moving back home to live with their parents because they can’t make it alone?
What’s lacking is an honest discussion about ability and desire. Not everyone has the IQ to succeed in college and many of those who do simply do not have the desire to put their education to work. They go to college because they feel that is what their parents want or what society expects. Then when they graduate and learn that their degree doesn’t land them the high paying jobs they were expecting, they become depressed. They get really depressed if they are also burdened with large student loans and credit card debts. Nearly half of college graduates end up in careers different from what their degrees are in.
A constant refrain I hear from new graduates is: “Everywhere I apply, they want two to four years of experience. How do I get that experience if I can’t get a job?” My answer is simple: “You start at the bottom and work your way up.” The problem is most students are over sold on the value of a college degree and what it will be worth in the workplace. The reality is you don’t start out on top just because you have a degree. Granted, a college degree can help you move up in a company faster than someone without a degree, but it won’t land you halfway up the ladder of success as many young people are led to believe.
Let me share some personal experience. When I was in the business world and hiring employees, I can tell you from first-hand experience that I would rather have hired a high school graduate with a desire to learn and four years of work experience, than a college graduate with an overinflated opinion of their worth and very little understanding of how the real world works.
The real keys to success do not come from a college degree. They are what I call the three D’s: Desire, Discipline, and Dedication. You must have the Desire to learn, the Discipline to do the things necessary to learn and the Dedication to keep at it long enough to be successful. It’s like a stool with three legs; it requires all three to be stable. If you are missing any one of the three, you will not have a steady platform from which to grow and succeed.
I learned that there are many ways to gain knowledge other than attending college. Reading, listening to audio or watching video programs, attending seminars and, yes, even apprenticeships are other ways. People who possess all three of the D’s of success will find and use these tools and rise to the top of any organization. The ones who don’t will be good foot soldiers, but will always need someone to lead them.
When I started in business, I lacked a great deal of business acumen, but I wasn’t lacking in the three D’s of success. In every instance when I found myself lacking in knowledge, I made it a point to rectify that shortcoming by learning all I could about the subject as quickly as possible. I studied books, educational audio and video programs; I went to seminars and took selected courses that were targeted to the subject matter I needed. I built an extensive library of educational materials over a lifetime. I learned that there is nothing you can get in college that you can’t get from these other sources. I also learned it is much more meaningful when you can apply what you are learning as you learn it. It was from these experiences that I identified the three D’s of success. I found myself leaving behind those who were not willing to learn, especially the ones who thought I was crazy.
As my business grew and I added employees, I found an interesting way to identify people who had the three D’s. I began offering my employees the opportunity to sign up for a payroll deduction and put as much or as little as they liked into a personal education account. I matched whatever they put in dollar for dollar with the condition that the money must be spent on books, educational programs or seminars. I found that this accomplished two important things. First, it allowed me see who had the Desire to contribute to their personal success.
Secondly, unlike materials paid for entirely by the company, when they had some “skin in the game,” they were far more likely to have the Discipline to study the materials and the Dedication required for improving their performance.
Don’t get me wrong, I would never attempt to discourage anyone from going to college. Knowledge is power, especially in the business world, but there are many ways to gain knowledge other than in college. I don’t have a college degree, but I’ve spent my entire life reading, studying and trying to broaden my knowledge base. It has served me very well and I’m definitely doing better than any of the averages put out by the education community.
That’s why I believe that depending on the student, higher education can be a blessing or a curse. Had I gotten a college degree, it may have helped me get a job earning a salary that would have kept me comfortable enough to avoid taking the risks and facing the challenges that have led to my success.