Arguing the Value of Higher Education

I haven’t had a post about higher education in a long time. For two years I had the wonderful opportunity to have frank discussions with fellow students about issues facing our industry on a twice-weekly basis. These discussions were my favorite parts of class, partly because I got to hear other perspectives, and partly because they helped me articulate my own thoughts and feelings. I think I’m much better at presenting my opinion when someone else follows up immediately and states what I just said in half the time (because then I get to repeat what they said, which is what I said, but with less words!). Just kidding, I don’t plagiarize other people’s viewpoints on higher education, that would serve no purpose.

Anyway, I recently found a message thread on Yelp where a guy was asking if anyone had modified their college transcript by going to a printing shop. I don’t know how serious he was (no one offered him any constructive advice), but of course the vein of the posts became an argument about the value of higher education. Because these days, it always does.

My favorite quote from the original poster is this one:

The average net worth of billionaires who dropped out of college, $9.4 billion, is approximately triple that of billionaires with Ph.D.s, $3.2 billion. Even if you remove the world’s second richest man, Bill Gates, who left Harvard University and is now worth $59.0 billion, college dropouts are worth $5.3 billion on average, compared to those who finished only bachelor’s degrees, who are worth $2.9 billion. According to a recent report from Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research, 20% of America’s millionaires never attended college.[4]

He seems to be quoting an unnamed source, right down to the citation at the end that doesn’t lead anywhere.

These statistics are exactly why you need higher education: the purpose of higher education (in addition to providing you with job-applicable skills, if you go the technical education route) is to encourage you to think critically. It doesn’t matter if you end up in finance, retail, white-collar, blue-collar, whatever. You need to learn how to think at a higher level than what most high schools provide. You need to be able to discern fact from strongly stated opinion, you need to be able to analyze a source of information for it’s authenticity, you need to be able to articulate your own opinions without citing statistics that skew data.

I haven’t taken math in awhile, but from what I gather, the above statistic may be correct (by doing a quick Google search the quote is from Wikipedia [surprise surprise] and the citation is from this Forbes article). First of all, the article is from the year 2000, which is a lifetime ago in terms of the economy, the higher education landscape, and the job culture we have now. Better yet, it was before the “new” Bill Gates, the new darling of “you don’t need to go to college to be wealthy”, Mark Zuckerberg, and before Facebook. Citing data from 12 years ago about the average lifespan of turtles might be okay, but it doesn’t fly when you’re talking about today’s economy.

Second, I appreciate that Forbes removed Bill Gates from their data, but using “average” instead of “median” is misleading. Remember learning that in statistics? That’s essentially the only thing I remember learning in statistics (that and the null hypothesis). If you have a handful of rich people that are worth $50 billion each, even if the number of dropouts that are worth less than the clothes on their backs are going to have a sunny outlook on life if you average their net worths together. What is the median? I don’t know, but I’m guessing it is nowhere near that $5.3 billion. And interestingly enough, Forbes didn’t mention where they got this data from anyway.

Third, that 20% of millionaires that never attended college? Please tell me how many of them were millionaires based on their trust funds anyway, and went on to work for their very lucrative family business. Or won the lottery.

Students drop of out college (or never start college) for a variety of reasons. Family, money, jobs. I’m willing to bet that the vast majority of dropouts aren’t leaving because they’ve come up with the next big smartphone app (and because I’m being so tough on random statistics, I’m not even going to bother pretending what I just said has any data to back it up, I’m just going to bet on it instead). And for those students that drop out because of family, money, and jobs, I think their is value in what they already learned by taking college classes, and I think there is value in the classes they haven’t yet taken.

And now I’m off my soapbox. I probably could have refined this a bit but in the heat of the moment, a good ramble is okay.

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One thought on “Arguing the Value of Higher Education

  1. Pingback: ” We Don’t Need No Education”: A New Mindset For Ambitious Young People Who Want To Succeed In Business « The Narcissistic Anthropologist

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