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Is college a scam? John Stossel (B.A., Princeton University) thinks so . But he chooses the wrong examples to make his point:

What do Michael Dell, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Mark Cuban have in common?

They’re all college dropouts.

Richard Branson, Simon Cowell and Peter Jennings have in common?
They never went to college at all.

But today all kids are told: To succeed, you must go to college.

Hillary Clinton tells students: “Graduates from four-year colleges earn nearly twice as much as high school graduates, an estimated $1 million more.”

We hear that from people who run colleges. And it’s true. But it leaves out some important facts

That’s why I say: For many people, college is a scam.

Stossel should know better than to base his argument on outliers who have been wildly successful in their fields. But let’s take a closer look at the examples he provides:

Michael Dell – In 1980, at the age of 15, Dell made $18,000 ($47,000 in 2010 dollars) selling newspaper subscriptions. In 1984, while a pre-med student at the University of Texas at Austin, Dell started a computer business in his dorm room. He dropped out of school after getting enough business—including state contracts—to work full-time.

Mark Zuckerberg - While still in high school, Zuckerberg took a graduate course in computer programming, started a company (Intelligent Media Group), and built an application called the Synapse Media Player. Both Microsoft and AOL tried to purchase Synapse and recruit him, but he chose instead to enroll at Harvard. Like Dell, Zuckerberg started his business out of his dorm. He took a semester off from Harvard but decided not to return when his site became the second largest online social networking site and the 10th most-trafficked site on the Internet.

Bill Gates - At age 17, Gates—a computer programming prodigy—formed a venture with Allen, called Traf-O-Data. He served as a congressional page in the U.S. House of Representatives before entering Harvard. After a year, Gates dropped out to form the company that would become Microsoft.

Mark Cuban – Cuban engaged in several entrepreneurial ventures before skipping his senior year of high school to become a full time student at the University of Pittsburgh. He later transferred to Indiana University where he graduated with a bachelor’s in business administration.

Richard Branson – In 1966, at the age of 16, Branson started a magazine. Four years later, he set up an audio record mail-order business. In 1971, he was arrested and charged for selling records in Virgin stores that had been declared export stock. He settled out-of-court with an agreement to repay the unpaid tax and a fine. His mother mortgaged the family home to help pay the settlement.

Simon Cowell – Cowell attended prep schools and Windsor Technical College. His career was launched when his father, a music industry executive, got him a job at the recording giant EMI Music Publishing.

Peter Jennings – At the age of 9, Jenning got a job as a host of a radio program on the CBC (where his father Charles was a prominent radio broadcaster). Jennings went to both the University of Ottawa and Carleton University before dropping out to re-join the CBC as host of a public-affairs program.

The key to success seems to be:

  • Go into a field related to computers or entertainment (Dell, Zuckberg, Cuban, Gates, Branson, Cowell, Jennings)

  • Go to college before dropping out (Dell, Gates, Zuckerberg, Cowell, Jennnings)

  • Start a business while you are still in high school (Zuckerburg, Gates, Cuban, Branson).

  • Start a wildly successful business while you are going to college (Dell, Gates, Zuckerberg)

  • Have a parent that can help you break into the entertainment industry (Cowell, Jennings)

  • Have a parent who can bail you out when your business is sued (Branson)

  • Get a Bachelor’s degree in business (Cuban)

If a young person can meet all or most of these qualification, then I agree that they may not need a degree. But most young people are not like these outliers. Most young people will have difficulty getting the job they want even after going to college.

We need to avoid making the mistake of assuming every young person in America needs to go to college in order to be successful. They don’t. But we also need to avoid the opposite mistake of thinking that many young people would be just fine if they don’t go to college. They won’t. Let’s also stop trying to make every average kid in America think they have the innate capacity to be Zuckerbergs and Cubans. They don’t.

How about we try a different approach. Why don’t we get to know these kids as individuals, develop an honest assessment of their character and capabilities, think hard about what we should say, and only then give them advice that will affect them the rest of their lives. That might be a better method than giving them generically bad advice.

(Via: Outside the Beltway )

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