Boys' Rites of Passage

Our Sons' Futures

7 Reasons Why College is Not the Key to Success

Posted by Thomas on October 16, 2011

Before you continue:

This post has 944 words.

On average, it will take you less than 10 minutes to read (time doesn’t include linked posts and videos).

We’ve all heard “Education is the key to success”…”go to college and get a degree, this is your ticket”…”graduating from college increases your lifetime earnings”—2 years ago I wrote two posts challenging these principles by which we have guided our young people for decades: Why College is Not the Road to Success for Blacks: Part I and Why College is Not the Road to Success for Blacks: Part II. Here is that topic with even more corroboration. The original posts were African American-centric, but the concepts apply to all our youth—regardless of race or station.

Why is college not the key to success? We have treated book education like a silver bullet used to slay the Wolfman, the cure for all things that ail us. Well we are wrong and increasingly so in our hyper-changing-technological landscape.

Education, book-learning, and college fall into the same bucket for this discussion. In this post we will explore 3 different yet related perspectives on why college is not the key to success and spell out 7 reasons why.

We all know unsuccessful college graduates. 20/20 poses the question “Is College Worth It?” in this video.

Now, to be fair, success is personally defined.

However, the misconception has been a college degree (the piece of paper) was somehow a golden key that unlocked all proverbial doors, not so. There are other skills that fall beyond book learning we must embrace.

By now, we all recognize our world is very different. Since the world is different, we need a new approach to achieve our defined success. For example: individuals must view themselves as global citizens.

Companies used to seek their talent from national resources; our children used to compete with children in the state, then in the country; now the American student graduating from high school and college MUST compete with similar aged graduates from across the globe. One of the first books to open my eyes to this was Thomas Friedman’s the World is Flat. If you don’t have it in your library get it, read it, and have your teens read it too.

In addition to the 20/20 video Michael Ellsberg’s new book The Education of Millionaires speaks to additional skills one needs in order to succeed in business. To prove his point his book is based on interviews with several millionaires that never went to or never completed college. Ellsberg spells out his program which, if followed, he states will allow a person to break into the industry of interest without a college degree. For example Success Skill #2 is “How to Find Great Mentors and Teachers, Connect with Powerful and Influential People, and Build a World-Class Network”. Can you look that up in a college course syllabus?

Our definition of college (or education more precisely) is too narrow. A college education ALONE is not the key to success, although it can be a part of the success plan.

“Wait a minute!” Don’t we need more boys graduating from college? No! Instead we need more boys (young people in general) focused on being life-long-learners. Encourage our young people to embrace the golden skills of this new age. In order to guide our young men to responsible manhood we must impart the correct information.

What then are some of those golden skills? Here are the 7 reasons why college alone is no longer the key to success. University doesn’t properly teach the following skills:

  1. Leadership
  2. Public speaking
  3. Networking
  4. Creativity
  5. Marketing
  6. Selling
  7. Being a life-long-learner

Fathers, impress upon your sons if they go to college to see it for what it is an experience that can broaden their worldview and open doors of opportunity. Encourage them to use college to deepen life experiences, volunteer, intern, study abroad, or learn another language. Don’t settle for just book-learning—get globally educated—and succeed.

Let’s tell our young people treat college as the gateway to bigger experiences—not as the end-of-my-schooling phase of life. Use it to expand their personal borders. Through that expansion success is found. It all starts with self and continues with taking advantage of every opportunity presented.

Ken Robinson’s perspective is something I only recently began pondering. He contends public schools stifle (my word, he says kills) creativity. He further argues creativity is the education that needs more attention in our societies as a whole. He believes our school system (not just in America, but across the globe) bit by bit siphons creativity out of our children. To the point that once we become adults we can barely recall our creative selves.

See Ken Robinson’s TED Talks here: Schools Kill Creativity and Bring on the Learning Revolution!

Michael Ellsberg’s point is for creative jobs – those that hire for creative jobs want a person with demonstrable skills in that area—not a piece of paper that demonstrates having taken and passed college classes.

Ken Robinson believes that creativity is the way we all move into the future but our school systems are not equipped to handle that paradigm shift.

I believe the shift in thought starts with parents and caring adults. Although their two views were not captured in my original posts I regard them as kindred perspectives.

As parents we MUST embrace creativity we see in our children and give it the same attention as academics, although our school system currently is not geared that way. We must put our children on the path (however we decide to do that) of acquiring neo-skills for our neo-world.

Whether or not you agree with these three points of view I trust we can agree 100% on one fact – the world has changed before our very eyes. Forever!


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