It’s college admissions season, when high schoolers across the country anxiously await a letter from their first-choice universities. But with ever higher cost of college and constant headlines of the number of grads who are out of work and saddled with debt, some Millennials are questioning the age-old path of going from high school to college to work.
They see their heroes, including Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, as examples of wildly successful people who never earned a degree. And yet another successful entrepreneur, Peter Thiel, is not only encouraging bright young minds to consider a career without college, he’s offering fellowship money for students who skip advanced schooling to get to work instead. With some of the smartest people they know telling them they don’t need college, Millennials feel emboldened to explore alternate career paths.
Another reason they’re brave enough to skip college is because they have another significant source of knowledge where they can learn whatever they need to know: the Internet. It’s easier than ever for a person to become an “autodidactic” — a person who teaches themselves — much like another Millennial hero, Sean Parker. It’s like the classic scene from “Good Will Hunting” when Will shows up a Harvard student as he tells him that he’ll eventually realize he “dropped $150,000 on an education he could have gotten for $1.50 in late charges at the public library,” only for Millennials, there are no late fees and little need to make trips to libraries.
For Millennials who see the Internet as access to the collective knowledge of the human race and who believe they can learn and excel at almost anything simply by spending some dedicated hours online, what’s the point of going to college? The value could come from the interaction with classmates and professors who broaden their life experience. However, students complain that they aren’t getting the quality of classes and professors they expect. As a result, those who are in school are starting to think that maybe they don’t need to be after all.
In our most recent Ypulse Report, we asked college students if their education is worth the money. While most say that it’s pretty much worth it, a quarter say that it’s only somewhat, slightly, or not at all worth the price they and their parents are paying. In the end, they don’t see the degree they’re earning as valuable.
Yet, students keep filling college classrooms, and enrollment has been on the rise for decades and continues to grow. For many, that’s because the jobs they want — as doctors, lawyers, and teachers — require not only four-year degrees, but also additional schooling and certification. But another substantial proportion are in school simply because that’s what they’re “supposed to do” after high school.
This generation’s entrepreneurial mindset and ability to teach themselves what they need to know could change all that as more and more employers and philanthropists open the doors and ease the way for them to try a different career path, one that few of their peers have dared to follow.