This op-ed originally appeared in InsideSources on December 11, 2023.
In an age where information is just a few clicks away, college may not be the golden ticket to success it once was. Entrepreneurship, coupled with self-directed learning, has the potential to provide a better path to success than attending a traditional college.
Many students are dropping out of college to try to cash in on the AI revolution that is taking over the tech industry. And their reasoning is sound. They may have the next billion-dollar idea.
But AI and technology are not the only paths to entrepreneurial success. Look at John Willenborg, the owner of Owl Vans. He was a guest on Mike Rowe’s “The Way I Heard It” podcast. Owl Vans capitalizes on customizing vans for outdoor adventures.
Learning is not confined to the walls of lecture halls. The ever-expanding universe of self-directed websites and courses is available to all. Students can use paid platforms like MasterClass, Skillshare or Udemy to learn anything from screenwriting to programming. But paid platforms are not the only resource. Many have used YouTube and TikTok to learn skills.
These platforms empower learners to pursue their passions and interests. They provide flexibility, personalization and a cost-effective alternative to college.
And being cost-effective may be the biggest draw of skipping college.
A looming specter haunts the lives of many graduates: student loan debt. The collective burden of student debt in the United States has reached a staggering $1.75 trillion. For some, this debt soars well in excess of $100,000, creating financial shackles that can take decades to escape. Disturbingly, statistics reveal that one in four college graduates earn less than $30,000 annually, and a mere 27 percent use their hard-earned degree. These numbers paint a grim picture, questioning the return on investment that traditional education promises.
Many argue that a formal education is the only path to success, but there are many examples of the opposite being true, with Elon Musk, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs being a few examples. True, these are the obvious entrepreneurs, but the average salary of an entrepreneur is a respectable $72,000 yearly. That is double what many college graduates earn.
Musk said, “I don’t consider going to college evidence of exceptional ability. In fact, ideally you dropped out.” He and his company don’t rely on degrees but exceptional ability in hiring.
The landscape for entrepreneurship has never been brighter. Starting a business, especially in the digital age, has never been more accessible. And young entrepreneurs can limit their risks by starting when they aren’t worried about a mortgage and a family.
As Jay Dang, a young entrepreneur, said, there’s plan B: “You can always go back to college if you fail.”