The benefits of earning a bachelor’s degree far outweigh the costs of tuition. The math in the aggregate is simple.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, people who graduate with bachelor’s degrees will earn nearly twice as much over the course of their careers as those who complete only high school. College grads earn $2.1 million in lifetime income compared with $1.2 million for high school grads. The cost of four years’ tuition for a public school amounts to approximately $28,000 and for private school is about $100,000. Even if they go with the more expensive educational option, college grads net on average an extra $800,000 in lifetime earnings.
College also prepares you for a well-rounded and healthful life (e.g., college grads smoke less, exercise more, and are twice as likely to engage in volunteer work). The social networks developed in college have lifelong personal and professional benefits. A college education dramatically increases the probability of finding a job that you enjoy.
Where the math gets tricky is in the case of a truly unique individual like Bill Gates of Microsoft (MSFT) or Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook. These billionaires achieved tremendous success without the benefit of four-year degrees. It is absolutely critical, however, to appreciate that their uncommonly great insights, drive, and timing are as unusual as the talents that allowed Michael Jordan and LeBron James to make millions of dollars without the benefit of college degrees (though even M.J. did go back to finish his degree later).
In short, we do not live in Lake Wobegon where "all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average." We live in an increasingly complex, knowledge-based society where the vast majority of people will have superior earning power throughout their 30- to 40-year careers based on completing a bachelor’s degree.
So you got great grades and earned your bachelor’s degree? Congratulations. You may have been better off failing college and then starting a venture and figuring out why you didn’t pass your classroom tests.
Being successful in business is absolutely not contingent on having a bachelor’s degree—or any other type of degree, for that matter. A do-or-die work ethic, passion, unwavering persistence, and vision mean more than anything that can be taught in a classroom. How many college professors who teach business have actually started a business?
I am the sole owner of the top independent rock record label (according to Nielsen-published market share). Historically, the music industry is thought of as residing in New York City, Los Angeles, and Nashville. But I have blazed my own trail, segregating my business in its own petri dish here in Chicago. I started the business as a part-time venture in 1989 with $800 in seed capital. In 2009, Victory Records grossed $20 million. We’ve released more than 500 albums including platinum-selling records for the groups Taking Back Sunday and Hawthorne Heights.
Because I never went to college and didn’t automatically have industry contacts, I had to learn all of the business fundamentals through trial and error when I started my own company. The skills I learned on my own have carried me through 20 years of business. Making mistakes forces one to learn.
If you have a brand that people care about and loyal, hard-working employees coupled with a robust network of smart financial advisers, fellow entrepreneurs, and good legal backup, you will excel. There are plenty of people with degrees and MBAs who could read the books and earn their diplomas but cannot apply what they learned to building a successful enterprise.
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