Siliconcowboy's Blog

Technology, journalism, social media and social responsibility

‘Cool CEOs Don’t Need an Education’ is a Cynical Marketing Ploy

zuckerberg at harvardYou’ve seen this proposition numerous times in the last couple of years. Start-up kings don’t need university education. Savvy youth don’t need a degree. College is not for everybody.

The concept was inspired many years ago, and has resurfaced repeatedly over the decades.  Most recently, it’s been connected to people like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, both incredibly inspired startup captains who dropped out of college and became fabulously wealthy by creating behemoths like Apple and Facebook.

I’m not going to suggest that these guys are the exception and therefore the argument is moot. That would be patently obvious if it weren’t false.

In fact, Jobs and Zuckerberg had awesome educational backgrounds. They grew up in well-to-do families and had access to great schools and resources throughout their nurturing years. And they did attend college…in fact, two of the best colleges you can find.

The fact that they dropped out is overblown. To them, a degree was an unnecessary milestone. They already had sufficient education to make their mark, and their achievements were already widely known. And make no mistake, these people did not stop educating themselves after dropping out. Rather, they surrounded themselves with the best minds in the business to guide them while they built their dreams.

Of course, there are more pragmatic arguments. It’s also been suggested, for example, that the rising cost of education means fewer people will be able to afford college, but they can still become successful if they have sufficient focus, ambition and initiative. So it’s an inspirational message.

There are numerous reasons why this idea fails. Here are just a few:

  • Most kids aren’t savvy enough to recognize their own talent early on, track themselves into educational programs of their own making, and invent their own success.
  • Our society is not set up to accept hordes of dropouts with a dream vying for high-paying jobs. Even the most progressive companies use educational achievement as a necessary milestone for quality employment for all but the most gifted individuals.
  • Not everyone is gifted. In fact, most of the kids who are seeking a college degree are really smart, but not gifted.
  • Specialized or private education is expensive, too.
  • Forcing kids into a cattle chute reinforces outdated modes at exactly the time when educators should be embracing the collaborative techniques that a new generation of social-savvy students has already organically acquired.

Perhaps the most important reason this argument fails is that it ignores the millions of people, young and old, who desire an education but cannot afford one because of rising tuition and expenses.

And this is the fundamental reason for my title.

The idea that ‘cool CEOs don’t need an education’ is a straight-up marketing ploy. It’s designed to filter out those millions of people before they even think about pursuing higher education, and kicks them out of their seats if they haven’t graduated yet.  It appeals to their lack of confidence and angst over dwindling resources at a pivotal time in their lives, and sends them down a road less wealthy.

And that is a shame.

In states like California and New York, where everyone knows that an education is, for the most part, the only way to track into a career that will provide a living wage, competition for a university education is fierce. Added to this, the university system has become addicted to out-of-state (or out of country) tuition, which can be two or three times the in-state rate per pupil. This easy money is so attractive that the entire education system is routinely ignoring in-state students for out-of-state candidates with loads of obvious cash.

Clearly, the higher education system is turning in favor of money over education.  It’s even strategically tightening the availability of a college education by constricting growth at the precise time when more students than ever are trying to enroll. This tightened availability increases the value of the remaining seats, forcing even higher tuition rates.

It will be argued, of course, that wealthy kids are more likely to succeed in higher education, but that’s not borne out statistically.

In fact, the real money is made not pushing students all the way through to graduation, but simply by accepting out-of-state candidates as first-year students. This is when the fees and charges are highest, and parents are willing to invest the most. Statistically, many of these kids drop out because the pressure to succeed is high, the environment is foreign and the experience is too much.

Add to this the continued limited availability of seats, and students find their education experience stretching from four to five or even six years.

From a financial perspective, out-of-state freshmen and sophomores are golden, because their parents shell out tons of money for the opportunity to fail, and there are plenty of other parents who will do the same thing again the next year.

Rather than cynically focusing on these kids as easy ATMs, the university systems should be expanding their campuses and focusing on delivering four-year degrees to in-state students who are already familiar with the environs, who have ties to the community that can assist them if needed, and who are motivated to live, work and give back to the communities where they grew up.

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One comment on “‘Cool CEOs Don’t Need an Education’ is a Cynical Marketing Ploy

  1. Greg
    May 2, 2013

    I can see your point in this article. The general public are not equipped to handle thinking for themselves and unless given parameters and goals to guide them are not able to innovate. When you think about it, the truly gifted in this country are not your best students. They are the ones that look like they are not paying attention. The ones that may be asleep in class. The ones that get so bored and frustrated with todays educational system they end up leaving it to get on with thier lives. To top it off, most businesses have no idea how to find or recruit this type of intellect. When they do stumble across someone like this, this person is usually regarded as the misfit, or the one that is going against the grain. I leave you with this appropriate quote from Jack Kerouac, because i have a son that is truly gifted and i am lucky to be intelligent enough to see this.
    ” Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round heads in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They are not fond of rules and have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. The only thing you can’t do is ignore them, because they change things. They push the human race forward and while some may see them as the crazy ones. We see genius, because the people who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world are the ones that do”

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