It’s a commonly accepted and often repeated concept.
It’s illustrated by powerful examples from Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg to Frank Lloyd Wright and Buckminster Fuller to James Cameron and Tom Hanks (every one of them is a college dropout).
The Concept: College is unnecessary if you want to get rich. The best school is the school of hard knocks. The lecture hall pales in value to life experience. Learning means doing.
The concept is true. College is not absolutely necessary. High school grads and college dropouts do populate the Forbes 400 (the 400 richest Americans).
While I concede that it’s true, it’s also misleading, as is the positioning of the Billionaire University piece (comparison of college dropouts to a narrow segment of advanced degree holders).
The Chart: Using data published in the Forbes story and adding a couple observations, I produced this chart …
- Yes, there are high school grads and college dropouts among the 400. They represent 15.8% of the group.
- Yes, there are many more college dropouts than PhDs – by a ratio just shy of 2:1.
- But, there are 341 total advanced degrees. If each person only had one, that would represent more than 85% of the 400.
- Even assuming that each person with an advanced degree held two of those 341, that leaves 170 of them with advanced degrees. That’s more than 42% of the 400 and nearly five times more than college dropouts.
- There are more than twice as many MBAs in the Forbes 400 than there are college dropouts.
I’ve been in the MBA program at the Seidman College of Business at Grand Valley State University. I’ve been in the MMA program at Aquinas College. I’m nearing completion of the AACSB-accredited MBA program at the University of Colorado – Colorado Springs.
I’ve invested significant time and money in these programs. I’ve learned a ton. I’ve met many interesting people and built some valuable relationships.
Still, I often find myself in a defensive position about this investment.
In addition, I’m skeptical and cynical by nature, so I quickly attached to the idea that the real numbers belie the popular concept.
[UPDATE] Click here for the 2017 update on the education levels of the Forbes 400 Richest Americans
The Forbes 400 does not represent the U.S. population at large. The numbers, percentages, and ratios are likely very different at different levels of wealth.
I think the misleading positioning of Billionaire University is used to advance a romantic notion of the American entrepreneur. I do like that notion; I recognize its truth and cultural value. My point in this post is that it’s overstated.
There’s a significant difference between college is unnecessary and college is worthless.
I don’t have any specific reason to complete my MBA. It’s just fun, interesting, challenging, and productive.
I recognize that all my graduate school costs are sunk costs at this point.
I also recognize the opportunity costs of the time and money invested in graduate school.
Wealth is nice, but it has absolutely nothing to do with being a good human.