Some will say I’m straying off topic with this post, but bear with me. It all comes together in the end.
I read two articles sharing opposing views of the value in going to college. In the first article, Penelope Trunk describes graduate degrees for anything but science related industries as useless. On the other hand, the second article by Eric Basu shows the value in pursuing a university education. Granted, the first discussed a graduate degree and the second focused on undergraduate education. Yet the represent two schools of thought regarding the efficacy (is that a college word?!) of a college education for a person planning to open their own business.
Both viewpoints have merits. Ms. Trunk essential feels that non-science graduate degrees provide no significant value in the job market, and she lists her reasons for saying so. Some would take that a step further and say that many of the courses offered in college have no real-world value, and therefore waste the time and resources of someone opening a business. Mr. Basu, on the other hand, briefly addresses some of the same reasons Ms. Trunk presents, then goes on to list 6 reasons why college brings real benefits to all who attend (by the way, Mr. Basu is now an entrepreneur, so he’s seen both sides of the issue).
If these two respected people were in the same room, they actually might agree that there’s value to an undergraduate degree, and that non-science graduate degrees are not all they’re cracked up to be. However, considering both sides of the debate, I see another issue that I feel has even greater ramifications. The question isn’t simply whether or not college is useful to an entrepreneur, or whether a graduate degree has merits. The main question in my mind is:
When it comes to the career choices education fosters, what options are we presenting our youths?
To answer that, a little history is in order. So first, let’s examine…
What’s the Basis for our School System (in the United States)?
It’s no secret that the United States patterned their system of education from the Prussian system (we’re not alone in doing so; many countries, including Japan, did the same). That isn’t intrinsically bad. For example, some features of the system preserved in the United States is government funding, compulsory attendance, specific teacher training, national curriculum for each grade, and national testing. Essentially, it guaranteed that every citizen received a basic education. However, the underlying reasons were not philanthropic but political and financial. The Prussian government instituted the system to insure the Lutheran Church didn’t hold sway in the land and to prevent the local aristocracy from exerting too much influence. The Prussian school system instilled allegiance to the state. It taught each student to believe wholeheartedly in the justness of the King, the rightness of his decrees, and the need for strict obedience to the state. Did any of those aspects translate into our present school system?
Yes. Schools are still used to teach a sense of duty to the state and belief in the justness of the system. That isn’t a bad thing. However, it often means we blindly accept the course followed in the past as the only right course. The timing for implementation of the “Prussian model” is also significant, occurring in the early to mid 19th century. It corresponded with the tail end of the Industrial Revolution. Thus our school system was the perfect tool for preparing workers for the factories many saw as spearheading this country’s move into its economic future. In many ways, that view remains unchanged. Although our economy evolved and we find an abundance of information-age positions available, people essentially see education as a means to secure a job.
To Which Careers Should an Education Lead?
I see education as preparation for accomplishing whatever you envision in life. Far from ending when you leave school, education is something you continue as long as you draw breath and have synapses firing. Whether you choose a university education, a trade school, some sort of continuing education course, or study in the ‘school of hard knocks’ by reading books and applying what you read, education is simply preparation for a chosen field. Here’s where the challenge arises: Society conditions us to think of a job as the only viable career choice, whereas entrepreneurship is a risky dream.
That view is a holdover from the founding of our modern education system, and needs changing. Truthfully, all we need is to revert our thinking back to pre-Prussian model days. Before the industrial revolution, entrepreneurship was the rule, not the exception. “But…,” some would ask, “…wouldn’t that mean moving backwards, not forwards?” Not necessarily. To this day, the statistics show that small businesses (a.k.a. “entrepreneurial enterprises”) create two out of every three new jobs in the marketplace. So it isn’t that starting your own business disappeared. Entrepreneurs still thrive and succeed. What happened is we lost sight of entrepreneurship as a viable option.
Therefore, the answer to the question in the subheading (“To which careers should an education lead?”) is this: Whatever your heart desires. If you want to become a doctor, lawyer, pharmacist, tradesman, or entrepreneur, your education should support that goal. Thus we need to change our thinking as a society. Seeing getting a job, no matter how prestigious, as the only option is damaging to our youths and the futures they envision. By excluding the possibility of running their own business as a real choice, we deny them entry into a world with some of the most innovative and life changing potential imaginable. Why would we ever want to do that?!
So, should you go to college or not? Should you pursue a graduate degree or not? Those are important questions, but secondary to this one: Does your course of study support your dream? Closely related to that question is this: Are those around you stifling your dream? The answers to those questions have a profound impact on the future of the ones asking them. As business owners and entrepreneurs, we know the challenges we faced getting started. Sometimes we faced them alone, not because we didn’t have people interested in our well-being but because those people didn’t believe in our dream. So we dreamed big enough to encompass all the doubt and derision, forging ahead to reach where we are. If you’re a parent (or aunt, uncle, cousin, or what have you), are you making sure the youths in your life see entrepreneurship in the same light you do? Are you encouraging them to have faith in their own dreams? If you are, then you’re giving them the best platform upon which to design their future – and that’s the best answer to the question presented at the start of this post.
See?! I toldja I’d make it all come together into an on-point B.O.B. post!
- Secret #2: The School System is Designed to Create Employees, not to Educate – (onlineinvestingai.com)
- Infographic: The Entrepreneurship Road Map (rasmussen.edu)
- Types of Graduate Degree Programs (notonlyluck.com)
- The student/entrepreneur cheat sheet: Balancing school and entrepreneurship (techentrepreneurship.com)
- Kaplan University Teams Up With Kauffman FastTrac to Offer Two Graduate Certificates in Entrepreneurship (kauffman.org)