Education is essential to career success, but the definition of a "formal education" must evolve to suit the changing modern world.
We've all heard the glamorized stories about college dropouts like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates making it big. With the recent news of companies like Google and Apple (among others) no longer requiring employees to have a college degree, some people are questioning the importance and value of a college education.
As a business professional and as a teacher of business studies, it bothers me to hear people say that a business degree isn't worth the piece of paper it was written on, and kids today need to explore non-formal educational options.
To set the record straight, we first need to understand how education became the costly, commoditized entity it is today.
The commoditization of education
Perhaps the earliest form of education was developed in Mesopotamia. It was reserved as a privilege for the elite and nobility to hone their skills both on the field of battle and in the field of politics and bureaucracy. We had massive intellectuals as teachers – Confucius, Socrates, Aristotle, Plato, etc.
People would travel from far and wide in the pursuit of knowledge and learning. This was where education was, at that time, pure, scientific, thought-provoking. But over the years, as more and more people understood the economic benefits around education (how it could help a person do better at life), the field itself became muddled with aspirations of wealth through the pursuit of formal learning. Institutions started popping up in a quest to commoditize learning and churn out students; degrees became requirements rather than the demonstration of one's pursuit for knowledge and academic excellence.
But it wasn't all gloom and doom. Certain institutes understood that they had a responsibility to the people, to first and foremost mold informed and educated citizens of tomorrow. That is why education as an institution still survives.
In the pursuit of education
The majority of the companies in the U.S. and beyond still require a degree for you to be employed with their firm. According to Maryville University, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 632,400 jobs will be created in business and financial operations from 2014 to 2024. This is a staggering number and one that mostly cannot be filled by people without any formal education.
When I say formal education, I mean a systematic learning, unlearning and relearning regimen that colleges across the industry apply to help young minds grasp modern business concepts and enter the workforce.
Again, this is about demand and supply: Right now organizations across the globe need employees who come from a standardized background that helps them fit into their corporate structures. So, as an aspiring student, you really need to ask yourself if your pursuit for education is just to level the playing field and enter the rat race, or, if in this time of economic uncertainty, you want to opt out of tailored, systematic education and focus on real-world learning.
Education and entrepreneurship
A formal degree and college education has multiple benefits, but there is no prerequisite that states an entrepreneur has to earn a degree before launching a business. That being said, you have to ask yourself, "Should my drive to become an entrepreneur really ask me to sacrifice going to college and getting that degree?" If the answer is yes, then sure, drop out. But if the answer is a maybe, then read on.
Education is first and foremost an experience – a summation, a rite of passage earned through years of learning and networking. This rite of passage gives you a fraternity of colleagues who have similar experiences to you. In this time of disruption, you have to have a few cards in your hand that will make the difference. One of those cards is your education, a tried and tested method that has helped millions of people progress in life.
Evolving the system
A formal education is no guarantee to success in life, of course. Countries with a good number of graduates still see unemployment. The point remains that a proper education – one that is not just fluff but an essential nurturing of the human mind – is the best bet to your future success.
The problem is that now our educational institutes need to realize that, as per our environment, learning also needs to evolve. In a decentralized, interconnected and intuitive world can learning be bound to physical institutions and boundaries. Martha Nussbaun, an eminent philosopher of our time, argued powerfully that "in an increasingly uncertain world, it has never been more important for universities to educate the imagination" rather than impart specific skills.
To cater to this new generation of learners, we need to create an environment of learning that is open and borderless, that concentrates on educating the imagination to breed the next Hawking, Edison, Mandela, etc. So to all those who are looking for change, don't break the system – break the mold.