No Shortcuts

at 12:35 AM

As students head back to college this month, a new trend is beginning to concern me. Here in Silicon Valley, we're hearing more about high school grads choosing to skip college and jump fulltime into their hot change-the-world idea. After all, who in tech doesn't dream of being the next Steve Jobs? Since his retirement as Apple's CEO, he's been rightfully praised for his innovative brilliance, but the term "college dropout" has also been prolific and helps fuel this trend.

Paypal cofounder Peter Thiel is even promoting college dropout by offering $100,000 to top techy teens. He says a nation in desperate need of innovation can't wait around while its brightest innovators finish college. Really?

I have two problems with that. First, in our fixation with the brilliant success of tech visionaries like Jobs, Gates and Zuckerberg, all college dropouts, it's easy to forget just how rare it is. For every Steve Jobs, how many thousands of wannabes are toiling away in their garages?

And second, just say it doesn't work out: these young people may get to their mid-20s disillusioned, derailed and unable to take the college track. Tuition is escalating fast. Imagine then applying for a job at Apple, without a college degree?

The Silicon Valley ecosystem, this rare combination of talent, funding and meritocracy, makes us the world center of innovation. But don't forget -- our top colleges are the foundation for our success. Education is the seed. In our haste to invent the future, I think people rushing headlong into this "apparent shortcut" may want to think twice. According to a recent multicenter study, adults who have completed only high school are twice as likely to be unemployed as those with a bachelor's degree. Completion of college is critical to maintaining our nation's economic competitiveness, the study concludes.

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So, pursue your passion, pursue your tech dreams, but first get a college degree.

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With a tech Perspective, this is Alison van Diggelen.

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