The New York Times recently ran a story by Arthur C. Brooks entitled, “My Valuable, Cheap College Degree,” about the $10,000 undergraduate degree. The author, the president of the American Enterprise Institute and a former college professor, decided that instead of going into debt for a degree from an average college, he would pay $10K for a distance-learning B.A.
Brooks claimed that the ROI from his $10K spend was huge, given that his career turned out as he had hoped and he lives a debt-free life. He also argued that with the cost of education skyrocketing, we would see more innovation in terms of the cost of college.
So the next logical question: Would I as an employer hire a kid with a $10K B.A?
Damn straight I would!
Ours is a “public school” profession, in that most young hires have attended a decent but not top 5-ranked college. I have no qualms about that. My best hire, oftentimes, is a kid from an average college who had four internships and a dirty job along the way—grocery bagger, factory worker, waitress. Although we’ve hired our share of kids who went to boarding schools and graduated from top colleges, they succeed no more frequently than the gritty kid from the average college. And I like the entrepreneurship shown by people who take tough jobs starting out.
I don’t mean to diminish the value of an on-campus, traditional, brick-and-mortar college experience as opposed to an online degree. But if my firm just looked at the ivy leaguers, or people with brick-and-mortar degrees, we’d never find the talent we need. We have spent over a decade perfecting the way we do our picking, and we have committed to proactive recruiting. We don’t just recruit when we have a position to fill; when we come across exactly what we are seeking, we hire that person, whether we have a position or not. Who are we looking for? What author Seth Godin calls “”lynchpin” employees— individuals who can walk into chaos and create order, who can invest, connect, create and make things happen. Finding people like this is hard, which is why we try so hard and always cast a wide net.
We have our own name for an organization built on linchpins: an “Army of Entrepreneurs.” Entrepreneurially minded folks can and do come from anywhere, but they have something in common: they are resourceful, able to think on their feet, and able to find solutions to unanticipated problems. A fancy bachelor’s degree can provide a foundation, but it’s only a beginning.
There’s also another advantage I see to a $10K B.A. or other non-traditional college experience. Our profession suffers from a lack of diversity. Perhaps the $10K B.A. will allow more kids whose parents couldn’t help them pay for college and supplement their NYC apartments enter the profession.
As I think about the talented people that I see and hire every day, I am very hopeful for the future of our profession; they are passionate, intellectually curious and willing to work hard to get ahead. But I am not sure this has anything to do with academic credentials and fancy schools. Ours is a profession where well-rounded kids with great character traits—like an excellent work ethic, intellectual curiosity, entrepreneurial grit and creativity—can excel and grow.