Is a college degree really necessary for career success?
That is the question economist and scholar Richard Vedder, professor emeritus of economics at Ohio University, asked in a recent Forbes op-ed.
Vedder checked in with three former students each with different career paths and analyzed the role that their chosen degree played in their eventual career path.
Two of the three graduated with economics degrees and ultimately found themselves in professions that likely didn’t require a degree in their chosen major, making the degree nothing more than a checked box, he argued.
Vedder pointed out that while these students learned valuable leadership and communications skills while in college, which led to their successful careers, those skills could easily be learned outside of a college environment.
From the article:
“Sam Chamberlain is at the pinnacle of success in his career as chief operating officer at Five Guys, burger specialists supreme. Graduating with an economics degree in the early 1990s, Sam was a good but not spectacular student, but one showing leadership outside the classroom through his fraternity and in track and cross country. His work in economic history with me arguably made near zero practical contribution to his later success. College, however, helped Sam learn leadership and communication skills, and his economics training gave him some valuable understanding of the business milieu, but he very likely could have developed most of those skills making his vocational life successful without a college degree. College was a screening device helping get him to get the critical first job and that, along with networking, propelled him forward. When we reconnected years later we bonded instantly, reflecting Sam’s magnetic nice guy personality more than the recognition of skills derived while in school.”
Vedder also highlighted another former student and economics major, Matthew Denhart, who eventually became president of the Calvin Coolidge Foundation, but yet again, “Matt’s college teachers truly were ancillary to his vocational success.”
Of the three former students Vedder profiled, engineering graduate Jacob Salter was the lone graduate whose degree was essential to his career success.
“In Jacob’s case, college training was critical to his success,” Vedder wrote. “He learned many technical concepts allowing him, for example, to build bridges or assess the efficacy of different building materials used in constructing buildings or roads.”
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