“Go to college”

So says Google’s Chairman Eric Schmidt in a speech at SXSW. Schmidt said: “If all you care about is money, you should go to college. If all you care about is culture and creativity, you should go to college. If all you care about is having fun, you should go to college. Go to college. I can’t be any clearer.” (Emphasis added.)

What is amazing is that this is news. If facts matter––and increasingly they don’t in our politics or public conversation––this is the ultimate no-brainer.  As Schmidt says it can’t be clearer: the value of a four-year degree over a career is rising, not falling. See this recent report from the Pew Research Center and this report from the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution and this report from the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University for the detailed evidence.

As I wrote in a post three years ago: “The value of a college degree is far more than how quickly a graduate gets a first job and how much it pays. These are the short term metrics that fuel the “college isn’t worth it” nonsense. Rather the payoff is over an entire career. It comes from having skills that give you a competitive edge in all industries and most occupations, in having skills that may not be in demand today but will be in the future and in learning how to learn so that you can better spot new opportunities and take advantage of them in a constantly changing labor market.”

(The Pew and Georgetown research makes clear that even if the measure is only the first job, those with four-year degrees are doing substantially better than those with less education on both employment and pay in the still less than robust post Great Recession  economy.)

The value of higher education is in developing broad skills –– including becoming a lifelong learner –– that are the foundation of successful forty year careers. Careers that will look much more like rock climbing than ladder climbing. Building a foundation to do well over a long career is only going to grow in value in an economy where technology and globalization accelerate creative destruction. Destroying jobs and occupations and creating new, unimaginable, jobs and occupations at a quicker and quicker pace.


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Lou Glazer

Lou Glazer is President and co-founder of Michigan Future, Inc., a non-partisan, non-profit organization. Michigan Future’s mission is to be a source of new ideas on how Michigan can succeed as a world class community in a knowledge-driven economy. Its work is funded by Michigan foundations.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. I definitely believe in higher education. In fact I believe in it so strongly that even though I am officially retired, I still work part time as an adjunct at a local college. I think the number and percentage of college grads in Michigan does need to increase if we are to prosper as a state. However, there is a place in our economy for some workers without a college degree. In the past week or two, there was an article about the big demand and inadequate suppy of skilled welders in our economy. The article consentrated on welders, but did mention that other skilled trades had labor shortages too. It seems like 1 or 2 year trade schools shpuld promoted as an alternative for students who do not have the academic ability or interest to complete a 4 year program. I have noticed that many of the prosperous states with high income still have a college attainment rate of around 50% or less, so there seems to be demand for lesser educated workers, although a lot more should attend college.

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