Today’s post is by Zachary Slayback, a Pittsburgh native, and the Business Development Director for Praxis and the author of the forthcoming The End of School. You can pre-order the Kindle edition here for 50% off. He writes regularly at www.zakslayback.com.
I’ve worked with hundreds of entrepreneurs looking to hire ambitious young people to grow their teams, investors looking to grow their investment portfolio, and young people looking to build a career they love.
And if there is one thing I can tell you it’s that the college degree is a poor signal for all of them.
This comes as a shock to the high schoolers with whom I speak. They spend years cultivating a diverse resume and set of experiences to get into a top choice college, they’re told that getting that degree will result in $1,000,000 more in lifetime earnings, and they look at median career earnings from all these different colleges to figure out which one has the best ROI.
But the degree isn’t about a human capital payoff. It’s not about picking up certain skills or being transformed into this beast that can go crush it at a company.
It’s about signaling to employers, investors, business partners, and others that you can jump through more hoops than the people who don’t have degrees.
Historically, this has worked alright. The people you’re signaling to don’t have a much better way of figuring out information about you — they couldn’t have just Googled your name or emailed your past employers easily.
Not a lot of people had degrees, so having one put you in an elite echelon above everybody else with a diploma.
This has all changed, though. Small teams, startups, and investors on the bleeding edge of hiring and talent know this. Large companies like Ernst and Young are learning it. The ones resistant to this message are doing themselves a huge disservice.
Build a Better Signal
Having a degree tells people very little about you today beyond the fact that you could sit in a chair for four years and are open to spending a ton of money you don’t have (in fact, it can be a negative signal for those reasons).
You need something to set yourself apart. You need to build a better signal.
When people ask me how we at Praxis are disrupting higher ed, I always stop them and explain that there’s a misconception about higher education.
Coursera and MOOCs (massive open online courses) aren’t disrupting higher ed because higher ed isn’t a market for knowledge — it’s a market for signals. Young people don’t go to college or grad school for knowledge as much as they go for that signal — the degree.
Google, LinkedIn, and WordPress have done more to disrupt higher education than Coursera or Udemy because now employers can simply run a quick Google search on you or quickly review your LinkedIn profile.
This unlocks an awesome opportunity for a young person who is aware of the power of signaling. Whether you have a degree or you don’t, you now have the opportunity to build a signal better than a degree. Launch a project, build a website, start an eCommerce company, just do something.
Beyond the Resume
I recently met a young man named Jake who has done this. Jake dropped out of Ohio State to do exactly what I said above — build a better signal. He traveled through Latin America on a shoestring budget and is writing a book about his experience. He’s Kickstarting it to get the word out there.
Through this information, Jake has been able to signal to the world that he is a risk-taker, has follow-through, attention to detail, and is ambitious.
That’s so much more powerful than “B.A., Ohio State University” on a resume.
You can write this all off as the musings of a madman, of course, but you do so at your own detriment. It’s people like Jake who are competing with college grads that have little more than a degree to show for years 18-22.
So what will it be?