College graduates entering the workforce amidst steep unemployment are increasingly embracing entrepreneurship, The New York Times reported over the weekend. But do entrepreneurs even need a college degree to succeed?
Ndubuisi Ekekwe poses this question at Harvard Business Review. He points out that PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel is offering $100,000 grants to 20 students under the age of 20 based on his belief that people with big ideas shouldn't wait until graduation to act on them. Ekekwe also cites a Bloomberg BusinessWeek ranking of the most common undergraduate alma maters for S&P 500 CEOs, which showed CEOs without college degrees tied for first place with CEOs who graduated from the University of California.
Yet Ekekwe remains unconvinced, arguing that "for every Mark Zuckerberg, there are countless [college] dropouts who have failed." He adds:
As a college student in Nigeria, many of my classmates left school to start businesses thinking they would become moguls before the rest of us completed college. None succeeded. The ones who completed college and got into entrepreneurship are doing much better. They are the ones whose companies are now entering into joint partnerships with multinational companies. Their confidence and better vision in the market helps them scale and pick opportunities. Those without education cannot play in that level. The educated ones can get travel documents to most Western nations; these governments discriminate on educational status when approving visas.
In the U.S., Ekekwe says, "thousands of kids have been destroyed by the illusion that leaving school is a recipe for successful entrepreneurism. They have failed to see school as a risk worth taking. Their degree should be their first product, on which they can build many more."