Earn a college degree, and you’ll set yourself up for life: a stable job, salary, and mortgage. That was the old adage for generation after generation, following World War II. Yet, both young and old workers no longer hold the same abiding faith in the power of four-year degree, according to the latest Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor Poll.
Instead, understanding computer technology, working well with different types of people, keeping your skills current, and having good family connections trump the importance of college—at least, when it comes to people’s notions of what it takes to succeed in the modern workplace. “If you don’t have a good grip on technology, it is very hard to succeed,” said 45-year-old Christine Welch of Idaho, who has three children, ages 17 to 25.
The career paths of Welch’s children personify these new building blocks of career success laid out by many of the poll respondents. Her 25-year-old daughter, for example, works as a graphic designer. She embarked on that career without a college degree, relying instead on her technical and artistic skills to propel her along. Welch’s middle son recently graduated with an associate’s degree in structural engineering from a technical pipe-welder program at Idaho State University. Both children started down these career paths early and mastered highly technical skills, without assuming that a four-year college degree would automatically set them on the best path. (Welch’s third child is still in high school).