By: Michele A. Matthews, Co-Owner of MAM Squared, LLC.
I know that the title of this piece may seem a little disingenuous especially for those of you who know me personally and know first-hand that I, myself, am indeed a university graduate. However, I’m really not sure that I am better off for having spent ridiculous amounts of money on a college education when there are more than a few very successful entrepreneurs who never stepped foot on a university campus as a student. That said, about 18 months ago, I read an article that seemed to tout college or university as the only path. And, it infuriated me! So, I wrote a blog post in response to said article on my company ( Agitate Media–now, one of a few since the advent of MAM Squared, LLC. just a few months ago) blog, The Movement. I ran across that post today and must say, that I am as passionate about this issue now as I was then. Hence, I thought I’d share my post on this topic with the hopes of sparking the conversation again and perhaps, getting a feel for how other entrepreneurs feel about it. So, here’s the post I published on The Movement in June 2012:
I am a 27-year-old, starter OR small business owner OR entrepreneur OR whatever the new, exciting or trendy buzzword is for people who feverishly work full-time to make their passion a reality. I’m that and my business is growing in terms of name recognition tremendously. Clients are falling in my lap at every turn, but cash is slow to flow. I am also a college graduate with over $30,000 USD in school loan debt (oh, and, I had scholarships and grants) to my name that is weighing me down like an anchor to an ocean liner. I am indebted to the United States government and to blood thirsty private education lenders like Sallie Mae. I often dream of being free of the shackles of debt my tertiary education has left me bound by. It is at those times that I think of the many successful business owners out there who never graduated from university. I think about how they had a head start on me in terms of time to learn and grow and perfect their business before life’s pressures of bills, true adulthood in the way of self-sustainability (rent, car payments, etc., etc.) all took over. I also think about the fact that they were debt-free before they became business owners which means that they didn’t have to add insult to injury by piling small business debt on top of school loan debt. So, it really befuddles me when I read articles like, “A Gap in College Graduates Leaves Some Cities Behind.”
Studies and articles like this one assert that the future of the nation’s cities is predicated upon how many people go to college. But, I’m starting to think that the state of both the U.S. and the world economies indicate otherwise. How many unemployed or underemployed college graduates have to enter the market for us to realize that perhaps, we need to take a different approach to preparing our young people for the world that awaits them?
I am, by no means, advocating the dumbing down of our young people, BUT I am protesting the overwhelming, continuing indebtedness of the next generation. It’s been proven time and time again that one does not need a college education to own and run a successful business or by extension, achieve a measure of socially acceptable success. And, I can anecdotally prove by citing all of my many classmates who are grossly underemployed after now being out of school for five years or more. Let’s see, there’s the girl with the print journalism degree who is gainfully employed at the neighborhood grocery store as a cashier. Oh, and there’s the super smart waiter who graduated Summa Cum Laude with not one, but two degrees—one in mathematics and the other in physics. Last, but certainly not least, what about the poor chap with a degree in education who is detailing cars at the local carwash? There has to be a better way.
And, I think organizations like the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) and the National Federation of Independent Business’ Young Entrepreneur Foundation have the right idea. They have programs in place that don’t necessarily discourage higher education pursuits, but certainly instill or recognize and reward an entrepreneurial spirit in young people of high school or secondary school age and younger. I think we need more programs like these—programs that take this work a step further—and perhaps, they are already out there and I just haven’t heard about them so I’ll throw my idea out and you guys can tell me what you think may or may not work OR throw out your own ideas. I like the idea of starting incubator programs throughout the nation (and the world) geared toward secondary school graduates. These incubators would help them identify their passion or a viable business pursuit, provide them with mentors and micro-financing as well as guide them through starting a sustainable business and offer them some support through the first two years of their new business.
For those who lack entrepreneurial skills, let’s make apprenticeship and intrapreneurial programs available to them where they can learn practical skills that they can apply in the workplace as well as critical thinking and analysis skills that they don’t need thousands upon thousands of dollars in scholarship, personal or loan funding to access. I know that many people will disagree with me and I don’t claim to have all of the answers, but I started Agitate Media to rally people to think outside of the box, to look for alternative solutions where others have tunnel vision and so this is my offering to start a new discourse on this issue.
Michele A. Matthews is the founder of Agitate Media and Co-owner of MAM Squared, LLC.