graduationcapI just came across the article Saying No to College in the New York Times, and I continue to be annoyed at the myth that the technology industry is a wild west in which education doesn’t matter. This article fits into a larger narrative about the decreasing value of education. College graduates (supposedly) have high unemployment rates and even law school graduates can’t hack it.

In the midst of these problems, tech entrepreneurs can apparently succeed without a college education. Every article on the topic goes through the same litany of icons: Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg. All college drop outs who went on to become billionaires.

Yes, they were amazingly successful. Yes, they were amazingly talented. Yes, they made it to the top of the world without finishing college. But no, they are not in any way, shape, or form typical. And no, they should not be role models for our children.

Why? Numbers don’t lie. College is no secret ticket to success, but college graduates are more likely to be successful than college drop outs or people that skip college altogether.

Check out the job numbers from October. Unemployment for high school dropouts: 12.2%. High school graduates: 8.4%. College drop outs: 6.9%. College graduates: 3.8%. And that trend holds for the long term (Table 627 from Census Bureau’s Statistical Abstract).

Or, let’s talk income. Check out Table 232 from the Statistical Abstract. The mean income for young people (age 25-34) in 2009 was $36,595. High school drop-outs earned $19,415 and high school graduates earned $27,511. College dropouts earned $31,392, while college graduates with a bachelor’s degree earned $45,692. Those with Master’s, Professional Degrees, and Doctorates go on to earn even more on average.

This trend holds for every age cohort. Income is much more flat for senior citizens, but even for people 65 and older, education statistically means more income. It also holds for racial, ethnic, and gender sub-groups.

And if you’re convinced that this is just a unique characteristic of the tech industry, think again. A review of the top 50 tech CEOs revealed that only three of them were college drop outs: Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Dell, and Larry Ellison. And my favorite quote:

I’ve met as many successful successful tech CEOs who have dropped out of college as I’ve met folks who have won the lottery.

So, there you have it. If you’re incredibly lucky, you might win the lottery. If you’re incredibly talented and incredibly lucky, you might be the next Lebron James. If you’re incredibly talented and incredibly lucky, you might be the next Mark Zuckerberg.

But let’s be realistic. The other 99.9% of us would benefit from going to college. While it’s certainly possible to lead a fulfilling and successful life without attending or finishing college, the statistics don’t lie. More education means more employment, and more education means more income. Sounds pretty simple to me.

Image Credit: graduation cap by jussstas at sxc.hu.