Is a degree worth it?

The question of whether a university degree is worth the time and resources devoted to acquiring it has been debated for as long as the qualification gained eminence.

Of recent however, the same question has come to the fore due to some new cases of dropout tech millionaires and some inspirational books which have elected as a primary duty to shoot down any notion of formal education.


Those inspirational books in particular have confounded the debate by arguing that a degree is not necessary for career success and point to a few successful individuals without degrees, such as Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerverg, as premises for their claim.

Of recent, the most active champion of this argument is the successful entrepreneur, Gary Vee.


“School failed me,” he told Larry King, “school fails entrepreneurs everyday.”

It’s my opinion that this is a pointless tat; and those who preach this gospel only mislead the people.

In case you are wondering if this claim has any basis in fact and reality, I intend to answer a few questions on this matter so that you can make informed position and – hopefully – put the matter to rest.

One, is there any evidence that supports those who say that a degree is worthless?

No. And I agree with Adam Cannover who said on his TV show “Adam Ruins Everything” that for every successful person who has no degree, there are a truckload of unsuccessful ones who also have no degrees. “For every tech millionaire dropout the media obsess over,” he said, “there are countless other less fortunate folks you never hear.”

Indeed research has shown (as reported by Robert J. Zimmer in the Atlantic  of 1 March, 2013) that those without degrees are 71% more likely to be unemployed.

I concede that this study was done in the United States. But what do you think the percentage will be in Nigeria? Before you answer that question, I want you to take into consideration the fact that America has more opportunities for people at every level. In other words, in America, even people without degrees have more career opportunities than their equivalents in Nigeria.

Yet, about three quarters of the unemployed population there are likely to be people without degrees.

Also, consider that in the West, unlike in Africa, you’re likely to be given a job provided you can handle the responsibility. In Nigeria, the employers insist you must produce kwali.

Yet, about three quarters of the unemployed population in America are likely to be people without degrees.

Of course you could argue that you’re deligent, that you’re hardworking. That is a valid point. But let’s check the numbers in that respect.

Therefore, question number two is: could you get rich if you entered the workforce without a degree?  Not likely.

On 29 September 2014, Hershbein and Kearney reported in Hamilton Project that university graduates earn more than secondary school graduates at every level of their career. That is irrespective of your deligence; in other words, on average, at every career level people with degrees earn more. The study showed that the difference in annual earnings on average was $30,000 (or 11 million naira) after 10 years in the career.

Three, what does Bill Gates say about this debate? Remember he’s a poster boy for successful individuals without university degrees? And to stretch the case study wider, what does Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, say about this?

“America is facing a shortage of college graduates,” Bill Gates said in 2015, “by 2025, two thirds of all jobs in the US will require education beyond high school.”

And the founder of Facebook, himself a dropout, keeps saying to the youths everywhere “stay in school.” In fact he recently announced that Harvard had agreed to allow him to go back and finish his degree.

Four, are there some fields that will refuse to employ those without degrees no matter how knowledgeable? Yes.

No one will employ you as a medical doctor without a degree no matter how skilled you are in surgery. Indeed doing a surgery without a medical degree will lead to your prosecution.

And according to Bill Gates, those fields that require university education as a prerequisite for employment are going to increase. “At the current rate…However, the country is expected to face a shortfall of 11 million skilled workers over the next 10 years,” Gates said.

Five , besides the knowledge, are there other skills and habits one gets from going to the university? Yes.

We learn discipline, order, organization, meeting a deadline, problem solving, dealing with setbacks and following a schedule. These are the skills we need to survive in the work place and in the real world.

What does this tell us?

It tells us that the knocks that the university degree has been receiving is unfair – even if some of those knocks are well-intentioned.

In the last 20 years, software jobs have grown by over 500%. And in the last 10 years, internet jobs have increased by over 600%, The New Geography of Jobs declared in 2012.

All these jobs require university level education.

The fact of the matter is, a degree is a necessity to compete in today’s economy.

Therefore, don’t listen to those who claim otherwise.

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