The current recession has provided a unique opportunity to see just how painful life can be without a college. Unemployment is directly correlated to education level, as seen in the chart below from Calculated Risk. In fact, not getting educated is almost the worst thing you can do, other than be born poor and black.
Hideous is the fact that Mr. Stephens is throwing away a Stanford education to pursue his dream of "UnCollege," a place where self-motivated people can organize and teach themselves...everything that was already available at a college. He burns his bridges as he goes too, like a true thoughtless teenager:
I left college two months ago because it rewards conformity rather than independence, competition rather than collaboration, regurgitation rather than learning and theory rather than application. Our creativity, innovation and curiosity are schooled out of us.Obviously no person expects to go crawling back on their hands and knees someday...but then again no one plans to fail. Yet, most of us do. So when, and if, Mr. Stephens fails at his startup, UnCollege, and his agent is no longer able to book speaking engagements for him (surprise!) and his book doesn't find a publisher (surprise!), he'll essentially be a penniless 19-year-old...just like the rest of the 19-year-olds in America. Except unlike them he's branded himself the spokesperson for anti-college.
But let's ignore his lack of foresight. Let's ignore the fact that he is probably giving really bad advice to young people. Let's ignore the fact that the number of CEO's in this country with an MBA is probably above 95% and assume Stephens is right: you can achieve your dreams of wealth with no formalized diploma on your wall. How are you going to do it? What product are you going to sell with no education? What investor will take an uneducated kid who thought he/she is too good for college and invest in them? Mr. Stephens just sounds like another rich kid impatient to be even richer.
What's really sickening here is that the content of the education he is hoping his rebellious peers will receive was developed on the backs of people with PhDs over centuries through long educations, the writing of theses, and the development of arduous research projects. The social networking aspect of Uncollege relies on access to the internet, a device built by a scientists including Lawrence Roberts, who had three degrees from MIT.
See, this is what I mean by entitlement. Stephens and his cohorts seem to have no gratitude for the diligent efforts of people who did go to college. He suggests college probably hampered these brains, and that the huge technical developments of past college-educated minds was actually less than ideal.
If only Wernher von Braun hadn't wasted his time at the Technical University of Berlin, maybe the Apollo program would have been a success. If only Newton had skipped Trinity College, he might have deduced the formulas of modern Calculus much sooner. Imagine if Watson and Crick hadn't gotten their PhDs. They might have discovered the structure of DNA sooner. If Alexander Fleming hadn't spent so much time in medical school, he might have discovered penicillin's antibacterial properties much sooner.
Obviously I say these things in jest. But that is because the idea that a college education hampers the human mind, rather than enables it, is such a ridiculous notion that we must categorically dismiss it.
Certainly, Stephens is right about two things: college is expensive and college is less than ideal. But the idea that self-guided learning is better is ludicrous.
Stephens has little nuggets, on his Uncollege website, which admits that you can't get a degree in nuclear engineering via Uncollege. "On the other hand, entrepreneurship is something that it’s definitely possible to accomplish outside of the classroom. Heck, some would say that paying thousands of dollars to study entrepreneurship is a very bad understanding of the field…"
Maybe that is true. Starting a company is pretty easy. Especially compared to actually doing science or engineering. Starting a company is definitely easier than showing patience and fortitude...two requirements to excel in college.