For too many years, I told students to go to college after high school. As a teacher, I thought that was the answer to success. Simple as that seemed, I’ve always believed in a liberal arts education. But that’s all changed. Admittedly, I’m the surprise witness – as both lifelong teacher and now aging grad student.
At least three changes have taken place. First, the high tech, digital realm has connected most Americans to a new way of learning and doing. We search and discover daily in a way that it would have taken a lifetime before. Information gathering is at warp speed compared to the past. Second, the university (which I have rediscovered again as a fifty-something student) has left behind its primary mission of liberal arts and now embraces quite openly as a primary mission the making of a social justice community. Thus, rigorous learning and high-level scholarship/teaching seem long in the past: Greatness has been replaced by grievance. Higher ed is more about political correctness and speech codes than it is about free inquiry and free speech. This disheartening trend is most harmful because liberal arts, even in the high tech world, is seen as valuable. Third, the economy of science and technology has exploded over the past five decades. Call it the military industrial complex or computer technology matrix, ether way it has drawn like a giant magnet many men from going to or finishing college. Furthermore, the cost of college has skyrocketed – and most young guys just aren’t seeing the exchange value.
So the data is clear – more and more, males are skipping college whereas females continue to increase in numbers at colleges. For my part, I began noticing that young men were not enrolling in college while more young women were enrolling, more than a decade ago. Still, it did not sink in for me that it was something worth noticing until five or six years ago; and at that time, I began to change my tune about college and career advice.
Young men, particularly, were seeking other paths for success, many of them in IT. The high tech sector was doing very well as were other vocational areas – but high schools and colleges were on the warpath to escape vocational education. Then, until more recently, with calls (a la university-style social justice rhetoric) for gender equality in the high tech world, most of society had simply and happily benefited from the plethora of goods and services delivered as the result of the digital age. However, now there was resentment – even though, then and now, there has been no talk about why males are dropping like flies as they avoid in high numbers to enroll in college. Sexist? Of course, but then American masculinity when constructed by either our conventions or by feminist critiques is always seen as privileged.
There are so many men I’ve met in my life who did not finish their degrees or did not go to college but are doing quite well. Here’s a list of eight exceptional and highly successful tech guys who did not finish their degrees (see article
1. Bill Gates
2. Steve Jobs
3. Larry Ellison
4. Michael Dell
5. Evan Williams
6. Travis Kalanick
7. Jan Koum