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The Value of a College Degree in the Innovation Economy

Posted: 05/23/2012 9:24 am

If you haven't noticed, the tech sector is on fire. Venture funding has led to new rounds of hiring in California, while startups are maturing into established companies, with many eyeing IPOs.

Some of today's successful tech industry executives have taken unorthodox paths to becoming tech leaders, including dropping out of high school or college. But dropouts make up a tiny percentage of the success stories in the high tech field and beyond. It is true that young people today are light years ahead of past generations in mastering new technologies and adopting innovation. But nothing changes the fact that a 21st century economy requires a 21st century education. Bypassing post-secondary education or training in favor of jumping into the workplace is a disservice to a global society in a competitive world.

It's concerning then that some opinion leaders are encouraging entrepreneurs to bypass a college degree. In fact, 60 Minutes recently featured PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel promoting this path. These viewpoints serve to fuel speculation that the entirety our future workforce is better served taking their skills directly to the marketplace in lieu of a college degree.

Multiple studies show that those with college degrees earn roughly $1 million more than those with a high school education. A recent Georgetown University study found that people with bachelor's degrees make 84 percent more over a lifetime than high school graduates. These studies suggest that, despite the cost of college, graduates will more than make up for the expense over the course of their careers.

Beyond earning potential, a college degree can be a leg up in landing a job in California in the aftermath of a painful economic downturn. Companies emerging from a hiring slow-down are seeking the most qualified, prepared workers they can find. Employers can be selective, which is all the more reason to get a high quality education enriched with relevant real-world experience.

Today, CALinnovates, an advocacy group for California's high-tech consumers, released a survey of technology employers that is good news for the 2012 class of college graduates. According to the survey, the technology community in the Bay Area believes that the economy is slowly turning around and 86 percent of survey respondents plan to hire 2012 college graduates. Fifty-five percent plan to hire more graduates than they did last year and only six percent of companies believe that economic conditions in the Bay Area will be worse in six months.

The survey reinforces the fact that high quality higher education programs are a critical to help the Bay Area to continue to anchor the innovation economy. For businesses to stay here, we need to provide them with a well-trained workforce. Companies responding to the survey drilled down further to say they are looking for job candidates with exceptional creative skills, be it graphic design capabilities, mobile app development experience, or a demonstrated innovative spirit. According to the CALinnovates' survey, 91 percent of businesses consider creative ability valuable when evaluating who to hire.

Students hoping to seize opportunities in the Bay Area should look for post-secondary education programs that include hands-on training and real-world experiences so that they can rise to the top and hit the ground running. These creators of the future, armed with education and experience relevant to the 21st century, will be central to keeping California's innovation economy humming.

 
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