01/05/2013 04:09 pm ET Updated Mar 07, 2013

Saying Yes to College

Before the holidays, The New York Times ran a provocative article with the headline "Saying No to College."

It was accompanied by a drawing of young people in t-shirts that said, "College is for Suckers."

Considering that I spent 10 years in college before I started working as an assistant professor, I needed to understand this better, so I read the article carefully.

The writer zeroed-in on famous entrepreneurs like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg, young men who left college and ended up discovering themselves, unlike me who went to college to discover myself and the world.

To the founders of Microsoft, Apple and Facebook, college was something they felt inhibited their growth.

One Silicon Valley entrepreneur was quoted saying college puts constraints and limitations around what we can do.

He described it as a box that keeps people from truly getting to know themselves and fulfilling their dreams.

What a pity, I thought, and what a contrast between their life and mine.

College was no box for me. College was a roadmap away from my childhood poverty.

These men were able to travel the world and discover themselves. When I moved from Greece to UCLA to pursue my master's degree, I could barely afford the ticket to America.

They were able to finance their dreams and start great new companies. I needed to go to college to learn even how to dream.

They came from families who were able to guide them and help them network. I came from a family who could love me dearly, but with a 6th grade education themselves, my parents knew nothing about college other than wanting me to be educated and build a life for myself.

Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg became famous after walking away from college.

I needed my college education to discover how to walk toward what was possible in life.

They were able to become legends. I was able to live a better life and to help blaze a path for others to follow.

There is much to admire and learn from those men. But they are the few, while I represent the many.

Like so many of our students at the University of California, Davis who came to pursue their dreams, I was among those yearning for a college education to lift me to a better place.

A place where I could do more for myself and for others.

Men like those cited in The New York Times article, with their unorthodox journey and risk-taking, bring disruptive change to society, which can be a great thing.

However, the rest of us bring stability find our own path to a productive life and this can be a great thing, too.

For everyone who drops out of college to do something great, we need many more to graduate from college to institutionalize this greatness.

We need many more with the skills and experience from a college education who can graduate and put those skills to good use for themselves, their families and their communities.

I am proud to say I was one of those who needed college to become someone.

I am one of the many who have benefitted from the democratization of higher education and the support of my teachers and mentors.

The majority of us needed college not because we could not learn the material from books or online, or because we could not find a job or calling through some other means.

The majority of us needed a college education because college is where we come to learn about ourselves and about life, to make lifelong friends, to tap into networks we didn't know existed. It is where we learned to think critically, to disagree constructively, to debate and to even disobey for our cause.

This is the place where we can learn through the eyes and experience of others who have so much to teach us about the world.

It is where we can dream unbelievable dreams, grow our wings and fly to the heavens.

For those of us where home is not the place to dream or believe anything is possible, college is where our dreams take form and where we begin to learn how to make them come true.

College is hardly a place for "suckers." It is where people come to get the most life has to offer and we need to make it available to as many as possible for the betterment of all.